I've been writing children's books for several years. All along, many of the agents and editors to whom I submitted my work have responded to and commented on my queries and manuscripts. I discovered I have a talent that can help kidlitwriters improve their chances of receiving responses on their submissions.
Please note that no one can guarantee you will be offered representation or a book deal. My goal is to help increase your chances of having your manuscript read and receiving a response. The query letter is essentially a teaser to create interest. After all, the goal of the query is to intrigue the reader well enough that your story is read.
Before you draft your query letter, I recommend reviewing following posts:
First and foremost, the query letter is a business letter. Publishing is a business, and agents and editors like to be approached respectfully and professionally. It's a small industry, and your first impression needs to be a good one.
- Address the agent or editor by name, not To Whom It May Concern or Dear Agent. This sounds so simple, yet I hear it at nearly every agent panel I've attended.
- If you don't have a good way to personalize your opening (e.g. from your research or having met an agent at a conference), go right into your pitch. The point is to intrigue the agent or editor into wanting to read more. A forced attempt at personalization will quickly be recognized for what it is.
- Keep your bio paragraph short and only include what is relevant. For example, if you are submitting a nonfiction picture book and your undergraduate degree demonstrates your expertise on the subject, then mention it. I never shared I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology because it was never directly relevant.
- If you don't have writing credentials, just list your writing association membership(s). Paid memberships show you take your writing career seriously. Avoid apologizing for a lack of credentials.
- Do not mention how much children, critique partners or teachers love your book. It will mark you as an amateur.
- Avoid stating how your book will address an important societal issue. Manuscripts described as didactic will likely not spark interest.
When I spoke to a librarian in my community several years ago about the rejections I had been receiving, she said the responses reveal that my work is being read. I had not realized just how inundated agents and editors are with query letters. My stories were making it through the filter.
I then took a course in writing query letters conducted by literary agents. The feedback I received was that my letter did not need any revision at all. After joining my current critique group, one of my critique partners called me the "query letter whisperer."
I would even hazard a guess that my early query letters were better than my stories. I have over two decades experience in human resources and helping people with their cover letters and resumes. So the dreaded query letter was not a dreary task for me. I have years of honed business letter writing skills to apply to the publishing industry.
With practice and feedback from critique partners, you can learn to write great query letters. I hope this helps you advance in your kidlit writing career.