Today I want to share the query letter that helped me get my debut picture book published. In this case, the query wasn’t intended for an agent (although I followed the same structure that I used when querying for an agent). This letter was written for an editor who liked one of my pitches in LatinxPitch 2020, so I was able to query her in spite of being unagented.
I began my querying journey in February, 2020. I was very lucky to win two query critique giveaways with agents when I was just starting. One of them was with agent Adria Goetz from Martin Literary Management and the other was agent Catherine Hedrick-Armstrong from The Purcell Agent, LLC. Both of them were really nice to me and their advice was very helpful in getting the structure and contents of the query letter right. So if you’re ever in a position in which you can win a query or manuscript critique do it. It’s really worth it and a great learning experience. I’m very grateful I had that chance.
However, although I learned how to write better query letters, finding an agent wasn’t easy, as you all in the querying trenches know. I worked hard towards getting one, but I wasn’t successful that year. So, when the opportunity came for me to query an editor as a result of the Twitter event, I decided to go for it.
As I mentioned before, my query letter was connected to a LatinxPitch success. Actually, this is the photo of the pitch I wrote on the day of the event, on September 15th, 2020.
After getting the like from the editor I took some days to carefully research about her and to prepare my query letter. I ended up sending my letter by email on September 25th.
Below I will be sharing the paragraphs of that query letter (in italics) and then a brief comment about each one. I hope you’ll find it helpful. Here we go!
Dear Ms _______,
I’m querying you because you liked one of my pitches in #LatinxPitch (thank you!) and you posted I could submit to you. I read your interview with Valerie R. Lawson and reviewed your information on your website. I like that you are currently interested in stories about own voices, multiculturalism and diverse characters. I believe my story, SANTIAGO’S DINOSAUR-SIZED PROBLEM, a 556 word picture book, may appeal to you.
As you can see in my first paragraph I made sure the editor knew why I was querying her. Not only did I mention she liked my pitch and in which event, but I also told her why I thought my story would be appealing to her (after researching about what stories she was looking for). Another thing that I included in this first paragraph was the name of the book, the genre and the word count. Maybe you’ve noticed the name of the book is different now, since the book that will be released is Santiago’s Dinosaurios. That happened once I got my contract, but that is material for another blog post.
Intended for children 4-8 years old, the story features Santiago, a dinosaur obsessed latin 1st grader, who experiences the challenges of being the new boy, in a new school, and in a new country. On his first day of classes and speaking only Español, an anxious Santiago has a DINOSAUR-SIZED PROBLEM as he wonders “¿cómo haré amigos?”. Through his day Santiago has several interactions with children, in which they make brief connections in spite of the language barrier between them. Even with his classmates’ kindness, Santiago still feels like an outsider. It will take perseverance, creativity and sharing his passion for dinosaurs for Santiago to discover a way to belong and have nuevos amigos.
This paragraph above was the second paragraph of the letter in which I mainly talked about the plot. I began by stating the age group for my audience and then I spoke about my character Santiago, his challenges and his ultimate goal (without revealing too much about how he overcame the problem). As you can see I added some words in Spanish too. That’s because my book includes words in this language, so I wanted to give the same vibe in the query.
Young readers who like I’M NEW HERE (2018) by Anne Sibley O’Brien, HERE I AM (2015) by Patti Kim and WE LOVE DINOSAURS (2018) by Lucy Volpin may enjoy and connect with my story. SANTIAGO’S DINOSAUR SIZED PROBLEM is different because it uses words and phrases in Spanish and in addition to the experience of being the new kid in a new school, this story also involves a new country with a different culture and language which makes it more challenging for the main character. The addition of the dinosaur passion through the story makes it more appealing to young children.
The third paragraph was about the comps for my book. Notice that I added the authors’ names and also the dates of release (that’s an advice that was given to me). I also included some sentences in which I explained how my book was different to those comps. I think that’s a very important plus to be considered in a query letter. I strongly suggest you take the time to communicate what is special or different about your story. Why would it stand out against others? What’s fresh and new? For me, what ultimately made the difference was the addition of the dinosaurs and I think also the Spanish.
This story is inspired by my son and the struggles he went through when we moved to USA from Mexico in 2016. I’ve completed online courses “Writing for Young Readers: Opening the Treasure Chest” from Commonwealth Education Trust (2015), and “Creative Writing” from Wesleyan University (2016). I’m a member of SCBWI, Storyteller Academy and I’ve participated in critique groups of picture book authors and illustrators for the past two years. SANTIAGO’S DINOSAUR-SIZED PROBLEM is my debut. I have other manuscripts available upon request. Thanks for your time and consideration. Sincerely, Mariana Ríos
My fourth and final paragraph was about my BIO. I made sure to let the editor know why I was someone who could write that particular story, what inspired me to do it. I also talked about my writing background with courses and writing associations I belong to, plus the critique groups I participate in. I didn’t go into details about my college studies as they were not related to writing. Another thing I did in this paragraph was telling her that Santiago’s story was my debut book and that I had other manuscripts upon request. This last part is more targeted towards agents, because when you query an agent with a picture book, if they like your story they will then ask for 2-3 more stories before they will consider offering representation. So, as you can see, it’s very important to start querying once you have a solid and strong submission package, because if all goes well, you’ll have to send more stories and you want to be ready for when your time comes. Finally, after my name, I included my complete contact information: address, phone, email and my socials for Instagram and Twitter.
What happened next? After I sent my letter, I waited about 6 weeks to hear back from the editor. She then requested a revise and resubmit, which I sent after working on it for 3 weeks (that story will also be a topic for another post).
Now, many months later, I’m happy to share that my book Santiago’s Dinosaurios (illustrated by Udayana Lugo) is being published by Albert Whitman on October 1st, 2022. The journey has been long but very rewarding and full of nice surprises. In a couple of weeks I will be celebrating my book’s cover reveal (which I will also share in this blog). As you can imagine I’m extremely happy and excited. It’s truly a dream come true!
I hope you’ll find this post useful as a reference to look at your own query letters and see if there’s something that could be improved. I feel really grateful to have the chance of giving back to the writing community since I’ve always received a lot of support and encouragement.
My final words for you today are don’t give up. If you keep at it, do your best, do the hard work, do your research and believe in yourself, sooner or later your YES! will come your way. I know how it sounds, trust me, I’ve been there in the querying trenches and wondered if that was true. It is.
Mariana Ríos is a Mexican picture book author represented by Natascha Morris at The Tobias Literary Agency. Her debut picture book Santiago’s Dinosaurios, illustrated by Udayana Lugo, will be published by Albert Whitman in Fall 2022. Besides writing, Mariana enjoys photography, traveling, Chai Lattes, and k-dramas.