SIX Query Letter Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

By Gloria G. Adams 

It’s that time. You’ve written (and revised and rewritten and polished) your manuscript. Now it’s ready to send out to an editor at a publishing house. You’ve researched the publishing houses and found several editors who are open to submissions for your kind of manuscript. 

Now you have to draft that all-important query letter. To make sure it’s an effective letter, make sure you avoid the mistakes made in the following query:

Hey, Tina! #1

Did you ever wonder what it might be like to win the world’s biggest burp contest? That’s exactly what happens to my main character, Freddie Finkle, in my book, The Biggest Burp Contest. Things get really crazy for Freddie after he wins, but you’ll just have to read it for yourself to find out what happens. #2

It’s a picture book for kids in elementary school and it has about 2,000 words. Well, okay, it’s a little closer to 3,000. #3

My cousin, who was an art teacher before he got arrested, was going to draw the pictures for me, but I didn’t want to wait ‘til he got out, so I drew all the pictures for you myself. #4

I read it to my nieces and nephews at Christmas, and they laughed and laughed. This book is so good, I’m sure there just aren’t any other books out there like it.  #5

I’ve worked as a bounty hunter, a circus clown, a lighthouse keeper, and a horse whisperer. I haven’t written anything else yet, but as soon as I save up enough money, I’m going to join one of those writer’s organizations. #6

I feel that my manuscript is a good fit for Kids & Books Publishers, and I thank you for your time and consideration of The Biggest Burp Contest.


Carl Clueless

Of course, this is an exaggeration, but here are the right things to do:

#1. Make sure that you address your letter to the specific name of the person if it’s available. Your salutation should read, “Dear Ms. Smith” or “Dear Mr. Jones.” Make sure to spell the editor’s name correctly.
Always follow the submission guidelines, usually found on the publisher’s website or in directories like the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market.

#2. Your pitch should tell enough about the book to “hook” your editor, but not tell the whole story in detail. If it’s fiction, briefly mention plot and conflict and why your readers will care about what happens to your main character. Some agents might request a complete synopsis, but generally, this should only be one, or at the most, two paragraphs.
One place to find examples of well-written pitches is on the front book jacket flaps of published books.
Also, never tell an editor to “read it for yourself.”

#3. Know the appropriate target audience. Learn the age/grade level, word count, and, if appropriate, genre, before you submit your manuscript. Here’s an excellent site from author Jenny Bowman that explains each of the levels:

#4: Only submit the text if you are submitting a picture book. Never include illustrations unless you are a professional illustrator and are submitting as an “author/illustrator.”

#5. Research what other books might be published that are similar to yours and tell why yours is different or what niche markets might be a good fit. Would it be a great addition to the gift shops at zoos or national parks? Will it make a strong resource for a school curriculum?
Never tell editors that your family loved the book, or your mom thinks it has great potential.

#6. Your bio should include education or jobs that might be related to writing, or an occupation that gave you the expertise to write this particular book. List your published works and any professional writing organizations to which you currently belong. Do you do any writing as part of your job? Write a newsletter for a volunteer organization to which you belong? Look for opportunities to increase published credits; write a blog, enter contests, submit stories or articles to magazines, etc.

A few things to check before you send your submission:   
  • Double check all your spelling and punctuation.
  • Make sure you’ve followed your publisher’s guidelines.
  • Research comparable titles.
  • Tell the editor if this is a simultaneous submission.
  • Include your contact information below your name.
  • Send a test email to yourself or a friend prior to sending to an editor/agent just to be sure the formatting came out the way you wanted it to, and the attachment will open correctly.
  • If an editor only takes snail mail submissions, follow the publishing house guidelines for how to submit. Best practice is to keep it to one sheet, single spaced, font size 12, using Times New Roman.

Check out some examples of successful query letters:

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