Agent Elena Mechlin, from Pippin Properties, gave a talk at the Rocky Mountain SCBWI fall conference on writing a winning query letter.  Of all the advice she gave, the one point that struck me the most was her statement, “You have 30 seconds to get my attention.”  That may seem harsh, but it’s probably the reality everywhere.  With that as a backdrop, she made these key points:

  • Open with an intriguing line.
  • Don’t be boring.  Start with the hook of the book.
  • Don’t use the full synopsis for a hook.  Give teaser/hook to create suspense.
  • Keep it short, and get to the point.
  • Talk about the book first, then about yourself (best to give bio at the end of the query).
  • Make sure your research shows.  Address the letter to a specific person and say why you think your book is a good fit for him/her.  By all means, mention if you met her at a conference or some other event.
  • Keep marketing ideas out of the query letter; it’s premature.
  • Try to avoid sending attachments if possible.  A picture book manuscript can be sent in its entirety in the body of an email.  Likewise with a three-page sample.  Don’t attach more unless the material is requested.
  • Focus on only one project in the query (your best manuscript), but it’s okay to mention that you have multiple projects underway.
  • Have fun with the query!  Don’t take it all so seriously.  (If anyone has any ideas on how to execute on that suggestion, please let me know :-))

Elena also said if she rejects one project, it is okay to query again with a different manuscript.  She described reading queries as “a treasure hunt.”  Hopefully if you query her, you will strike gold.

Categories: Children's Books, Picture Books, Queries, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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7 Comments

  1. This is not the first time I have heard about the 30-second rule. I even use it when I’m scrolling through the blogs in my RSS reader. If my attention isn’t captured in the first 10 seconds, I’ll just skim over the blog post to see if anything interesting pops out. Blog reading is kind of like a treasure hunt, too!

    • Christie – agreed, and yes blog reading is very similar. I have tons in my reader, so if a post doesn’t catch me right away, I usually move on. I’m sure agents want to get through their stacks of queries as quickly as they can. Making quick decisions is the only way to do that.

  2. Great concise post on queries Julie. It’s good to have posts like this that collate info you’ve collected for ages. I find I take things in better when I don’t need them, takes the pressure off.

  3. Excellent summary of key points.

    Per the last . . . to have FUN, maybe include a bit of Dr. Seussian rhyme time to the mix:

    It’s easier to write than query
    Queries can seem “oh, so dreary”
    But this one’s different, as you’ll see
    It’s about a boy and his pet flea

    His pet flea flew, flopped and flumped
    While the boy, named George, hopped and jumped
    Trying to emulate his pet flea
    In this book written by . . . yours truly

  4. Great post
    and thanks for the fun rhyme nrhatch

  5. I have an award for you on my blog.

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