This is my fourth post on market research--yes, it takes time! I've been discussing how to go beyond the market guide to do targeted research. Once you have all that market information, you can use it in your queries to show the editor that you understand her needs.
“My queries are always specific,” says Molly Blaisdell, author of Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs. “I met you at the XYZ conference. I read about you on XYZ blog. You edited XYZ book. I love that book and feel a connection to my work because of XYZ. I’m sending to you because you like XYZ.”
“I made sure my submission fit their format,” Janet Fox says of Get Organized Without Losing It. “They like email queries as opposed to snail mail. I learned the name of their submissions editor and used it. I tailored my cover letter to them. I let them know they were my first, and at the time only, choice for submission.”
“I get a sense from the submission whether the writer or artist is familiar with Scholastic’s Trade division,” said Eleni Beja, who was then Associate Editor at Scholastic. “If they mention why they’re submitting to Scholastic, and to me, and those reasons make sense, then they’ll have my attention, and gratitude. If I love the project and choose to pursue it, my efforts to get support for it can only be helped by an author’s convincing pitch.”
She gives an example: “I know you’re interested in politics and moviolas, and Scholastic published Hugo Cabret. So my illustrated novel about a girl who fixes radios, set against the backdrop of Watergate, seems like a perfect fit for you.”
On the other hand, Dial Editor Alisha Niehaus said, “I don’t need to hear about Dial or Penguin and what we publish—I know that. I want to know what makes your story exciting, original, and publishable, in as concise and entertaining a fashion as you can say it. For me, since Dial accepts full picture book manuscripts and the first ten pages of a novel, the shorter the cover letter the better.” If you’ve done your research, that will speak for itself.
For Edward Necarsulmer IV, Director of the Children’s Department at literary agency McIntosh and Otis, if someone mentions a book he agented, it makes an impression. You can use your research on publishers here as well, but only if you have something special to say. “I don’t really care what the writer says about where they want to publish,” Necarsulmer says. “But if you’ve met an editor at a conference or retreat, and they’ve asked about your work, absolutely tell me.”
Marileta Robinson, Senior Editor at Highlights for Children, says, “Information that is useful in a cover letter includes any experiences or background that make the writer especially qualified to write the story or article, and reference to any research the writer did beyond the ordinary. Although we publish many first-time authors, a writer’s published credits, especially in similar markets, make an impression.”
Even extensive market research doesn’t guarantee success, Blaisdell notes. “I think it is important to realize that we actually have no control over the sale of books. What we can control is who we offer our books to and the execution of those offers. I believe that this marketing focus will get you out of slush piles and open doors that would otherwise be closed to you.”
EXERCISE: You may not have completed your market research, but it's not too early to draft a query letter. Working on it now will help you figure out which gaps you need to fill with more research.
MORE ON QUERIES
Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino, had a recent series of guest agents discussing query letters, synopses and proposals.
Miss Snark, the literary agent, stopped updating her blog in 2007, but it still informative and entertaining to browse her nearly 100 posts on query letters.
Query Shark lists actual query letters with comments from the agent -- often harsh, but but insightful.
WriteOnCon has a page on Writing A Query Letter by author Jodi Meadows
Molli Nickell provides 25 REALLY Dumb Query Letter MistRakes and How to Avoid them