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


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this, Kim.

Jan McDaniel

Kim Bookwriter said...

Thanks, Jan. I hope you found it useful!


Unknown said...

Ditto. Thank you SO much for sharing this. Much luck on your continued success:-)

Jennifer Root said...

This was great! It really taught me that the query letter should sound fun, like the book you want them to buy! I've been missing this in the past, so thank you so much.

Sonia Pereira said...

Dear Kim,

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!
Very useful info!

Sonia Pereira

Kate said...

What a lovely article ! My sister is a childrens story writer and has just found a publisher in the UK, I`ve sent her this article and she has told me how much she enjoyed and learned from it and will now put more work into her querys,
Thanks so much for this !

Kim Bookwriter said...

I'm so glad you and your sister found the article to be helpful, Kate. Thanks for letting me know. Best of luck to your sis with her queries!!


Penelope said...

Thanks for this info. I'm actively seeking a publisher for my memoir - I will now go through my list again and take your advice!

Bonnee Crawford said...

Wow, this is a really old post, but I was googling what "no unsolicited manuscripts" means and found this blog entry of yours: which had a link to this one. This was really helpful to read, so thanks for putting this up (and the other blog too!)

Kim Bookwriter said...

I'm glad it was helpful, Bonnee. Good luck to you!

FlirtstoneM said...

Thank you very much a 20 year old from South Africa,just finished my Novel Manuscript and did not not what to do,now i know thank you!

Kim Bookwriter said...

Wow! Good for you!! My son just finished the first draft of a novel, too. He's in kind of that "what now" phase, too. But that's a huge hurdle you have cleared. I celebrate you both!!


Unknown said...

Thank you so much sharing, Kim. I love the perfect blend of professional and personal aspects of the letter. It creates a mood I hope to duplicate.