July 30, 2012

Oh Susanna - What's The Difference Between A Query Letter And A Cover Letter And When To Use Which?

Good Morning Everyone!

There were many posts last week about how much trouble you can get in posting pictures on your blog.  I will probably have to go through all my posts and delete tons, but meanwhile, I'm a bit afeared, so for today's eye candy I will include something which has nothing to do with anything but whichI know I'm allowed to use, a lovely portrait of me reading to a first grade class, drawn by an artistic member of the young audience:
You will note my face, apparently covered by blond hair - I should have shaved:)
Phyllis talking from my unusually constructed arm from which I am also reading
and the enraptured audience of 4 behind me :)
Anyhoo, I hope you all had wonderful weekends!  I am so behind after being away all last week that this may end up being my shortest post ever!  Are you ready?  I might not even stop to draw breath :)

What with all the special events going on lately, we haven't had an Oh Susanna day in a while, and poor Darshana has been patiently waiting for the answers to her questions so let's dive right in, shall we?

Darshana asked:

Q1) What is the difference between a query letter and a cover letter for a picture book manuscript? 

Q2) Which do you use when submitting a PB manuscript to an editor?

Q3) Which do you use when submitting a PB manuscript to an agent?


Darshana's 3 questions are so closely related that I included them all, and I'm betting she's not the only one wondering about this topic, because it's tricky and kind of splitting hairs.

The basic answer is very simple: a cover letter accompanies a manuscript, a query letter does not.

A cover letter is so named because it covers a manuscript.  It would include that a manuscript is enclosed.

Otherwise, both letters should include the following:

  • The basic facts about the manuscript: title, word length, genre, intended age range (e.g. Hillbilly Bob is a 400 word picture book for ages 3-7.)
  • What makes your manuscript stand out from previously published competitors and why it's a great fit for this particular editor/house (e.g. there are few if any picture books about... or, this book about apples will fit beautifully into the kindergarten curriculum...)
  • Your publication history or relevant background and, if appropriate, anything that made you uniquely qualified to write this particular book.  (This would probably be more applicable in the case of non-fiction, e.g. if you wrote a book about space travel and you were an astronaut.)
  • A mention of other enclosures or attachments such as your resume, or a bibliography if your submission is non-fiction
  • Whether or not it's a simultaneous submission
  • Your contact information
  • Anything else requested in that specific agent's/editor's/house's submission guidelines.

(For works that aren't picture books, a sample outline or a chapter synopsis might also accompany a cover letter, but that does not pertain to picture books as a general rule :))

A cover letter should supply the basics, but not much more.  You don't want an agent or editor getting so bogged down in the cover that they never get to the actual manuscript!

A query letter is essentially the same thing, it just invites the editor or agent to request the manuscript from you if it sounds like something they might be interested in reading.

As to when you would use one or the other, most agents and editors are clear about what they want.  Their guidelines will say, send full manuscript for picture books (that means you'll need a cover letter) or accepts queries or queries only (that means a query letter.)

Some houses that are closed to unagented/unsolicited submissions are still open to queries, so that is your chance to sell your idea and get the editor to request it.

No matter what, query or cover is a place where you can use that pitch you've worked on in Would You Read It Wednesdays to hook either editor or agent.  It's no different from your manuscript in that respect - grab their attention and don't let go!

I hope that answers your question, Darshana.  If not, please feel free to ask for clarification on anything in the comments.  And if any of you highly experience readers out there have anything to add, I'd be grateful for any extra information or clarification you can add!

Have a great day, everyone!  Hopefully I'll see you all around the blogosphere as I play catch-up to all your wonderful posts etc! :)

Reactions:

34 comments:

  1. Okay. That drawing is PRECIOUS!! And you look lovely with hair on your face. (It could be mustard. What did you eat that day??) I needed a giggle and this gave me one. Sooo sweet!

    Love the questions and answers because they were mine and a million other writers too. Saved this when it came to my inbox. I have all kinds of folders with your name on them woman! :-)

    Oh, and I have to delete tons of pics from my blog too. *sigh* What a job. I'm guessing I'll get started this week.

    Mwah!

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  2. I know it - that is a budding artist indeed! :) I can't remember what I ate yesterday, never mind that day, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't mustard. I hate mustard because my mom used to make me swallow a spoonful when I said a bad word or was rude or sassed people and that was a lot! So glad if you found the answers helpful - I thought Darshana had good questions!

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  3. Thank goodness those are audience members in the background. I thought you had mushrooms growing on your oddly-shaped, yellow head with the arm growing from its side. You look good - never better.....

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  4. Thanks, Susanna, for your clarification. I've been including my background information (resume) with my book proposals. Some publishers want a BP along with the picture book manuscript, which surprised me. Is it always necessary to include our resume on our queries and cover letters, and should it be attached instead of included in the body? And, how in-depth should it be for a Q/CL?

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  5. Well, I just had this picture in my head of you and the artist eating dogs in the cafeteria and you and said artist gettin' down with the dogs. I'm keepin' that picture of you in my head. Okey dokey? It's just too funny to let go of. *wink*

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  6. Great info! I love the portrait--super cute. I've been going thru all my posts and deleting questionable photos. I'm so glad I mostly used my own --because it takes so much time. Do you have a stash of art work from kids? Because I think those are great visuals for your posts :)

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  7. I thought you were wearing a crown! Queen Susanna! I like the idea of using the kid's artwork. Perhaps we'll have to send you pictures of cakes, cupcakes and chocolate to help you out (and give us our fix). Thanks for this info. Very helpful as usual. Have a great day!

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  8. Thanks Susanna! So it seems like the contents of the cover and query letters are essentially the same. Some times I'll see send a query + pb manuscript. Its seems like query/cover are sometimes interchangeable.

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  9. Thanks, Darshana for a great question...or two or three. ;) Susanna, your answers are clear and concise and I'm glad to have them as I embark on this picture book writing adventure. LOVE the pic drawn by one of the students...I've also used some art from kids.

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  10. With the exception of saying whether a manuscript is enclosed, yes, the query and cover letter are essentially the same and, as you put it, interchangeable. It is the FUNCTION of the letter that is specific. A query letter never goes with a manuscript, a cover letter never goes without one. A query letter piques interest and tries to get an agent or editor to request your manuscript, a cover letter introduces the manuscript in their hands. Is that clearer? Because you shouldn't send a query letter with a ms...

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  11. Thanks for the clarification. That helps.

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  12. Glad it does, Randy. I think Darshana had excellent questions!

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  13. Glad if you found the questions and answers helpful, Vivian. And I LOVE student art - I have boxes full that kids have drawn for me and I never throw any of it away (yes, I am a packrat :)) I guess I'm going to have to take up clever photography if I can't just randomly help myself to stuff off google images anymore... :)

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  14. I actually do have a crown that some preschool kids made for me. It matches Phyllis's crown that they made for her and we look very beautiful when we wear them together. Perhaps that should be my next photo :) I am always happy to accept offerings of photos of cake, cupcakes, chocolate of any kind, etc. etc. because I would hate for you all to miss your snacks, and I am even worse at cooking than I am at photography :) Glad you found the Q&A helpful!

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  15. Glad the info was helpful! And I do have a large stash of kid art, but it centers very heavily on Phyllis... the other books might get jealous :) But until I become an excellent photographer, artwork may be what you get :) I have many artistic photos of my fingers.... also some stray wisps of hair...

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  16. :)






























    Robyn Campbell (unregistered) wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    Well, I just had this picture in my head of you and the artist eating dogs in the cafeteria and you and said artist gettin' down with the dogs. I'm keepin' that picture of you in my head. Okey dokey? It's just too funny to let go of. *wink*

    Link to comment
    IP address: 75.104.156.145

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  17. You know, I'm not entirely sure what you mean by a book proposal. That sounds like something you'd present for a longer book, or a longer non-fiction book, where a lot more work would be required so you pitch the idea first to see if there's interest before you knock yourself out on a project nobody wants. Is that correct? I don't know how that would go along with a PB. But in either case, I generally keep my "resume" to a minimum, sticking with publication credits. It's usually only a sentence or two - nothing too long - and not attached as a whole separate thing. My assumption is that editors/agents only need to know anything that relates to your ability to write, market, school visit - book related things - unless, as I said, you're writing non-fiction and your experience gives you knowledge and expertise - makes you an expert - in the area you're writing about.

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  18. It took me a few minutes to figure this one out too :) But who am I to question art? :)

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  19. Great explanation, Susanna! It's all clear in my mind now. You always put it in terms we newbies can "get" :-)
    The drawing is great...kinda like a smiley face gone alien!!!

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  20. Great advice Susanna. I worked with agent Tina Wexler (ICM) at the SCBWI conference last summer on query letters. She critiqued each of our letters and made suggestions similar to yours. The only thing I'd add, is if your MS may be something that may relate to a charity etc., mention any cross-promotional ideas you have. It shows you are thinking about marketing.

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  21. Or do as I do, and purchase licensed photos on www.fotolia.com -- that way I don't have to worry about the photos I post.

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  22. In its simple form, your answer is easily understood. If only everything in life could be explained so well.

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  23. Thanks, Susanna. Your suggestion to keep it short and specific is helpful. You are right, normally book proposals are for longer, non-fiction books, but I have been asked to submit book proposals for two of my PB manuscripts. It's equivalent to writing a research paper!!

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  24. Children have the best imaginations. Love the artwork.
    I'll have to go through my blog as well and take down photos. I thought by just acknowledging where I got them was enough. More work. Ugh.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge about cover and query letters.

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  25. What a beautiful picture. Don't you just love children's portrayals of the world? I think the yellow face represents your bright and sunny disposition. :-)

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  26. That picture is awesome! Kids are the best.

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  27. Yikes! That does not sound as much fun as writing a PB! :)






























    Jarmila V. Del Boccio wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    Thanks, Susanna. Your suggestion to keep it short and specific is helpful. You are right, normally book proposals are for longer, non-fiction books, but I have been asked to submit book proposals for two of my PB manuscripts. It's equivalent to writing a research paper!!

    User's website
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    IP address: 68.165.57.74

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  28. Ooh! I have a feeling you mentioned that before, Beth. Probably when you were writing about copyrights and all that stuff... I forgot about it and must look into it. Is it expensive?





























    Beth Stilborn (unregistered) wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    Or do as I do, and purchase licensed photos on www.fotolia.com -- that way I don't have to worry about the photos I post.

    User's website
    Link to comment
    IP address: 65.87.233.107

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  29. Excellent point, Pat, thank you! I hope everyone is reading the comments and paying attention :)

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  30. Glad if the explanation was helpful, Penny! And I thought that young artist did a pretty good job - I was certainly able to figure out what he had in mind :)

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  31. You're too kind :) And yes, I do love the way children see the world - maybe that's part of why I like to write for them :)

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  32. Glad if it was helpful, Tracy, and I love kids' artwork too! I know what you mean about the work - I'm dreading it and have NO time! Ah, well....

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