Thursday, September 19th, 2019

The #1 Query Mistake Authors Make Today

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in’s annual online writing conference for children’s book authors. I contributed blog and vlog posts, and led a live query critique session during which I reviewed over 50 picture book query letters. The experience was as illuminating for me as I hope it was for those who submitted queries.

Most, if not all, of the queries showed basic understanding of the format and purpose of the query letter. Many were very good starts… but not one of them was ready to submit. Every one required further polishing to make it really effective, but most interesting of all was the extent to which the same mistake was repeated by different individuals, over and over again.  What was that mistake?

Omitting the market information.

The publishing industry has changed a good deal in recent years. Authors today are expected to play a much bigger role in marketing their own books, and agents and publishers want to know up front whether you are an author who understands this. They want to know that you are savvy about the marketplace and capable of playing a prominent role in bringing your book successfully to market. Simply describing the plot or theme of your book, along with some biographical information, is not enough to make for a compelling query letter in today’s challenging market.

After your elevator speech – the short paragraph stating what your book is about – you should include any information that will help position your book to sell well in the marketplace. For instance…

• If there are other books on this subject that have already been published, mention them as a way of demonstrating interest in the subject, but also mention how yours is unique.

Some examples:

– “In the spirit of the classic _____, “(Your Title)” is unique/offers a fresh twist in that it ______. ”
– “While this is a picture book, it holds crossover appeal for older audiences, and will appeal to the gift market/graduates/new parents/cat lovers of all ages.”
– “This is a particularly timely topic in that….”
– “Because of its subject matter, potential additional sales outlets for the book include (garden centers/pet stores/health clubs, etc.)”

• Any resources you may have to help promote the book, such as connections to certain individuals, areas or industries, mailing lists, blog followers, subscribers, etc.

• Any noteworthy experience or expertise that makes you uniquely qualified to tell this story, and will also give publishers confidence that you will be a good partner in promotional efforts

Think of it as extending your creativity beyond the writing of the book and into the shepherding of it into the marketplace. You’ve worked so hard on the manuscript itself – your query letter deserves the same attention!

To view my vlog post on How to Write A Query Letter, click here:  How to Write a Query Letter Video


3 Responses to “The #1 Query Mistake Authors Make Today”
  1. Beth says:

    This is excellent, Emma. I benefited so much from both your vlog post and your comments on people’s sample queries at WriteOnCon. I was, frankly, surprised at how often you had to mention the importance of marketing to the people who had submitted queries.

    I have started working on a new picture book, and find that with your excellent advice from WriteOnCon in mind, as I write, I am also thinking about ways to market the manuscript to an agent, as well as to promote the book to parents and teachers, and in fact, I’m also noting down potential questions for a teacher’s/reader’s guide.

    The grounding you give us, both in events such as WriteOnCon and on the Children’s Book Hub, are so valuable. Thank you (yet again)!

  2. Sarah says:

    Hmmm, very interesting. Publishers take most of the royalties yet they now are slyly pushing the industry toward making authors market their own works. With the low royalty rates that authors get, publishers should be doing the marketing!

  3. Diane says:

    Yes this is certainly excellent advice, thankyou Emma. I too enjoyed reading all the feedback you gave and the Vlog at WriteOnCon. I also received some valuable advice from other writers in WriteOnCon.

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