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Critique Wanted: Picture Book Query

Happy Friday everyone! Today I'm posting a query for a couple picture book writers who e-mailed me interested in getting their query critiqued. If you have some time, please give it a look and see if you have any constructive criticism to offer.  Here's what they're looking for:

"We would appreciate any comments or suggestions you may have about the letter and whether this is an effective letter for us to send along with our picture book text to publishers or agents. Thank you!"

Diane Schute
Gail Marshall
[Contact info redacted]

Editor's Name, Title
Publishing Company

Dear :

Begin with some anxiety...a bit of stress...a feeling of not belonging. Now stir in a large measure of confidence. Add a generous dollop of self-esteem. Sprinkle on a liberal amount of optimism. Mix it all together with the love and inspiration of a great story. Let it sit for a short time, and you have the recipe for a special reading experience!

Sammy the Seashell takes a long journey from the deep sea to the shores of a nearby beach. He encounters many situations that frighten him and cause the symptoms of stress to emerge. With the help of an older shell, Sammy learns some strategies to get through these difficult yet common situations that occur in everyone’s life. He learns that although stress will never go away, he can control the way it can affect his life. Most importantly, he learns the power of positive thinking and how it can change the way he tackles life's problems. 

Diane Schute has worked with children for close to 20 years as a teacher, counselor and a therapist in a private practice. One theme has been apparent in all of these years in every place she has worked: kids are stressed! She sees kids on a daily basis struggling to deal with anxiety and not having the strategies needed to cope. Diane was a co-creator of a video titled “Stressball Sally,” which demonstrated strategies to help children deal with stressful situations such as bullying, which we have heard so much about in today’s schools (www.stressballsally.com). Diane has worked since then to find ways for children to feel good about themselves and ultimately create an environment with less stress and more success!

Gail Marshall is a former elementary school teacher with 35 years of classroom experience. She taught a variety of grade levels and worked with many children who were dealing with a range of life issues and special needs. Gail shared her lifelong love of reading and the craft of writing with her many students.

We are members of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Over the years we have attended numerous workshops and curriculum-related seminars related to the art of writing and the many issues faced by children today.

We are submitting Sammy the Seashell, our picture book manuscript, along with this letter. We very much appreciate your time and consideration. Thank you very much.

Diane Schute
Gail Marshall


Steve MC said...

This sounds like such a worthy and necessary issue, so just that alone has that going for it.

For the query itself, I'd cut the first paragraph and get right to the story. It could also use a few details about the situations he faces, so we can picture what it'll look like and how Sammy might overcome them.

You could also cut the second to last paragraph to make the query more concise.

Good luck with it!

Tonja Drecker said...

I know lots of kids with this problem - great idea.

I agree with Maine - drop the first paragraph. It has nothing to do with the story. The second paragraph is fine. You might want to be a bit more specific: 'many situations'and 'some strategies' is very vague. A couple examples might make it more interesting. I'd also consider cutting down on the paragraph about Diane.

Good luck with it!

Casey McCormick said...

Hi Diane and Gail,

You've got a decent query here. I love that the story deals with stress in such an accessible way.

I would recommend deleting the first paragraph, as others have suggested, or writing a different lead-in. What you have is cute but I've definitely seen it before and I find myself not sure how to picture a recipe with almost conflicting ingredients.

If you do delete it, I also agree that an example or two in the second paragraph would be good. Just don't go overboard as agents/editors love a concise query. I would also delete the word "the" in front of "symptoms of stress" and swap "the way it can" for just "affects."

I'm good with the rest as whoever is reading can choose how much or little they want to read of the bios.

Good luck!

Casey McCormick said...

Oh, and if you send any e-mail queries, as I suspect you will, delete the agent/editor info (they know who they are) and move your contact info to the bottom. If it's someone who reads queries on their phone, in particular, this will save them from having to scroll through a lot of white space to get to your query. Sad as it sounds, they aren't likely to care who you are until you've proven you have something great to offer.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the feedback. Casey, we appreciate your comments and specific suggestions in terms of the content and the format of the letter. We will certainly take another look and incorporate your ideas. It seems like everyone so far agrees about the first paragraph; we had read that it is important to grab attention and stand out, but perhaps we need to find another way to do that. Thank you!

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm not very good with PBs, but I would recommend looking up Ishta Mercurio's blog, and Shelley Thomas Moore. They both have a lot of experience.

Nicole Zoltack said...

With my PB queries, I focus on the plot, not the theme. If books are too preachy, agents won't want them because kids won't want to be read them so if you only focus on the theme, the agent will think the story is only about the lesson, and not enough story - if that makes sense.

Gail said...

Yes, Nicole, that does make sense and we will have to think about that. Thank you.

erica and christy said...

As a long-time early childhood teacher myself, I'd have to say - your plot synopsis sounds like you're a teacher trying to teach something instead of authors who are really excited about your book!

I'd suggest for you to add some character into that paragraph and cut down on some of your biography - agents already interested in this type of book know what teachers and therapists do, but they don't know if your book is going to be something they want to represent, so focus on that! And good luck!!

Gail said...

Thank you to everyone for your thought-provoking comments and suggestions. We appreciate your feedback. And thank you, Casey, for the opportunity to be featured on your blog!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Like everyone, I too will advice that you should drop the first paragraph. Could you mention atleast one of the situations that Sammy encounters (just a single sentence should do), it will throw light on what Sammy is undergoing. And also mention one of the strategies he has learnt. Otherwise its sounding vague. Hope it helps.

Nora Lester Murad in Palestine said...

I agree with everyone else. The recipe metaphor is unrelated to the book and confused me (I couldn't figure out how it was related to the synopsis.). The synopsis is a description -- tell me the STORY not about the story. I don't mind the rest of it (credentials are impressive) except for the exclamation point, which I would definitely omit. From what I've read, you should actually say you're seeking representation, even though that's obvious AND all agent advice says you should be very specific about why you're submitting to THAT agent. You don't mention that so it sounds a bit like you may be sending the same letter to everyone. Good luck!

Wendy said...

Good luck with this! You've gotten great advice. I'd just reiterate, drop the first paragraph and use specific story elements to show us/an editor why we want YOUR story. There are other books that deal with the theme of childhood stress, so I want to know why yours is different/better.
The credentials are impressive, but I think you can tighten the writing there.

Andrea said...

I will second all the advice here about deleting the first paragraph and being more specific about the story. As a mother who has a daughter who is prone to stress, I think it's a great subject to tackle and wish you best of luck!

Jennifer Jensen (@jenjensen2) said...

I'll echo what the others have said, and add that in addition to a plot point or two, I'd like a sense of the character - some quirky elements, something that makes him something other than a generic "Tommy the Toaster" type character.

Also, my first thought when reading the request for a critique for a picture book query, was that agents/editors don't usually want queries for picture books - they're so short they want the entire MS instead. You may have some targeted that specifically want PB queries, but if not, it's worth checking. Good luck!

Gail said...

You are correct, Jennifer, they do want the entire MS for picture books. They usually request that it be sent along with the query letter (which really functions as more of a cover letter I guess).
Thank you to all for the great feedback!

Theresa Milstein said...

I don't have much experience with picture book queries, but I agree that it's sense of story rather than lesson learned. Each book has a moral, but it's not stated in queries for older books, so I would think plot would drive children books too. I don't think the first paragraph is needed. It's cute, but it doesn't say anything.

Good luck! Queries are so difficult.

Unknown said...

This draft is looking really great, but I have to agree that the first paragraph recipe threw me off. Also, Wendy had a good point that there are other childrens books on this issue, so I would focus on what is unique about your approach to dealing with the topic. What is specifially new about your offered solutions to dealing with stress and how is the story engaging fot kids?
Best of luck!

Stina said...

I have no idea what to do with PB queries, but I do feel the first paragraph should be cut. The second paragraph needs to be fleshed out more to show who the mc is and the conflict he faces.

Good luck! :D