(All illustrations copyright Beverley Johnston)
The 500 word rule doesn't apply for this, so I am showing you the covering letter, synopsis, and half* the text, along with some sample pictures. Please respect Beverley's copyright, particularly for the pictures: you may not reproduce them without her permission and she would be sensible not to give it except in certain circumstances!
(* Beverley sent me the whole text but I have chosen to reproduce only half - it's enough for you to judge, especially along with the synopsis.)
Beverley, says in her email to me:
"The sample cover letter below is taken from the latest one penned for an agent who deals with both fiction and non-fiction. When sending to fiction only agents I obviously omit the proposals for non-fiction books. Looking back at it I'm wondering if it appears too pushy! But then I keep reading about 'self-promotion' so I'm keen to present myself in a positive light as an author/illustrator willing to go out and about delivering workshops and talks to both adults and children."So, dear readers, what do you think?
May I take this opportunity of introducing my work to you in the hope you will consider representing me as an author/illustrator. I would also like to present some additional information about myself and some ideas I have for developing a range of non-fiction children's art and craft books/sets, which I hope will convey to you my commitment to developing a career as an author/illustrator of both non-fiction and fiction books, and hence why I think you are ideally suited to represent me as my agent.
As a founder member of the UK Coloured Pencil Society I have already had an art technique book published, The Complete Guide to Coloured Pencil Techniques (David and Charles 2003, which has since been translated into Taiwanese), and I have now started to write and illustrate children's picture books.
Due to the short word count I have attached a synopsis and complete manuscript for one of my picture books, Eddy's New Suit, plus 8 JPEGS depicting finished illustrations and photos taken from the fully working dummy book which is available to view.
Eddy’s New Suit (207 words) is a lift-the-flap novelty book for the 3+ year old age group. The inspiration for this book comes from the special relationship we form as a child with a favourite teddy or soft toy. The format for the book was inspired by the wonderful Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell. I believe the book would appeal to both parents and grandparents (especially Nannies who knit) and because of the resurgence in the ‘make do and mend' philosophy, and a new generation of knitters, the book is also very current in its subject matter.
In addition to writing The Complete Guide to Coloured Pencil Techniques, I have also written articles for The Artist, The Leisure Painter, and The Artist and Illustrator magazines. I've demonstrated at the Artist and Illustrator Show (Olympia and the Business Design Centre, Islington) and taught coloured pencil workshops at Missendon Abbey Adult Education Centre, Aylesbury. More recently (since having my children) I have delivered a coloured pencil workshop to key stage 3 and 4 children at my local school. I have also exhibited with the Society of Wildlife Artists at the Mall Galleries, London.
Two aims of the UK Coloured Pencil Society include promoting the use of coloured pencils as a fine art medium, plus encouraging children to develop their artistic skills through the use of coloured pencils. Coloured pencil manufacturers such as Derwent, Faber Castell and Caran D'ache etc are always open to marketing suggestions and often willing to work with artists to produce a range of educational materials, for both adults and children.
Although in the ideas stage of development I am keen to produce a range of technique books for children. Including flowers, cars, animals (pets and wildlife), and the human form, my technique can be adapted to produce fine art or stylised pictures. Projects would be kept small to suit a child's ability and by using easy to follow step-by-step stages children would be taught how to use coloured pencils and improve their drawing skills. Examples could then be used to develop a range of workshops for schools (and to support the national curriculum would combine writing and drawing for both fiction and non-fiction projects).
I would also love to see Eddy's New Suit be developed as an activity knitting set. I appreciate this may sound adventurous (in light of the fact it's yet to be published!) but my research has shown there is an increase in the number of people, including children, taking up knitting through the choice of books and craft kits available on the market. How many of them could resist knitting such a lovely warm jumper for such a well loved bear?!
EDDY’S NEW SUIT
(Available as a fully working dummy book)
A 16 page lift the flap novelty book aimed at 3+ year olds (could also be developed as a touch/feel novelty book).
Eddy is a favourite teddy who has been cuddled so often his fur has become patchy and worn, so his owner decides to make him a
The reader lifts the flaps to discover what suit Eddy is wearing. The bubble wrap suit is, ‘too spongy and squishy’; the holly leaves suit is ‘too prickly and spiky’, and the silver foil suit ‘too shiny and crinkly’.
None are right until the last flap, when he receives a very special woollen suit from Nanny. Which is just perfect!
Text (first 8 pages - half the full book)
Eddy the Teddy’s my favourite bear,
but I’ve cuddled him so often his fur’s all patchy and worn,
so I’m going to make him a brand new suit!
I make him a suit out of . . . cardboard and tape.
But it’s too stiff and sticky,
so I take it off.
I make him a suit out of . . . grass and string.
But it’s too scratchy and itchy,
so I take it off.
I make him a suit out of . . . feathers.
But it’s too fluffy and tickly,
so I take it off.
(final four spreads supplied, not shown)
Note from NM - this next pic is not the suit of feathers, but the final pic
Comments, please, expecially from any published pic book writers out there.
Meanwhile, the Blog Baby announcement cometh - be here on Nov 4th!
In this day and age of electronic communication almost completely overtaking all other forms, I feel that electronic submissions are only going to become more and more common. As more children’s book editor and agents want files they can read on-screen (either on readers at home or on computers at work), more and more authors will be emailing instead of mailing submissions.
Now, in a traditional hard copy submission, you would place your cover letter on top of your children’s book manuscript. It would look like a standard business letter with the date, contact information, and the actual content of the letter. Obviously, an electronic letter is going to differ in several ways:
- You don’t need to date it or include your email or mailing address of the recipient.
All of these things are going to be automatically included in the email anyway.
- You are going to need to have a subject line.
This line can easily be overlooked when you are busy worrying about the contents of your email. However, having a No Subject email is the surest way to have it deleted by the recipient unopened. If the editor/agent is specifically asking for a particular subject line, use it. Otherwise, here are some potential ones:
- Requested Submission — The best one, but it had better be true.
- Submission from XYZ Conference Attendee — For people who met an agent/editor at a conference and were invited or told to submit online.
- Picture Book Submission, Teen Romance Submission, etc. — No harm in naming it what it is.
- Unsolicited Manuscript Submission — Probably what most submissions are, but avoid using this unless specifically told to.
- You will need to address the email to someone.
I don’t mean the To: email line here. I mean that you will need to start your letter to Dear ____. This is a formal business email. Do not just start typing away as if this is a casual acquaintance.
- You will need to sign your full name.
Again, this is a business email. Sign it “Sincerely” or “Thank you again” or something else appropriate with your full name. You are not just dropping them a line. You are approaching a potential business contact.
- Add full contact information after your name.
This includes your phone number, website, and blog(s) if you have one. You can put your address if you like, but most likely the person will either call or reply to the email. You do not need to put your Facebook or twitter links here. Even though editors and agents realize what great marketing tools these are, they are a more casual form of communication than websites or blogs. I would only have these if you have thousands of followers and you specifically mentioned them as potential marketing tools in your cover letter.
After all this, you then have to tackle the actual body of the cover letter itself:
This paragraph is where you set the context for your submission. Did you meet the agent at a conference? Are you responding to a manuscript call? Were you referred by someone else? What this is not the place for is explaining how this book was written for your child/grandchild/niece or to explain that these are the true exploits of your most amazing and adorable cat. No matter how true these things may be, I don’t need to know them, and they will mark you as an amateur.
- One-Two paragraph pitch
The next one or two paragraphs should be your pitch of your book. Like a published book’s jacket copy or a written, more detailed elevator pitch, this is a teaser that gives the overall major plot arcs of the story, a feel for the major characters, the genre and age range of the children’s book, the themes you tackle, possibly the setting (if important), and anything else you feel is important and will help set your book apart from the other comparable books out there. You are not quoting or paraphrasing the text, merely summarizing, but if possible you should still try to convey your voice — your own distinct writing style that makes your writing sound like you.(*NOTE* These are very difficult to write but extremely important to get right. If this paragraph(s) does not interest the children’s book editor/agent reading it, there’s a very good chance the rest of the letter and your manuscript will not get read either. This is not to paralyze you into incapacitating writer’s block inducing fear, but merely to make you aware of the importance of a good pitch.)
- Series pitch
If you see your book as the beginning of a series, this paragraph is the place to tell me about it. However, if you don’t see this as a series (and despite the tale bookstore shelves may tell, not every book is the first in a series), do not suddenly try to develop one for your cover letter. Just skip on to the next paragraph. Besides, if your editor/agent ends up seeing it as a series, they will be happy to tell you. You’ll then be left with the pesky little detail of trying to think one up. Worry about it then.
This is the place to tell me a little bit about yourself. But be professional here. I would like to know if you have a PhD in literacy or an MA in Children’s Literature. I don’t want to know that you’ve been reading children’s books since you were a child. Also, this is the place for any professional associations that you belong to like SCBWI, Writer’s Leagues, etc.
Since we are discussing cover letters for unsolicited manuscripts, you would then thank the agent/editor and sign the letter. However, if we were discussing queries, this would be the place to politely ask to submit the manuscript.
Format-wise, the body of your email should look the same as a regular business letter: single spaced paragraphs with no indent and a double space in between. Do not use strange fonts or sizes. They will not make your email stand out, but merely make it annoying.
For a great discussion and annotated query letter, see Brooklyn Arden’s post. Although a query letter, all of the pertinent information is the same. I greatly admire this editor, and if you don’t already follow this blog, you should consider doing so. She is a great resource of information.