A Checklist for Querying Picture Books

No matter what type of book you’re querying, it’s a TON of work to put together a query package. There are a lot of factors to consider when trying to find the right agent for your manuscript, but when it comes to picture books, there’s even more to consider.

I’ve been deep in the query trenches for several of my picture books texts this year. It’s a rollercoaster of excitement and disappointment, especially since I keep thinking that I’ve found the right agent to pitch, only to realize as I’m putting the email together that I missed an important detail that makes them not…pitchable (for lack of a better word). I wasted a lot of time digging deeper into the profile of an agent who wasn’t even open to queries, or my type of manuscript.

To save myself some time (and heartache), I created this handy checklist to make sure I’ve checked all the boxes before I start putting together the query package. Now, I’m sharing it with you so you can do the same.

Does the agency accept unsolicited queries?
Many literary agents are independent contractors, but they still work for a agency and are subject to the rules of that agency. Before doing an agent level search, check the submission page of the agency they work for to see if the agency even accepts unsolicited queries. I start with my List of Literary Agencies Around the World, click on them one at a time, and check their submission page before I start researching the agents that work there.

Does the agency generally represent children’s literature and/or picture books?
Even if an individual agent is open to picture book queries, you may not get very far if the agency overall does not generally represent kidlit. The agent may like your book, but usually they have to convince their agency it’s worth investing time and energy in getting it published. If the agency doesn’t seem to have recently found a home for any picture books or other kidlit, it may not be worth your time querying any of their agents (even if the website doesn’t directly state they don’t rep those books).

Do any of the agents at the agency represent picture books?
Even if an agent represent children’s literature, they may not represent picture books. Picture books are a very niche category of literature because of their format and illustrations. Many (even most) agents that represent children’s literature do not represent picture books. I try not to query any agent that doesn’t specifically state they are looking for picture books, or whose list of represented titles do not include picture books, because more often than not, I’ll be wasting my time.

Is the agent open to submissions? 
This may seem like an obvious question with a simple answer, but it’s actually the most tricky answer to find. Even if the agent’s profile on the agency website doesn’t state they are closed to queries, they may still be closed to queries.

Agents don’t generally have much control over the content on their agency’s website. Instead, many agents have their own website apart from the agency, and they post the most up-to-date information about themselves there.

Other agents are very active on Twitter and will update followers there instead. Look at the agent’s pinned post on Twitter, or read their username or bio to see if they’ve indicated their open or closed status there.

Agents with a Manuscript Wish List or Publisher’s Marketplace profile may have a open or closed status indicated there, but these profiles are sometimes out of date, so it’s best to rely on the agent’s website or social media updates. The latter are more likely to have been updated recently.

If the agent’s open/closed statuses don’t align between sites, be sure to check the date of the post to see which was posted most recently.

Finally, if the agent or agency uses Query Tracker to accept submissions, make sure to visit their Query Tracker page because often that’s where the status will be posted. You’ll follow the link ready to query only to find that the agent isn’t included in the dropdown menu of available agents on the agency page, or a large “_____ is currently closed to queries” at the top of the agent’s Query Tracker page.

Does the agent accept queries from only author/illustrators?
Sometimes, an agent accepts picture books, but only from author/illustrators. If you’re submitting a picture book text without illustrations, or illustrations without text, make sure the agent accepts this type of submission.

Is the agent looking for picture book manuscripts covering your topic or in your style?
Sometimes, agents are looking for a really specific type of picture book manuscript, and yours is simply not the right fit. Check the agent’s website and Twitter feed for these instructions. For example, they may only be looking for picture book biographies, or they may not be looking for picture books with animal protagonists. A couple extra minutes of research may save you a lot of time putting together a query package for an agent that’s just going to say no.

Is your manuscript a good fit for the agent’s manuscript wish list?
An agent’s manuscript wish list (MSWL) is a list of specific topics or styles they are itching to represent. An agent’s MSWL may be posted on their website, on the Manuscript Wish List website, and/or on Twitter (using the #MSWL hashtag). While it’s not always a must to check an agent’s MSWL before you query, some agents are only open to queries for manuscripts that fit their MSWL. Keep a close eye on agent MSWL’s because your manuscript may be just what they’re looking for.

Published by

Jessica Trudel

Jessica Trudel is a freelance writer and editor, and founder of the Silverleaf Writers Guild. She has contributed to various print and digital publications across Canada and the U.S., including TimminsToday, TalkSpace, and BoldFace.

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