Sunday, May 29, 2022



Dear Query Shark,

Come with me to Crustacean University and join this year’s class of mismatched Pollywogs! Watch through this world of science imagination as Adrian keeps finding strange artifacts and accidentally turns Allison’s hair purple, Alex skyrockets his watershed board to the sky, some of the group gets lost in a cave of crystals and Simon falls into a stinky mess. All of this while there is a Dead-Zone outbreak!


I wouldn't have known what category this book was by reading the first paragraph. If I'm confused I generally pass. Most agents get so many queries they don't/won't/can't spend time trying to figure out what you're pitching.


You want to avoid that.


The way to avoid that is starting with the name of the main character and what problem has befallen them. 


If you think the way to avoid this is to put the category in the subject line, you're half right. If you said this was middle grade educational fiction in the subject line, I would have passed then.



Educational books are not trade books. They're acquired and sold much differently.


But this really isn't an educational book; it's a collection of stories (you say so below.)


Join the Pollywogs as they make their way through a series of adventures, blunders, and classroom lab activities as they learn the principles and concepts of ocean literacy. While learning about the ocean environment these new Pollywogs will dodge the Evil Dr. Debris, a giant squid, and toothy sharks! It will surely be a challenging year for these new ocean explorers as they encounter these and many other dangers along the way. While all of this is happening, the Pollywogs find clues to an ancient island puzzle saving Crustacean Island! Learning important life lessons as they go fishing with their minds, finding answers to their curious Crustacean questions in their first set of adventures.


There's no story here.


Middle grade books are story-driven.


If there's educational aspect, it should not the focus of the query or the book.

You should read this book cause you'll learn something is the kiss of death in a sales pitch —and not just for kids books.

The Pollywog Tails

Puns in the title can be a database nightmare.

Don't outsmart yourself here.


is a collection of watery modern adventures that is reminiscent of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,


which was first published in 1869. Using it as a reference point misses the point of comps. You need current books.


It's also adult science fiction, and that's not what you're describing here (as far as I can tell.)


with a touch of The Magic School Bus

1986. Same problem.



woven throughout along with a kick of Kratts creatures.


I had to google this one, but again 1996 is before your target readers were born.


Effective comps share the specs of your book: what shelf it goes on in the bookstore, target audience, thematic elements. They're also recent, pubbed no earlier than 2018 and 2019 is better.


 Crustacean University is led by Dean Crusty, a tough ole’ crab, Scud his amphipod assistant along with the Professors that teach at Crustacean University. And don’t forget the Island’s resident Researcher’s,


it's plural, not possessive. Researchers. No apostrophe.

Yes, I notice that kind of things.


Sure typos happen but that's why you run this by Miss Picklepuss, the copy editor whose idea of a wild night is splitting infinitives after a brewsky or two.

Scuba Scooter and Surfer Joe, together with Molly who keeps track of everyone and everything.


Middle grade books need a middle grade protagonist.

They're often written in first person as well.

They need a plot: what dilemma does the main character face?


The Pollywog Tails, Ancient Secretes and the Mysterious Dead Zones is a mid-grade Educational Fiction Short Story series, where S.T.E.M/S.T.E.A.M concepts meet ocean literacy and is the first Pollywog installment of a planned series of five short-story themed volume sets that are based at Crustacean University. This first introductory set of adventurous tails reads in at 5 volumes varying between 14,00-40,000 words each volume.


I'm not sure you would know this but a series of books needs to have books that are roughly the same length. 40K is 3x as long as 14K.


And you query ONE book, ONE story at a time.


With the need for the understanding of ocean sciences and a basic introduction to S.T.E.M./S.T.E.A.M concepts, and nothing recent on the shelves



When a writer tells me there's nothing recent on the shelves, I ALWAYS go look for myself.


Here's a list of 15, and just about sharks.


About half of these are current enough to count as recent. 


This is where I'd stop reading the query. 


A lot of this is fixable, but not knowing your category is a deal breaker. It means you don't know what's fresh and new cause you don't know what's been done before


I have created Crustacean University—a magical campus where readers are introduced to these principles and ideas through creative storytelling.


You can't set a middle grade book at a university.

Middle grade kids want to read about kids like them, and that means middle school.


I have always had the ocean close to my heart, both as a child and as a sailor in the U.S. Navy. As an avid saltwater aquarist, I have written and published articles for the local aquarium societies and have made online contributions to Reef2Reef website as well. Thank you for taking an interest in the entertaining Pollywog Tails.



You're not a server at Applebee's.

This is a business letter.



Close with Thank you for your time and consideration or something similar.

The closing isn't a deal breaker of course, but it's like shining your shoes for a job interview. You want to convey a business like demeanor.



I'm not sure how much current middle grade you've read.

I usually say you need to have read 100 books in your category before you should write a book, let alone query one.


That standard seems applicable here.


Middle grade needs a middle grade main character.

There needs to be ONE story per query.


That you envision this as a series is mentioned in the housekeeping section. 



Read more. A lot more.

Revise to tell us one story.