children's books / memoir / querying agents and publishers

An Editor’s Comments on Query Letters

This is part 7 of my series on “An Editor’s Comments.” These are actual comments I’ve made to clients, and are directed to their particular needs, so they are sometimes quite different than what you’ll find in a style manual or other editing book. I hope you’ll find these thoughts helpful! If you want to learn more, check out the rest of the articles in the “Editor’s Comments” section and the “Various Editor’s Tips” section in my “Writing and Editing Articles” table of contents.

Your Query Letter Must Look Professional!

Actually, I have never seen a query letter with so much bolding or italics.  I’m afraid it will make you look like you are “amateur” rather than professional, and that you are desperate to get the agent’s or publisher’s attention. Your query letter should be a good “snapshot” not only of your book’s topic but also should feature your voice and writing style right within the letter. If you use a lot of “hey, look at this” things like bold or italics, it interrupts the flow of your writing voice and style, and may also make the reader think you could be using a lot of those kinds of formatting items in your story. Your writing itself should be strong enough that it catches the reader’s interest.

How Can I Query Christian Publishers?

Certainly, you can query Christian publishers. You will need to write a good query. You can start by creating a general query letter, but each one you actually send out will need to have some changes to make it fit each publisher you send it to. You will need to do a search for Christian publishers who are looking for books of this genre, and also check if they accept queries directly from authors or if they only accept queries through agents. You will also likely want to examine a copy of the current (2017) Christian Writer’s Market Guide.  After you’ve found some possible publishers, you’ll want to check their websites to make sure you have their most up-to-date instructions.

How Can I Query My Non-Fiction Children’s Book?

Of course, you’ll want to do what agents and/or publishers want you to do, so carefully check out their requirements. As regards your particular project, here are a few things you might not be aware of:

  • It is most likely the publisher will regard your work as non-fiction even though it’s also a picture book. Therefore, they may require a proposal along with a query (a query alone is usually for fiction). A proposal is a document that explains your idea. Along with the proposal, they may ask for a few sample pages, but there’s a good chance they won’t ask for the full document up front.
  • You will most likely want to look for children’s publishers —and/or— local/regional publishers who also deal with children’s books since your book has a strong regional topic and appeal.

How Should I Query My Adoption Story?

What is your audience for this story? Are you hoping children will read it themselves, or perhaps adults and children read it together?  I think you need to find a publisher who is looking for certain themes related to adoption, rather than looking for a publisher located in the area where the story starts, which you had suggested. What is your goal for the story? What are the main themes of the story?  For example, does it have any special emphasis (such as difficulties an adoptive child might face who has cultural background differences from the adoptive family)?  I understand you wanted to use a regional publisher, thinking people in that locale would be interested in your story, but I think the book will also be of interest to a wider audience. I think the “story” is more important in this case than the locale—it’s themes and important topics related to the adoption experience.

How Much Information Can I Fit Into My Memoir Query?

Based on the 3 samples you sent, I have created 2 possible query letters. Actually, they are both very similar except for the introductory paragraph of each. However, they are both considerably shorter than the 3 samples you sent me.

You will see that I have had some questions/suggestions that I have [slotted in] at appropriate spots in the query. I would appreciate your thoughts about whether you would want to include that information, and if so, what it specifically should be. Although queries are normally recommended to be one page in length (including addresses, etc.), it may be acceptable to make them a little longer if there is a good reason. And I think in this case the good reason is that this isn’t “just a memoir” – it is also an explication of the legislative situation (and personal beliefs and values) around issues of adoption and related issues such as abortion and women’s reproductive rights. Keeping this in mind, I have avoided labelling it as just a “memoir” and have included enough information to make it clear that it is far more but without going into too much detail–that’s what the proposal and manuscript are for. Which opening paragraph do you prefer? Which, if any, of the [extra information] would you want included? Is there anything that you feel needs changing? Anything that could/should be deleted? You definitely should not let it get much longer.

I do believe that an initial query letter affords you a better chance of an agent or publisher actually being “hooked” enough to request and read through your proposal. If you are sending only a proposal, rather than first sending a query, there are publishers (and/or agents) who won’t even look at the proposal. They receive so many inquiries that they have very little time to spend on each one initially—and thus a well-crafted query letter gives you the best chance to attract their attention. If they are interested enough, they will request your proposal.

Thanks for sending both your query letter and proposal. I see that much of the query letter is almost identical to parts from your proposal, so I’d suggest you change the wording somewhat so the reader doesn’t have a “déjà vu” experience when reading the proposal after reading the query. Of course one should lead into the other, but not be repetitive. I’d suggest sending the query letter first—and then if you are asked for the proposal, submit it with a short cover letter, referring to the query you’ve already submitted.

What Factors Should I Consider When Writing My Query?

No matter how “perfect” a query (or proposal or manuscript) may be, there are many factors that will affect its acceptance, including what the agent or publisher is interested in, what kind of works a publisher needs at this time to round out their offerings, how much money the agent and/or publisher feels can be made with what you are offering (sad but true, this is a major consideration), and so on. All you can do is prepare your query and manuscript the best you can, and then send out those queries and see what responses you get.

What If My Query is Rejected or Ignored?

If you get negative responses, and they give you information as to why they are saying “No thanks,” study those responses and learn from them before you send out further queries. Remember that as a previously unpublished book author (other than your one self-published book), they are taking a “risk” if they accept your work, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get positive responses immediately–or even after many query submissions. Keep tuning up your query (and proposal and manuscript!). It is not uncommon for even “great queries” to get a lot of rejections, especially when you are aiming for top publishers who get literally thousands of queries in a month—or sometimes even in a week–this is another reason to get yourself a good agent, as an agent will know more precisely which publisher is looking for your type of manuscript. Also remember, top agents may also get thousands of queries so you’ll need to make a query to an agent just as “perfect” as one to a publisher–but focus on the agent’s needs and interests in that case.

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