Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Dear QueryShark,

Penn, a free-spirited and tenacious baby peachick, is unafraid to speak his mind - even when it’s just him, up against all five of his rambunctious older brothers. So, when his brothers begin to tease him for the “girly” pink hue of his feathers, Penn decides to lead the group on a short walk through their prolific jungle home.

Along the way, each peachick marvels at the many different shades of pink they notice decorating the rich landscape. Wandering through the jungle’s tall clusters of snapdragons, tasting the succulent Sri Lankan jambu fruit, and even stopping to watch their very first sunrise, all five of Penn’s brothers feel increasingly silly for ever teasing him about his feathers in the first place. After offering Penn a heartfelt (and slightly embarrassed) apology, the brothers conclude that there is beauty in their diversity, and that all of the jungle’s many colors, even pink, are for everyone to enjoy and share in, equally. However, just before Penn can thank his brothers for their open mindedness and kind attitudes, a faint cracking sound is heard coming from underneath the foot of the nest.

As their twelve tiny eyes peer over the edge, another peachick finishes poking its way out of its partly-concealed egg. To Penn and his brothers’ surprise, a final peachick hops out of the egg, covered in short, stubby, brown feathers. With a wave of her tiny wing, she oh-so-cheekily introduces herself as their new and very first little sister.

I was once featured in Saugus High School’s Literary Magazine, and am currently working as a child care counselor at an elementary school in Los Angeles, California.

Penn the Peachick, a book of 600 words, is Juvenile Fiction.

No it's not. It's a picture book.
It's a picture book even if you are only writing the words (text), not providing the art.

The fact you don't know this means you don't know enough yet to query.
That's not a character flaw. It doesn't mean you're stupid.
I don't think either of those things when I get a query like this.
What I do think is you haven't done enough research about querying.

Picture book queries are unlike any other kind of query.
They include ALL the text.
You don't have to describe the plot. You don't need anything but the actual words of the story.

Picture books are INCREDIBLY difficult to write well.

I have ONE client who writes picture books and he sweats over every word, every pause,
every line break.
It's like writing poetry.

Thank you kindly for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response!

I'm pretty sure you didn't look forward to this.

Now, what to do: first of all, join the Society of Childrens Writers and Illustrators, one of the very best places to learn about this kind of publishing.

Second, do some research using "querying picture books" or "how to query a picture book" that will get you info on this particular form.


Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Reading this as query sounds like I am supposed to understand the moral to the story. All good stories have a moral. That's great stuff. But it sounds preachy. Kids have a skin reaction to preachy.

Classic PBs show through example.

It seems like there is an interesting idea in your query but it feels more like something the parents would appreciate. Diversity being one of those hot topics. At picture book age kids do not percieve themselves as different from their peers. This is why to me it sounds preachy.

And as The Shark says, SCBWI is where you want to be for anything YA and under.

Sarah said...

Yes! SCBWI is the way to go. I learned so much about the craft and business of writing children's books at SCBWI conferences– and you will meet the kindest people!

All the best to you!

abnormalalien (Jamie A. Elias) said...

While I must defer to The Shark on the matter of the query, I will at least point out that the story sounds cute and I thought the writer did a good job describing it.

Christine Tripp said...

I've often been stymied by some Agent requests for a query to go along with a full manuscript sub of a PB. Or sometimes just the query. The query often times becomes longer in word count then the text itself!
I wonder sometimes if it's more a test of the writers understanding of their story?
As an Illustrator there's an advantage to being able to sub a PDF dummy, so what the text isn't saying can be shown.
Janet, would you say that in general Agents do or do not appreciate Illustrator Notes, when the text doesn't really explain all that is going on in the story (such as sarcasm, for example, "George was SO thrilled about Great Aunt Edna's visit" and picture would show George looking miserable as Aunty plants a massive red lip kiss)

Karen McCoy said...

Yup. SCBWI all the way. They even have a free downloadable annotated bibliography called "The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children," and it has all kinds of awesome info.

Karen McCoy said...

Note: "The Book" is free to members, so it offers a good incentive to join SCBWI.

Theresa Milstein said...

Query Shark is giving excellent advice here. I've learned so much through SCBWI and being involved with my local chapter.

Laina said...

I would disagree that kids don't know that they're different from peers. Sometimes, unfortunately, they do. Kids notice if they're treated differently, or if they don't see characters who look like them.

While you're back at the drawing board, how does this read out loud? 600 words is a bit long (Bear Snores On, one of my favourite books to read out loud to a group, is about 400), and there are places that drag, that's where I lose the kids when I'm reading it. I think there are some beautiful long picture books, but unfortunately I don't think they get as many readers. Parents push kids towards beginner readers and chapter books much faster nowadays, honestly, and those books kind of get lost.

Something to keep in mind from someone who reads about 800 picture books a year!