DIY Picture Book Query Letters

Illustration from Samuel’s Garden, 1981

When it comes to picture book submissions, editors and agents nearly always ask for the entire text. For novels and nonfiction, they generally ask for a synopsis, the first three chapters, and/or a proposal and outline. It’s a no-brainer that one should write a query for novels or nonfiction to get the prospective publisher interested enough to want to read more. But a lot of people skip writing a query for a picture book, because after all, a picture book is so short!

Or it should be. Most picture books published in recent years tend to be well under 1,000 words. The illustration above is from my first picture book, which was about 2,500 words. The query letter, which I’ve since trashed, was a hand-lettered, photocopied “Dear Editor” monstrosity. Believe it or not, I sold the story, but the publisher (Delair) went belly-up before the book ever saw the light of day. And that’s probably a good thing.

But anyway, a query is needed for a picture book unless the guidelines state otherwise. You are querying the reader to see if she wants to read your story, so obviously a query is actually a pitch, like the teaser on the book jacket which is the lure to get someone to buy and read the book. A lot of writers find that a query for a picture book is far more difficult to write than one for a novel or nonfiction. I’ve done all of them, and agree.

So I decided to dig up the query letters for my recent picture books and share them here. One of the books sold, and the rest are making the rounds. A couple of them had input from my amazing agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary.

Merilee Wiser, Master Advisor loves to give helpful advice to everyone. But Ziggy, Charlie and Trevor don’t think she can solve a real problem, like building a clubhouse. Merilee proves them wrong of course. But when the clubhouse is done, they will not let her inside because she is a girl. Her solution to that problem offers the best advice of all.

In Aneesa, Go Outside!, Aneesa is not happy about the strange sights, sounds, and smells she encounters at her new home in the city, and she misses the natural beauty of the home she sadly left behind. Nanni does her best to coax Aneesa into going outside with her to explore, but Aneesa will have nothing of it. When Nanni gives Aneesa a pot of soil and a seed so she can have her outside inside, the seed also burrows inside Aneesa’s heart and sprouts a tiny glimpse of hope for her.

Autumn Spawn follows a single salmon’s historical life journey from stream to ocean and then back to her ancestral spawning grounds, where she lays her eggs and soon dies. Her amazing quest is much like all species of Salmoniformes in the world whose populations have drastically declined in the last century. Autumn Spawn is a story of relentless survival that has evolved over millions of years.

Onomatopoeia is a popular and fun way to describe and remember bird sounds. In Chirp!, Mia Louise interprets a variety of bird voices that she hears on her walk. But suddenly the music stops: one bird has a problem. Once the problem is solved, the symphony resumes.

BUG! is a quirky little girl who loves bugs, loves to draw, but hates math. When challenged to pass the big math test, Bug finds a unique and clever way to finally understand math concepts. And bugs have something to do with it. All goes well, at first. This humorous, character-driven story will show children who struggle that there are many ways to get to the correct answer, and it will encourage them to use their own imaginations to find the solutions.

These pitches are not perfect by any means, but my goal is to succinctly describe the story and provide a hook to encourage the editor to want to read it. I hope these examples give you some ideas for your picture book query.

Be sure to check out my books, many of which you can find at Rourke Educational Media. A complete publications list is on my wiki page.

And, stay tuned for the spring 2019 publication of BUG! to be illustrated by Amy Proud and published by Sterling Children’s.

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