ProTalk Discussion: Cover & Query Letters- 6/7/05


*** Verla has set the topic on channel #Kidlit to ProTalk Discussion - Cover Letters & Query Letters IN PROGRESS
Verla: We're ON!
Verla: So let's talk about them. First off, there is a difference between a cover letter and a query letter. Who knows what it is?
dystar: a cover letter goes with your manuscript
Verla: right, dy!
dystar: and a query letter goes by itself
Verla: and a query letter is a request to an editor or agent that basically says, "Would you be interested in seeing my manuscript?
Amishka: and a cover letter you really just have to say here's my ms
JKC: A query has to be rootin' tootin' sales pitch about your manuscript and make the editor want to read it right away.
JKC: A cover letter is a professional introduction.
dystar: query letters usually get responded to sooner, as their slush pile is generally smaller
Verla: So first let's talk about Query letters. What do you need to put in them? Have any of you ever had a query letter that worked? That got a, "Yes, I'd like to see what you have written," response?
JKC: Yes.
Verla: If you have, what did you say?
dystar: yes, by email
Verla: How did you get a yes?
dystar: it was a fairly new magazine, looking for submissions
Verla: Or to rephrase that, what do you think made the editor or agent want to see your story?
Verla: Okay... so you targeted a magazine that you knew was hungry for stories...
dystar: I just asked if the editor was interested in a how-to article, and he said yes
JKC: I opened with what I thought was a juicy piece of dialogue from my manuscript. Followed with a short summary. Added a dab of my experience. And then asked for permission to send my script.
Verla: did you give him a topic, dy?
Verla: and you got a yes, also, jkc?
JKC: Yes ma'am.
Verla dances!
JKC: Sorry...didn't mean to interrupt.
dystar: yes, a how-to article. the website said they were looking for them
Verla: but you didn't give them a how-to topic, dy?
dystar: yes, I asked if they wanted an article on how to crochet a miniature tote bag
dystar: and when the editor responded, I said I'd also be interested in writing other articles
Verla: ah ha... so you did pick a specific topic. Did you have any idea that they would be interested in that kind of how-to before you sent the query?
dystar: nope
Verla: because it was a new mag, right?
dystar: fastest acceptance I've ever had
dystar: it didn't get published till a year later, though
Verla: otherwise, it's always smart to research a magazine and read several months of back copies before submitting a manuscript or query
dystar: he suggested I could write an interview on another miniaturist, which I jumped at
Verla: did that particular magazine pay on publication or on acceptance, dy?
dystar: on publication
Verla: so you made the sale, then had to wait a year for payment.
dystar: yes
Verla: That's fairly common with magazines
dystar: the second article was actually published before the first one
Verla: how funny, dy!
dystar: now I have about 8 articles published in that magazine
Verla: Wow... that's great, dy!
ErinS: What magazine dy?
dystar: so, I'm certainly glad I took that first step
dystar: American Miniaturist -- it's about dollhouses
Verla: jkc, you said you got an acceptance on your script query. What do you think was the reason they wanted to see it?
JKC: I had researched the editor and found she was interested in humor.
JKC: So I opened the query with humorous dialogue from the manuscript to punch it up.
Verla: oh, can you tell us how you researched the editor to find that out, JKC?
JKC: And I truly think that's what did it.
Verla: smart move!
JKC: I googled and read interviews.
Verla: ah, very smart use of the internet, jkc
JKC: :)
JKC: Ah...thank you, Verla.
Verla: Did the yes to your query letter end up in a sale, jkc?
JKC: :(
Verla: ah... I see it didn't.
JKC: Not yet...just invite to revise.
JKC: Which means there is still hope.
Verla: Yeses to queries do not always mean a sale. But they DO mean your idea has definitely got merit.
JKC: I am always tickled with a query acceptance.
JKC: I feel like I've just climbed a mountain.
Verla: getting a yes on a query is a great first step towards a sale!
Verla: anyone else ever get a query yes?
Amishka: I was looking for my query for Another Kid's Shoes but it went down in the crash. Basically I tried to grab the attention of the editor in the first line
Verla: sometimes it's a good idea to put a snippet of your story in the query letter
JKC: have about...8 seconds or something like that to grab someone's attention.
Verla: I actually wrote a query letter, then used it as a cover letter to publishers that wanted to see the whole manuscript when I sold my first book
Amishka: I used to get query yes' more than query no thanks'
JKC: That's awesome, Mish.
Amishka: now I don't have to query
JKC: I wish I could say that.
JKC:'s a good question.
JKC: What do you think about sending query letters versus getting lost in the slush.
JKC: I would like to hear some thoughts on that one.
Verla: I started my letter with one of the verses from my book... then followed it with a comment about how difficult it was for the pioneers to cross the country in a covered wagon. My next comment was that "while researching pioneer books, I discovered there are none for younger children..."
Verla: I think a query letter is a wonderful way to stay out of the slushpile... IF the publisher accepts them! You do need to research your publishers to know
dystar: if you get a 'yes' for a query, I think you can put 'requested material' on the ms. envelope
Verla: yes, you can, dy
JKC: Yes, you can, Dy.
dystar: which gets you to the top of the slush
JKC: But what if it isn't necessary to send a query, but you do.
deb: would you query even a pb? if the house took full mss
ErinS: you mean sending qyery letters even if the pub. accepts ms.?
JKC: Yes, Erin.
ErinS: Is that what you do? (It would save me money on printer ink!)
JKC: LOL, Erin.
Verla: deb, what I would do is find out what the publisher prefers. Some of them would rather see a short picture book manuscript, than a query letter and then the manuscript later. Others want a query even for PB's
Verla: find out what they want, then give them EXACTLY what they prefer.
JKC: I have queried on a PB when they accepted full mss and they responded.
Verla: It immediately makes them think favorably towards you... and that can only bode well for their reading of your story
Verla: as long as they haven't said something like, "Send entire manuscript for PB's. Do not query."
deb: yeah...makes sense...I so true Verla and I learned the hard way re targeting and thinking out your query..
JKC: And I got to step over the slush by it becoming Requested.
Verla: right, Jkc
Verla: and as long as they will accept queries, that's a great way to do it
JKC: I was just wondering what most people thoughts are about that. YOu can shoot yourself in the foot that way.
dystar: In a query, should you list your publishing credits? Even if they are not kidlit?
Verla: Anyone know what a major "no-no" is for a query letter? (or a cover letter, too, for that matter!)
deb: I think I would send the full ms if that is what the publisher says they want...
deb: what?
Amishka: saying my kids love it
JKC: Other than typos?
JKC: And your family loves it?
deb: not saying why your book would be a good fit
Amishka: spelling the agents/editor's name wrong
dystar: being too familiar
ErinS: Hmmm, talking about how cute I am?
deb: lol
NOTE: lol = laughing out loud
dystar: including a bribe
Amishka: talking about your dead bird/dog/cat whatever
dystar: or a 'special effect'
ErinS: including my undies
JKC: Sending a picture of them.
Verla: well, those are all things editors and agents hate to see ... but one of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is to make the letter too long!
ErinS: ahhhhh!
Amishka: one page only
dystar: bright pink paper
Verla: It should NEVER be more than one page long
ErinS: he he
JKC: Never EVER.
Verla: and on plain white paper (not that thin stuff)
deb: I am trying to keep mine to three paragraphs
Amishka: don't want a 1000 word query for a 200 word pb
Verla: lots of white space is good...
ErinS: Do people actually write more than1 page?
Verla: yes, erin
JKC: Yes, Erin...they do.
ErinS: wow
ErinS: that's dumb
dystar: make it as easy for them as possible
dystar: they're busy people
JKC: They do like white space.
JKC: And dark ink.
Verla: they read soooo much, it's a treat to have something short to read
JKC: And legible font.
Verla: yep, jayme/jkc
deb: short sweet and to the point...
Verla: something else to remember is to NEVER send "gifts" to an editor.
Verla: or agent
Verla: with your letter
Verla: they see it as a bribe, and immediately have their hackles up
JKC: So...forget the undies, Erin.
ErinS: dangit...I can't send a tree with my arbor day book?
joanclr: I'm back
ErinS: he he...shucks jkc.
deb: lol!
dystar: what, no pizza?
Verla: no pizza, no chocolate...
JKC: No boxes of any sort.
ErinS: nothing that ticks
joanclr: I have a question - does the quality of paper really matter?
dystar: lol
joanclr: I've heard people suggest to use really nice thick white paper
Verla: and definitely no white powder in the envelope!
Verla: LOL
joanclr: but I usually buy the cheap--nice but cheap--photocopy type paper for my printer
ErinS: ha!
deb: oh my <G>>
Verla: I like to use the heavy weight "watermarked" really good stationary paper
JKC: Joan...I'm not the one to ask about that. I love paper.
Verla: I think it makes a good first impression.
joanclr: I know that's ideal, but is it NECESSARY? hehe
deb: my first query is actually going to be email..
joanclr: :( I was afraid you'd say that
JKC: Me, too, Verla.
Verla: no it's not necessary, joan
JKC: Joan...I managed a printing company and I have a thing about paper.
JKC: Watermarks, etc.
dystar: just make sure it isn't neon pink
joanclr: Well, I think I just have to make the leap, as I've heard that a lot from people
JKC: So...I can't give you an unbiased answer.
joanclr: lol dy
JKC: How about cover letters, Verla?
JKC: One page...short credits...and here it is?
Verla: Hmmm. Let's go a little further into queries first, Jayme
JKC sits down.
Verla: for instance what do you feel is vital to include?
dystar: show them you've done your research
ErinS: I haven't written queries, yet...just cover letters
joanclr: I have heard that it's nice to include a little excerpt of your work (although I have gotten requests even without that)
Amishka: I use 20lb paper for my printer
Amishka: nothing special
Verla: I would say, introduce your story. Tell briefly why you feel you are the best person to tell that story, then ask them if they would like to see it.
Verla: I recommend excerpts, joan
deb: wow..nice...would you say why this story is a good fit for the agent or editor as well?
Verla: you can also mention why you picked them, why you want them to look at your story
joanclr: Yes, personalizing as much as possible is a key
Verla: yep, deb
JKC: But you don't want to seem assumptive.
dystar: that's what I mean by research
JKC: I've heard that editors don't appreciate you telling them what they would like.
Verla: you want them to see that you aren't a fly-by-night writer. That you have done your "homework". That tells them that your story is more likely to be a "fit" for them than someone who has just randomly picked them to send just anything to
Verla: that's true, jayme...
Verla: I would never tell an agent or editor, "You're going to love this story because...."
JKC: Some people do, Verla.
JKC: It makes me cringe just thinking about that.
^Miriam: I get that kind of a comment in about 1/4 of the queries I recieve
NOTE: Miriam is the editor/owner of a small publishing company
Verla: they prefer to make up their own mind. It's perfectly okay though to say something like, "I noticed you have published a lot of books on X subject. I have a book on that subject that I feel is a little different from the others you have published."
JKC: Do you really, Mir?
JKC: Oh dear.
^Miriam: yes and I don't like it
dystar: I like that, verla
Verla: right. Give them credit for having individual tastes
JKC: I don't blame you, Mir.
deb: yes..and if you have targeted the market right, they will know it is a fit because you show them in the desp of the book?
^Miriam: or say "what I hope is a fresh idea" of something like that
Verla: it never hurts to let them know if there's a special reason your book might be wanted, though
deb: er..if that makes any sense
Verla: right, deb
dystar: do you prefer queries or manuscripts, mir?
deb: yes...maybe even letting them know you know what else is out there and that yours is a fresh approah
Verla: like when I sent out my Covered Wagons book, I mentioned there were no picture books on that subject for younger children. Book In Print only listed PB's that were 1500 words long and longer.
^Miriam: a good query makes me what a manuscript but I've almost passed on good ones because the query didn't sound interesting
Verla: (and by the way, checking with your library re Books In Print to see what your competition is for a book is a very important step to take!
^Miriam: query letter writing is definately an art
dystar: so, a query should be a good ad for the manuscript, then
Verla: it's sometimes harder to write the query/cover letter than the entire story!
deb: yep...always check the market, read the books
^Miriam: yes, dy, to get a good chance at a read
Verla: Okay... anything else to discuss about query letters before we move on to cover letters?
dystar: it sure forces you to compress your description
deb: that is so true...I think you want to sell your book in a few sentences
deb: that will keep the editor reading the rest of the query even
Verla: figuring out a "sound bite" (as Linda Joy Singleton calls them) is a wonderful way to begin either a cover letter or a query letter.
dystar: an excerpt?
Verla: try to write a one-line description of your book in ten words or less.
deb: a friend of mine did just that...delivered her query in 8 secs..opp came up a conference
deb: she had her query memorized she'd been working on it so much
Verla: smart friend, deb
deb: that she just blurted it out on the spur and she got a request to sub
dystar: a writer friend of mine says that most editors have about 30 seconds to sell their new "projects" to the marketing dept
deb: she worked long and hard on trimming it down
deb: wow dy...
^Miriam: a good sound bite might be "Having a brother who's different bites!"
Verla: right! A sound bite of your story can be a real selling point for both the story and your future editor to use with marketing, sales, etc
Verla: oh, that's a good one, mir
deb: I like that...sound bite...Neat Freak Ghost takes my sister
Verla: we're doing a late ProTalk, pick
^Miriam: that was the first line of a book I just bought
Verla: good one, deb!
deb: lol...yep the wheels are churning..sound bite to open the letter
^Miriam: they can also go into the marketing such as a press release: "Saved By A Song"
Verla: now in a cover letter, you don't need to say much at all about the story, because the story is encluded with the letter.
Verla: included, not encluded. Sheesh
^Miriam: true
Verla: although in my cover letter, I put just enough of the story (a line or two) to make the editor want to read more.
dystar: good idea
ErinS: Hmmm, Mir how do you feel about a letter with "personality"?
Verla: mostly, a cover letter is a polite way to introduce yourself and your story to an editor or agent
deb: so the cover letter should be just as short and sweet...catchy though so the syn will get read, then hopefully the first three chaps!
Verla: right, deb
^Miriam: a little is ok erin but I really like to get a bio of at least a paragraph
Verla: I like to use some of the same kind of language in my letter that I use in the actual story.
^Miriam: ...included in the cover letter
ErinS: Yeah, that's what I meant Verla
Verla: so the agent or editor gets a feel of the "flavor" of the story immediately
dystar: what kind of bio? pub credits?
^Miriam: more personal
Verla: some editors and agents don't read cover letters until they've read the manuscript
Verla: i would put in credits that were relevant to the publisher,dy
dystar: what if you have no relevant ones?
^Miriam: I like a little taste of who the writer is: teacher, mother, mountian climber...
Verla: for instance, if I had many sales in magazines for adults, I'd probably just say, "I have been published regularly in national magazines.
Verla: don't need to tell them which ones! LOL
Amishka: Verla using the language you use in the story wouldn't be so great if you were writing a very foul languaged YA
Verla: uh, that's very true, ami. LOL
ErinS: With my book Lloyd and Vidalia...the gators say a lot of "Hoo-Boys!" one of the lines from it's cover letter went like.... Hoo-BOY! The enclosed 973-word picture book manuscript, Lloyd and Vidalia, will take you on a trip.....too much personality?
^Miriam: no, I like it erin
ErinS: thanks
ErinS: :)
Verla: I don't think so, erin. What do you think, mir and deet? (They are both acquiring editors)
ErinS: (I didn't know deet was)
^Miriam: it has spunk, like the story it is about
Verla: we're discussing cover letters and query letters, alasdair
ErinS: Yeah, that's what I wanted it to show...but I didn't want it too be too cutesy.
^Miriam: well, one cutsey per page
^Miriam: lol
ErinS: he he
^Miriam: but tell me a little about you too
Verla: nice way to do it, mir
ErinS: Oh, yeah, I included that the next paragraph
dystar: doesn't sound too cutesy to me
^Miriam: I like 1 paragraph cutesy, next about story, next why story, last about you
^Miriam: all no more than 5 line paragraphs each
Verla: yes, like if you have written a story about a kid who committed suicide, and you have known someone who committed suicide, or you worked as a councelor for troubled teens, or you have some kind of other personal experience that would help you be deemed an "expert" in the subject, be SURE to mention that!
^Miriam: exactly
ErinS: Can I post the whole (short) letter? And you could tell me what you think?? please...
Verla: it gives added credibility to you and your story
Verla: sure. I think we have time
ErinS: Come along as Lloyd and Vidalia, two cranky tourist-hating gators go traveling. Then watch the fun as they become unapologetic tourists themselves. Hoo-BOY! The enclosed 973-word picture book manuscript, Lloyd and Vidalia, will take you on a trip.
ErinS: I am a member of SCBWI. I have attended writing classes and workshops at Utah Valley State College, Brigham Young University and Southern Utah University. And I have sold poems to the childrenÆs magazine, The Friend.
ErinS: Thank you for your response on the last submission I sent. I look forward to hearing from you. Please note this is a simultaneous submission.
ErinS: (This one was to Susan Kochan who had written me a letter with my last submission)
ErinS: You can be brutal. :)
^Miriam: take out the word "Then"
Verla: I would use this as the first line, Erin. Hoo-BOY! The enclosed 973-word picture book manuscript, Lloyd and Vidalia, will take you on a trip.
Verla: then go into what you now have as the first line
ErinS: great idea Verla
dystar: take out "And" as well
ErinS: and mir, too
Verla: I wouldn't mention the writing classes
^Miriam: switch line 1 and 2 yes verla
ErinS: Really Verla? ....even though I don't have many credentials?
dystar: put the pub creds first -- that's more important
Verla: yes, erin. Anyone can take writing classes. If you have no credentials, it's best to say nothing. You have mag credits
Verla: good point, dy
Verla: if you are a teacher, that's a good thing to say, though.
ErinS: But doesn't it show that I'm trying to become a better writer? I know so many writers that don't go to classes...they feel they are good enough.
Verla: shows you are actively involved with children and are highly educated as well
kimmar: i put in that I was in a grad program for writing pbs at Emerson College
ErinS: Hmmm, not a teacher...just at home. :)
Verla: maybe, erin ... but ONLY if you have attended some kind of actual course. I would NOT mention conferences, etc.
ErinS: Hmmm, I attended Writing for Young Readers at BYU
^Miriam: if you don't have solid publishing credits or previously published works, don't worry about it
^Miriam: we can figure that one out
Verla: right, mir
^Miriam: just try and sell your story more than you
Verla: it's more important to SHOW that you can write.
^Miriam: your story can speak for you
ErinS: Good point Mir.
Verla: through an interesting, dynamic letter
Verla: and your story
ErinS: Thanks! I appreciate the input! :)
Verla: eeek! Our hour is UP!
Verla: any last comments by anyone?
^Miriam: what it comes down to is if the editor is interested in your story subject
^Miriam: if it sparks an interest, we WILL read on
deb: no..this was great! glad I got in...
deb: now off to take a pup outside
deb: cheers
ErinS: bye!
Verla: are there some subjects you know about that would NOT spark an interest, mir?
ErinS: belly button lint?
Verla: LOL erin!
ErinS: (sorry, that was directed to Mir...)
^Miriam: interest in me?
Verla: I read once about a lady who made art out of belly button (and dryer) lints, erin
ErinS: Although you know told from the right angle...belly button lint might be very interesting...
Verla: could have made a fun book...
ErinS: yup...see Verlas just proved me correct.
^Miriam: fun is good
Verla: LOL!
dystar: it makes good tinder for bonfires...
ErinS: yuk!
^Miriam: quirky is good
Verla: Hey, GREAT discussion, everyone. Thanks for participating!
ErinS: This was swell Verla! Thanks
dystar: thanks, verla
Verla: thank YOU, folks!
*** Verla has set the topic on channel #Kidlit to Writers & Illustrators of Children's Literature Meet Here Nightly - Welcome!

Verla Kay
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