Are you looking for a query critique from those in the know? Or do you have a question you've always wanted to ask an agent? Each month, agents Gemma Cooper and Molly Ker Hawn from The Bent Agency are offering just that.
This month, they critique two very different queries sent in to us by our readers.
ORIGINAL QUERY ONE:
I am a self taught author/illustrator living in Southend on Sea with my wife and daughter, and work as an office manager. I have been working on a number of books for some years and am now at a stage where I would like to have them in print. I would be most grateful if you would spare a moment to view my attached submission of 4 sample pages and consider representing me in my pursuit to publish the first of my childrens picture books ‘The Tale of the Greedy Fish’.
It is written and illustrated by myself, aimed at children around 3 years through to 8 years, and 24 pages in length. It is illustrated in a genuinely unique, eye catching style with enormous merchandising and possible animation potential. All scenes, characters and pages are completely editable and has the ability to be published in paper, ebook or any other medium.
In brief it is a humorous story of greed and forgiveness - the Greedy Fish eats all the underwater towns food in Lobsters 24 hour Swim-Thru, and is told to leave town by the King of Crabs and the Octopus Judge. His adventure starts and leads him to find a pirates treasure, which he finally gifts to his town who forgive him for his greediness.
All will become much clearer upon viewing! If you would allow me, I would like to send you a pdf copy of the full book for your consideration. The book has a website www.......should you like to have a look at some samples of the character illustrations in the meantime.
I hope that I will hear from you soon to discuss my submission, and have the opportunity to discuss working together further.
Here's what Gemma and Molly said:
Dear ***, Make sure to address this to the agent in person, so for us Dear Mrs Ker Hawn or Dear Gemma
It is written and illustrated by myself you said you were the author/illustrator so this is superfluous, aimed at children around 3 years through to 8 years if you tell us earlier that it’s a picture book so you don’t need this. However, picture books do generally fall into two bands – 3-5 and 4-7, so you could clarify this in the line above, ‘picture book for 3-5 yrs’, but you don’t have to as the agent should be able to gauge, and 24 pages in length What is the word count?
It is illustrated in a genuinely unique, eye catching style with enormous merchandising and possible animation potential. This description doesn’t actually tell us anything about your illustrations. Every illustrator would describe his or her work this way. And mentioning things like merchandising and animation at this stage will make an agent think you are running before you can walk. Concentrate on pitching the book to the best of your ability in this query and leave the agent to think about the next steps.
All scenes, characters and pages are completely editable To get a book published, it would be very likely you would do an edit with the agent and then another few with the publisher, so you don’t need to tell us that the book is editable and has the ability to be published in paper, ebook or any other medium. Again, an agent will know this already, so no need to include.
His adventure starts and leads him to find a pirates treasure If this is where his adventure starts, then you need to tell us more about the exciting bit of the book, which he finally gifts to his town who forgive him for his greediness. Think about this part of the query letter as the blurb on the back of the book – hook the agent with an exciting few lines about the main character and what his motivations and obstacles are, without knowing a lot about the book, here is an attempt – ‘When Greedy Fish is told to leave town after eating all the food, he swims straight into a pirates’ hideaway filled with treasure! Greedy Fish gets the gold, but can he finally learn to share and will the townsfish forgive him?’
Here is where you can put your biographical information: ‘I live in Southend on Sea with my wife and daughter. Are you a member of any writing organisations – SCBWI, perhaps? Mention this here. You could also add a line about why you are the best person to write this book. Perhaps you own a prize-winning goldfish, or you run a local kids reading group.
Original Query Two:
Twelve year-old Fidelia Quail lives for the sea. She and her parents, esteemed marine biologists, have tagged and tracked every creature in Arborley Sea: whales, jellyfish, octopuses, sea snakes, even sharks.
But the experienced scientists are no match for the Undertow. This annual end-of-summer storm makes an early appearance in the bay, and the Drs. Quail are blown out of the research submarine. They float, lost at sea, and it's up to Fidelia to rescue them.
Fidelia heads for the local pub to find a sea dog brave enough to sail through the deadly Undertow, but no one will do it... until a mysterious pirate, Merrick the Monstrous, offers Fidelia a bargain.
If she will use her marine biology savvy to dive through shark-infested waters and retrieve his sunken treasure, he'll find her parents. Easier said than done! Merrick has a list of treasons longer than a ribbon eel. The navy's hunting for him, and they won't stop until he hangs.
Fidelia suspects Merrick isn't playing with a full deck. His pocket watch ticks backwards in a countdown. His cough sounds worse than a seagull at low tide. And his beloved underwater treasure turns out to be just a worthless, salt-eaten pewter brooch.
Rescue the Quails before they drown. Find the brooch before the navy blasts the pirates into driftwood. Unravel Merrick's secret before the pocket watch runs out of time...
Holy hammerhead, it seems impossible. Even for a girl who swims with sharks.
My 50k-word MG adventure, RACE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, is Jules Verne meets Robin Hood.
Here's what Molly and Gemma said:
This is actually a pretty solid query: it gives us a clear idea of the main character, what she wants, and the high stakes of this adventure. But it’s a bit wordy; we don’t need quite so much description of Merrick, nor do we need to know about the Undertow: we just need to know that the Drs. Quail are lost at sea.
Remember that we’re likely to be reading your query after reading thirty others, and we’ll still have thirty more to go: if you can be economical with your words and still get the plot and the feel of your book across, you’re much likelier to pique our interest.
(One line that could read confusing is the Drs. Quail being ‘blown out of the research submarine’ – Gemma read this as being ejected from the submarine, rather than being blown out to sea!)
Gemma and Molly will be back next month answering more questions and critiquing your queries. If you have a question you'd like to ask them, or are ready to start querying and would like some feedback from the professionals before you start submitting, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org