1. Can you confidently say what your story is about, in 3 sentences or less?
2. Have you let your manuscript sit undisturbed for at least a few weeks, and then read it again?
3. Are you finished sending it out to critique partners, beta readers, or helpful friends, with an “input welcome” sticky note attached?
4. Is it the best work you are currently capable of?
If you have 4 check marks, you are ready. Now, write a kick-ass query letter, research the best literary agents for your work, and send your baby out into the world!
But wait! How do you know if you’ve written a kick-ass query letter? How do you know if the agents you’re sending it to are the best agents for your work? Well, you can read this to check in about your query and look at this about researching agents. Good luck!
In case you missed the news back in 2013, I have two clients coming out with picture books in the next year! Ruth Horowitz, award winning author of Crab Moon and a bunch of other books for young readers, has a picture book coming out with Scholastic about Abel and Beatrice, two friends who raise apple trees and bees, who get in an argument that escalates (in very silly ways), tentatively titled BEES IN THE TREES.
Debut author Joe McGee has a picture book coming out with Abrams, about a zombie who would rather eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches than brains, tentatively titled PEANUT BUTTER AND BRAINS.
Both tentatively titled… yes, titles do change and sometimes it takes a while for publishers to commit to a title. And, apparently minds change, too. I’ve repeatedly said, “I don’t do picture books. I don’t do picture books. I don’t do picture books.” The problem is, when a project comes along that I LOVE, I have a hard time saying no. So….. I would like to tentatively declare that I am now open to picture books submissions.
BUT (and this is a big but!) please be aware that I am only interested in quirky, funny, off-beat, or high concept picture books. Do NOT send me your sweet, sappy, life lesson picture book manuscript. Do NOT send me your cute, saccharine, didactic issue-based picture book. If you’re not an illustrator, do NOT send me pictures (although I’m very interested in author/illustrator submissions).
And please know what a picture book manuscript should look like. That is to say, way less than 1000 words and only put in illustrator notes if they are integral to understanding your story.
There. I’ve said it.
Here’s advice from my intern, Cindy Francois. Cindy screens queries and does first reads on manuscripts for me. She makes my job infinitely more do-able!
As an intern, there are a few things I’ve learned that prior to my internship would not have occurred to me. While they may be obvious, they continue to be some of the more popular reasons why I find myself rejecting queries and potentially great book ideas.
To clarify, we interns are encouraged to be ruthless in our execution of instructions. For example, since Linda doesn’t read mysteries, if you pitch her something you call literary fiction but it’s mostly a mystery, I’ve been instructed to give it a pass. This is the best way for me to learn how to evaluate a manuscript, looking for what she wants. Any uncertainties are double-checked with her, but generally I’m supposed to be unforgiving. Linda is looking for accessible literary fiction but if I find myself reaching for a dictionary 3 times within the first paragraph of your sample (yes, I’m well read), I have no choice but to reject your manuscript. Sounds simple, but I was miserable the first few weeks of my internship. I am a writer rejecting fellow writers, and it can feel horrible!
In terms of your query, it should be as precise as possible. This is your first opportunity to showcase your voice, so…
- Do follow directions to the letter: You dedicated a large chunk of time to writing your novel. Give it the best chance to be heard. Since Linda requests the first 20 pages in the body of the email for fiction queries, do not send an attachment.
- Do be impeccable with your words: Nothing is more frustrating than a brilliant idea poorly executed. Really! I get giddy when I read an unusual premise and die a little when the first paragraph, and sometimes the first page, fails to measure up.
- Do not query multiple works in the same email, even if connected.
- Do not query multiple agents in the same email (or worse yet repurpose the email but fail to update the salutation, e.g. email addressed to Linda but begins with “Dear June”).
- Consider the books being published in your market. Read a few of them. How does your book compare, both in terms of structure and language? Find an avid reader with an eye for story arcs and ask them to take a look.
- Also, keep an eye on how you format your query. Be sure to include a bio and short summary before your sample pages. This will be visual confirmation that the information we require is included. I’ve reviewed too many queries where I had no information on the sender. That is not okay; you don’t really get another opportunity to pitch the same story.
If you’re anything like me, you view your manuscript as your baby (for lack of a better word). You’ve worried over it, been baffled by it and maybe even cried a time or two. Honor the courage it took to write it by doing what you can to give it a great introduction.