Monday, January 28, 2008

Sample of a winning query

Here's a sample of a query that led to a quick sale. I'll admit, it's a teensy bit "name-droppy," but graciously so, I hope. I guess it didn't bother the intended recipient because she responded within 7 days that she'd like to see the manuscript, which she bought about 10 weeks later. I've since co-presented with this editor in a workshop called "Birth of a book." She said that, indeed, she appreciates your mentioning any acquaintances you have in common, as long as it's a genuine association. And, of course, you'll want to clear the name-drop with your friend before using his/her name.

I'd prefer all names below to remain anonymous, so I've replaced "dropped" names with "(insert mutual acquaintance's name)." And of course, I've removed the name of the editor. Hey, I'm not going to do ALL your work for you!!

(Editor's name & title)
(Publisher's address.)

Dear Ms. (Editor,)

(Insert mutual acquaintance's name), a member of my online critique group, suggested you might be interested in my 267 word picture book, The Crocodaddy, which follows a fearless “Crocodaddy hunter” as he stalks his sly, playful father. I placed the action in a pond, although the game originated between my sons and their father in our tiny backyard pool. The young hunter repeatedly tries to tame the wiley Crocodaddy. He nearly manages in this stanza, when he leaps onto the Crocodaddy’s back:

(Here I inserted 3 short stanzas from the work. Actually, 2 stanzas and a refrain. They're each short-lined quatrains which totaled about 52 words for all three stanzas.)

I’m the author of the humorous picture book, Jack of All Tails, (DUTTON, 2007.) A long-standing member of the SCBWI, I edit their “Highlighter” Mid-Atlantic newsletter. In 2000, I illustrated The Museum Duck, (PEARL LINE PRESS), and my poem, “Mirror, Mirror, O’er the Sink,” was published in Rolling in the Aisles, (MEADOWBROOK, 2004.)

With its summer setting and father/child action, I believe The Crocodaddy has potential as a Father’s Day favorite. I’ve enclosed SASE for your response. I’m also querying several other houses about this manuscript.


Kim Norman

P.S. - (insert OTHER mutual acquaintance's name) says “hi,” too! I’m in her in-person crit group, which will miss her terribly when she moves soon!


Couple o' notes about my query style:
While I want to appear professional, I try to avoid the kind of stilted business language they used to teach in typing class 30 years ago. So I use contractions where they seem appropriate, and it goes without SAYING that I never use the phrase, "Please find enclosed..."

Oops. I just said it anyway.

If you don't have any names to drop, not to worry. I received plenty of "yes please" responses way back when I knew not a soul in the children's book biz. So as long as you're professional and offer an enticing story, many editors -- even at the biggest houses -- will ask to see your full manuscript if it looks like a good fit for their line.

It's interesting to note that, when we presented that workshop together, my ed said she liked that I mentioned the potential marketing niche of the book, (my mention of Father's Day.) She also liked that I included a snippet of the text so she could get a feel for the story's language.

This letter marked a change in how I worded the information about this being a multiple submission. (It went to one other large house, who also requested the ms. but, alas, it was sold by then. Kind of a nice position to be in, though!) Anyway, in the past, my letters barely whispered the "MS" word... er... words. I'd drop it as a euphemism as far near the end of the letter as possible. Or I'd just put "Mult. subm" way down in the bottom corner.

This time, as you can see, I stated it plainly in the closing paragraph. You never know when an editor coveting a potentially scarce commodity will work in your favor!

Oh, and I'll end on an encouraging note: I misspelled "wily" in the query, (did you spot it?) The editor forgave me and bought the manuscript anyway. So don't let perfectionism get in the way of submitting your stories. Editors like to see clean, professional submissions, but they understand that everyone makes the occasional boo boo. In fact, the editor at that OTHER house, (the one who requested the manuscript after it had sold), is equally forgiving. Once, previous to this submission, I misspelled her name in a query!! She asked to see the manuscript anyway.

Kim Norman

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Musical pitch a learned skill?

I just listened to a fascinating- FASCINATING- podcast from Robert Krulwich's Radio Lab. I believe it's a public radio show that plays in various markets, but we don't get it here, so I listen to it online. This particular show was about how the mind processes music. One expert they interviewed has discovered, in countries where language relies on pitch, that people she has tested from those countries have an immensely larger percentage of the population with perfect pitch. (The ability to identify the pitch of a note without seeing it on sheet music, for instance.)

Some of this is bound to be genetics, of course, but the researcher thinks her studies prove that much of one's ability to distinguish musical tones is a learned skill, acquired during those crucial early years when a child's mind is especially attuned to acquiring language.

Of course, all languages use pitch to some degree, but that's often related to sentence structure, such as the American style of ending questions on an up-note while British speakers often pitch the last syllable downward. But the sentence would still mean basically the same thing, regardless of pitch. This researcher's tests are based on the many Asian languages where
pitch will totally change the meaning of a word such as "ma."

Of course, it begs the question: if you and your children are "stuck" with a language which is not pitch-based, how can you cultivate that kind of ear in your own child? This show doesn't answer that question, but I think it would be a huge argument for exposing one's child to lots and lots of music EARLY. And not only lots of it, but lots of repetition, hearing the same songs over and over again. (And, of course, most children DO love hearing things over and over again. They seem to instinctively know that it's the best way for them to learn.)

Who knows, maybe that's the reason my younger son has such a well-tuned musical ear. When he was not quite two, he spent some months in a body cast. The only furniture that worked to support his odd plaster-encased posture was a bean bag chair where he spent a lot of that time in front of a simple music video of a man singing nursery rhymes while accompanying himself on the guitar. And when I saw a lot, I mean a LOT!

Anyway, here's a link to the show online. I think you can listen to it from the web, and of course also as a podcast. Check out all their other shows, too. They're all GREAT! Click here for the music podcast.

Kim Norman

JACK OF ALL TAILS, Dutton, June 2007 -- IT'S HERE!
THE CROCODADDY, Sterling, 2009

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"No Unsolicited manuscripts?" Doesn't mean you can't send something!

A recent discussion on the Yahoo CW list reminded me of some advice I posted there once about the meaning of the term "no unsolicited manuscripts." Here's the post:

"No unsolicited manuscripts" does not mean you can't send something to these publishers. (Those who are truly closed will say something like "Not accepting submissions.")

"No unsolicited" just means you must send them a one-page QUERY first. If they like your idea and feel your book is a possible fit for their list, they will reply to your letter inviting you to send your manuscript. Then, WHEE! Suddenly you're sending a solicited manuscript.

I understand your confusion. I used to think that "no unsolicited" meant they actually only approached famous people and solicited manuscripts from them. Sounds incredibly naive of me now, but that's honestly what I thought.

You do not have to be previously published or famous or have any sort of contact in the industry for a publisher to take your query seriously. I got many "yes" responses to my queries early in my career, when I didn't know a SOUL in "the biz."
If they wish to see your manuscript based on your query, they'll write back and tell you their company procedure for you to send the now-solicited manuscript. Usually that means marking your envelope as "requested material," or something along those lines.

(Now I know what some people are thinking: "Why not just mark the envelope "requested material" FIRST and send it off? Answer: Editors have good memories. They will not only know they did not request a falsely marked manuscript, they will also remember the deception if you try to contact them later, even if you do it "by the rules" the 2nd time.)

There is lots of information online and in books on how to write a good query. It's a form of marketing yourself. The query serves as a first glimpse of your writing style, so it needs to have personality and yet be professional. I know it seems hard to convey the quality of a million-times-revised story in a li'l old query, but trust me, editors are well-trained to spot potential in a query. Plus, you can always insert a small excerpt from your manuscript so they can get a sense of your style as well. Do a search online or in an online bookstore on "How to write a good/strong query," and you'll hit a mother lode of helpful information.

You might want to read another blog post where I published the query that sold my CROCODADDY to Sterling editor who had never heard of me until she read the query. Read that HERE. I have since sold other books to Sterling, so my query was the start of a great, long-lasting relationship.

Good luck!