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Query Letters for Children's Book Fiction
"Musings" Archive for April 2003
by Margot FinkeSponsored Links
The first few times I wrote query letters my stomachache did a fandango. Friends of mine, old hands at the writing game, admit to still feeling a twinge of anxiety when they have to write a query.I'm offering a few simple query letter rules that will help banish your anxiety and settle your stomach. Remember, these days fewer and fewer publishers accept unagented manuscripts, or even three chapters plus a synopsis. Your query needs to grab the editor's interest. Offer editors something original, dramatic, or great fun. Avoid cutesy, extreme, or outrageous.
# 1 -- Research the publishers and editors where you plan to submit. Check out their websites for information regarding submission guidelines and the kind of books they currently publish. Make sure your manuscript fits their needs. Send only what the publisher requests. Ask writer friends if they have had dealings with any of these editors, and know their style. If a publisher wants exclusive rights during their evaluation of your MS (manuscript), you must decide whether the prestige of the publisher is worth the many months involved. If you do send to more than one publisher at a time, you should mention this fact at the end of your query. However, many writers these days do not bother. These are areas where you get to choose on a case-by-case basis.
A Sales Tool
#2 -- Think of your query as a sales tool. You query needs to sell three things -- your story, your writing talent, and yourself.
A Blueprint Basic Query
# 3 -- There is no such thing as a "one query fits all editors" query letter. Likes and dislikes vary. Some editors want a "just the facts, ma'am" approach. Others prefer a more chatty style. However, there is certain information that all editors need.
Keep it brief -- one page, single-spaced.
If you met the editor at a conference, or elsewhere, and have permission to send your manuscript to her, begin by briefly reminding her where you met. Then, go on to introduce your book.
The Big No-No's
- Paragraph # 1 If you are making a "cold" contact, begin by writing something like this: "I have written an approx. (word count here) word fictional adventure for girls (or whatever) titled, "Title Here."
- Paragraph # 2This paragraph should encapsulate your plot and characters. Slave over this one. Rewrite, and rework it until it shines. It has to jump off the page and grab the editor's interest. This is your book's sales pitch.
- Paragraph # 3 Any publishing credits you have, that pertain to children's writing, go in this paragraph. If you have a special degree, or a skill that makes you the perfect author for the subject of your book, include that.
- Paragraph # 4 This is where you get to "stick to the facts, ma'am," or choose to fly by the seat of your pants and add that little extra. Some editors like to read that you have researched the market regarding books similar to yours. They are interested in why you think your book would fit well with their current line. Others like to know that you are willing to actively promote sales.
- Final Paragraph Let the editor know you appreciate her time and consideration. If you are enclosing a manuscript, or selected chapters, mention that, plus the fact that you have enclosed an SASE. Sign off politely, and cross your fingers for the coming months
Colored paper, fancy fonts and clip art, brand you as an amateur. Don't mention how much your kids, relatives and friends loved your story. This screams "beginner."
Make Sure You:
Double-space your text with one-inch margins either side of the page. Check for spelling and punctuation errors. Spell the editor's name correctly, and double-check the publisher's address. Times New Roman and Courier New are easy-to-read fonts that editors like.
A Genuine Query Letter
Remember the old saying, "There is more than one way to skin a cat?" If you read the sample query below, and check out the information sources offered in this article, you will realize there are many different ways to write a successful query letter.
Type the Publisher's name and address on the top left. Your name and address goes top right. Put your e-mail addy and the date under your name and address. If you have a Web Page, type the URL beneath your signature. Check everything for accuracy.
This query got Dorothy Francis's manuscript read by an editor:
"This is the hidden place that hiders know.
This is where hiders go.
Stephen Vincent Benet
These words set the mood for my middle-grade novel titled The Hiders.
An alternate title might be Mystery of the Ghost Light.
Amybell Kincaid, age 12, who lives on Bayou of the Swans, takes on the responsibility of saving herself and her 2 siblings from social workers who want to send them to foster care because they are home alone much of the time. Ma has died. Pa is a shrimper and works at sea many days at a time. Amybell doubts that Pa, their reclusive stepfather, really cares about them. She wants to run away to an aunt in Baton Rouge. To pay expenses for this trip, the children try to win Capt. Bodine's $100 prize for finding the source of the ghost light tourists see from his tour boat in the bayous. Act or perish is Amybell's motto as the children and Napoleon, their cat, run away, camp aboard a half-sunk shrimp boat in the eerie swamps, and search for the ghost light.
May I show you a synopsis and 3 chapters of this manuscript?
I am a published writer and a member of SCBWI. Perfection Learning Corp. has 13 of my hi/lo books listed in its current catalog, and Millbrook Press is marketing my Gateway Biography of Clara Barton and 1 title in their I Know America SeriesOur Transportation Systems. I'm also a retired correspondence teacher for the Institute of Children's Literature and a book reviewer for "The Five Owls," "Multicultural Review," and "Riverbank Review."
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Encl: The Hiders and SASE
HELPFUL QUERY LETTER SITES:
The websites below offer links to other helpful areas within their sites. They also link to a host of writing-intense sites that will facilitate your writing. You could go MIA for weeks while surfing in-and-out of their helpful pages.
- Roxyanne Young's "Smart Writers." http://www.smartwriters.com/index.2ts Click on the "Writing 101" link, then click on Query Letters.
- Harold Underdown's "The Purple Crayon." http://www.underdown.org/ You will find Rites of Submission, an article about cover and query letters, including samples.
- Query Letters Revisited / Sample Query Letters: My latest thoughts on query letters.
- Verla Kay's Web site http://www.verlakay.com/ Take the transcript link from the left http://www.verlakay.com/index14.htm and scroll down to read live chat sessions about query letters.
- Google: Try typing "Query letter" in quotation marks into Google and see if anything new comes up.
Happy query letter writing, mates!
Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.
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