So, you’ve decided to try to enlist the services of an agent to sell your children’s book. What next? You need to get your ideas in front of an agent. Here’s how to do that in a way that will increase your probability of success.
Follow agency submission guidelines
The number-one mistake that many prospective authors and illustrators make when submitting to an agency is that they don’t first find out what the agency’s submission guidelines are. Instead, they create an epic work that violates every rule the agency lays down for prospective authors — landing their work in the trash can. Don’t let this happen to you.
Check the agency’s website or give a call and ask for a copy of its guidelines.
Depending on the agency’s preferences, you may be asked to submit your book in a variety of different forms:
A query letter (which contains a short synopsis of your idea as well as your contact information and brief biography)
A complete manuscript (you have one of those, right?)
Sample chapters and an outline (especially if you’re pitching a nonfiction book, a young adult novel, or another longer work)
A proposal (which contains a synopsis of your idea, a proposed table of contents, marketing and biographical information, analysis of competitive works, and perhaps a sample chapter or two)
After you have the agency’s guidelines, make sure to follow them to the letter! And illustrators: Artists’ reps also have guidelines for portfolio submissions. Find out what they are before sending out your materials.
Stand out from the pack of children's book authors
How can you stand out from the pack of hungry authors beating down agents’ doors? Here are a few tried-and-true tips:
Choose the right agent for the job. Make sure you have the agent who specializes in the type of children’s book you wrote.
Follow the agency’s guidelines. Just following the agency’s guidelines automatically makes you stand out from the rest of the competition. Visit their website or ask for the guidelines before you do anything else.
Be sure your manuscript is complete and polished to a shine before you submit it. Either get feedback from a writer’s group or a writing class or engage the services of a professional children’s book editor or book doctor.
Perfect the agency query letter
A good query letter is short and sweet; one page should do the trick. Why? Because the point of a query letter is to give the agent (or publisher) a quick rundown on your idea, describe how it fits into the marketplace, and show some indication of your ability to write the book and help promote it.
A query letter is also the first chance you have to wow an agent or publisher after you’ve completed your research and are sure this is the person or entity you simply must make contact with.
Here’s what you need to put into your one-page query letter:
Greeting: You know, “Dear . . .” then two lines down you start. Your greeting should use the respectful Mr. or Ms. prefix before the first then last name. If you’ve actually met the agent or editor at a conference, then, and only then, can you start the query letter with a more personalized greeting acknowledging where and when you met and reference that person’s expressed desire to consider manuscripts from attendees.
Hook: This is one powerful, attention-grabbing pitch sentence or two that will make the reader want to read the book.
Overview: A bit more about the book, including audience, age, format, and word count (this is not a book report or a plot summary; it is an overview of the main character(s), setting, and dramatic conflict written in the same style and tone of your captivating manuscript). It should also briefly reference why your book is different from other similar books. Try to keep it under 75 words.
Biography: This is where you convince the reader you’re the best person to write the story you’ve summarized above. (Published writers always list their most recent books first; if you haven’t been published, then relevant professional experience will do.)
Closing sentence: Brief, but powerful! Just make sure you don’t plead to be published. After all, they know why you’re writing them.
Contact information: Provide your phone number, e-mail, and physical mailing address.
A query letter going to an agent versus one that goes to a publisher will differ only in the research you indicate you’ve done that led you to choose submitting to this particular person.
Here's what a query letter looks like, but be careful to tailor your letter to a prospective agency or publisher’s guidelines. (You can find these guidelines on the agency or publisher’s website or in writing if you request them from the company).
When communicating with agents or publishers in a query letter, always make sure to identify the format of your book. In the preceding query letter, the format is identified as a picture book, allowing the agent or publisher to immediately understand your intended audience as well as the approximate page count and size of the book.
It also assures that the right in-house editor will receive your submission if it gets past the first reader. And perhaps most important, it shows you have done your research and separates your submission from those of the wannabes who refer to their work only as a “children’s book” (and who most likely will receive only a rejection letter in return for their limited efforts).