Home page  |  More useful articles  |  Search for more information

Query Letters for Children's Book Fiction
"Musings" Archive for April 2003

by Margot Finke

Sponsored Links

The first few times I wrote query letters my stomachache did a fandango. Friends of mine, old hands at the writing game, admit to still feeling a twinge of anxiety when they have to write a query.

I'm offering a few simple query letter rules that will help banish your anxiety and settle your stomach. Remember, these days fewer and fewer publishers accept unagented manuscripts, or even three chapters plus a synopsis. Your query needs to grab the editor's interest. Offer editors something original, dramatic, or great fun. Avoid cutesy, extreme, or outrageous.

Research First

# 1 -- Research the publishers and editors where you plan to submit. Check out their websites for information regarding submission guidelines and the kind of books they currently publish. Make sure your manuscript fits their needs. Send only what the publisher requests. Ask writer friends if they have had dealings with any of these editors, and know their style. If a publisher wants exclusive rights during their evaluation of your MS (manuscript), you must decide whether the prestige of the publisher is worth the many months involved. If you do send to more than one publisher at a time, you should mention this fact at the end of your query. However, many writers these days do not bother. These are areas where you get to choose on a case-by-case basis.

A Sales Tool

#2 -- Think of your query as a sales tool. You query needs to sell three things -- your story, your writing talent, and yourself.

A Blueprint Basic Query

# 3 -- There is no such thing as a "one query fits all editors" query letter. Likes and dislikes vary. Some editors want a "just the facts, ma'am" approach. Others prefer a more chatty style. However, there is certain information that all editors need.

Keep it brief -- one page, single-spaced.

If you met the editor at a conference, or elsewhere, and have permission to send your manuscript to her, begin by briefly reminding her where you met. Then, go on to introduce your book.

The Big No-No's

Colored paper, fancy fonts and clip art, brand you as an amateur. Don't mention how much your kids, relatives and friends loved your story. This screams "beginner."

Make Sure You:

Double-space your text with one-inch margins either side of the page. Check for spelling and punctuation errors. Spell the editor's name correctly, and double-check the publisher's address. Times New Roman and Courier New are easy-to-read fonts that editors like.

A Genuine Query Letter

Remember the old saying, "There is more than one way to skin a cat?" If you read the sample query below, and check out the information sources offered in this article, you will realize there are many different ways to write a successful query letter.

Type the Publisher's name and address on the top left. Your name and address goes top right. Put your e-mail addy and the date under your name and address. If you have a Web Page, type the URL beneath your signature. Check everything for accuracy.

This query got Dorothy Francis's manuscript read by an editor:

Dear Ms.

"This is the hidden place that hiders know.
This is where hiders go.
Step softly."

Stephen Vincent Benet

These words set the mood for my middle-grade novel titled The Hiders.

An alternate title might be Mystery of the Ghost Light.

Amybell Kincaid, age 12, who lives on Bayou of the Swans, takes on the responsibility of saving herself and her 2 siblings from social workers who want to send them to foster care because they are home alone much of the time. Ma has died. Pa is a shrimper and works at sea many days at a time. Amybell doubts that Pa, their reclusive stepfather, really cares about them. She wants to run away to an aunt in Baton Rouge. To pay expenses for this trip, the children try to win Capt. Bodine's $100 prize for finding the source of the ghost light tourists see from his tour boat in the bayous. Act or perish is Amybell's motto as the children and Napoleon, their cat, run away, camp aboard a half-sunk shrimp boat in the eerie swamps, and search for the ghost light.

May I show you a synopsis and 3 chapters of this manuscript?

I am a published writer and a member of SCBWI. Perfection Learning Corp. has 13 of my hi/lo books listed in its current catalog, and Millbrook Press is marketing my Gateway Biography of Clara Barton and 1 title in their I Know America Series–Our Transportation Systems. I'm also a retired correspondence teacher for the Institute of Children's Literature and a book reviewer for "The Five Owls," "Multicultural Review," and "Riverbank Review."

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Dorothy Francis

Encl: The Hiders and SASE


The websites below offer links to other helpful areas within their sites. They also link to a host of writing-intense sites that will facilitate your writing. You could go MIA for weeks while surfing in-and-out of their helpful pages.

Happy query letter writing, mates!

Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.

Crayon tiphomearticlesCrayon end
Home page | Articles index