First-Time Picture Book Author Cover Letters, Exposed! with Pat Zietlow Miller
Hello and welcome to the first ever post for
First-Time Picture Book Author Cover Letters, Exposed!
I am delighted to introduce our first guest, Pat Zietlow Miller!
Pat is the first-time picture book author of Sophie'sSquash, a charming tale of a little girl who, instead of eating the squash her parents let her pick out at the farmer’s market, names the squash Bernice and takes her everywhere she goes. This book is seriously adorable!
Hi Pat! I would like to start by saying thank you, thank you, thank you! My daughter and I love Sophie’s Squash and can’t wait for your next picture book, Wherever You Go, which is due to be released on April 21, 2015.
Q: You also have six more picture books due to be released over the next few years including a sequel to Sophie’s Squash, correct?
A: Yes! I have six additional books in the works. SHARING THE BREAD: AN OLD-FASHIONED THANKSGIVING STORY comes out this August. Two more come out in 2016 – THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE and SOPHIE’S SEEDS, a sequel to SOPHIE’S SQUASH. In the sequel, Sophie starts school with Bonnie and Baxter in tow. Her classmates don’t immediately appreciate Bonnie and Baxter’s many charms, and Sophie isn’t instantly enthralled with her classmates. But, rest assured, it all works out in the end.
Then, I have three other books that likely will be published in 2017.
That is so exciting! Congratulations! I know my daughter and I will be keeping an eye out for all of your new books :)
Q: Were these books finished before, during, or after you finished Sophie’s Squash?
A: Two of the books were finished before I sold SOPHIE’S SQUASH (SHARING THE BREAD and MY BROTHER, THE DUCK). The others were written afterward. I still have a few from early on that I hope might eventually sell with some more work.
Ah, yes. The good ol’ put-it-away-for-another-day manuscript. I have a lot of those :)
Q: Now that you are a published picture book author, do you still have to write cover letters for your manuscripts?
A: I do not. But it’s not because I’m a published author, it’s because I have an agent – Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. When she submits my work to editors, she writes a mini-version of a cover letter, and does so much better than I ever did. For example, she referred to MY BROTHER, THE DUCK, which is about a young boy detective who thinks his brand-new baby brother is a duck, as “preschool noir.” It was a perfect description. And one I never would have thought of myself.
I’ll have to remember that one ;)
Q: Do you hate writing cover letters as much as I do (I hate writing them about as much as I hate changing the kitty litter…maybe more)?
A: They were never my favorite thing to do, but I think they ranked slightly above changing kitty litter. I make my husband do that. In my defense, I think, as a picture book writer, I had it a little easier. Most houses that take unsolicited submissions want to see the full manuscript for picture books, so I wasn’t relying on the cover letter to convince them to request a manuscript. It just had to be good enough that it didn’t prevent the editor from reading the manuscript.
Good point! I think we get so caught up in the cover letter and trying to make it perfect, that we forget about the manuscript, which should be able to hold its own under the agent or editor’s scrutiny.
Q: How many cover letters did you write for Sophie’s Squash before you found the winning one?
A: Not too many. I relied on one pretty standard business letter format when I was submitting. It had an intro paragraph, brief plot-summary paragraph, a paragraph about my related experience and a close. It was short, to the point and professional, which is all you really need.
Q: What resources did you find helpful in writing your cover letter?
A: I relied on two pieces of similar advice. One came from picture book writer Jill Esbaum. She told me something like: “Get in and get out. Don’t be fancy.” The other came from a blog called Editorial Anonymous that always maintained all correspondence with editors should prove “what a yahoo you are not.” (If you want to see two of the many posts about this edict, go here and here.) And the blog’s sidebar about items to never include with your slush pile manuscript is divine.
I also enjoyed reading Editor Cheryl Klein’s Annotated Query Letter from Hell. In it, she notes all the things bad query letters include that annoy her deeply. (Handy tip: Do not do these things.)
Great resources! Thank you for sharing!
Q: How many agents/publishers did you send your cover letter and manuscript to before you found your agent?
A: I sold my first book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, through the slush pile. I think it got about 15 to 20 rejections before it got a “yes” from Schwartz & Wade. I was sending other manuscripts out at the same time, and I got 126 total rejections before selling SOPHIE.
Once I did make the sale, I contacted Ammi-Joan Paquette, whom I had heard speak at an Iowa Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators conference. I did not write a formal cover letter for that. I emailed her through her agency website and said something eloquent like: “Hi: I heard you speak at the April Iowa SCBWI event and was really impressed with how you think about books. I recently sold a book through the slush pile to Schwartz & Wade. I’ve enclosed the text below for your consideration. Would you be interested in representing me? I look forward to hearing from you.”
No award-winning prose there. But it worked, and that’s what’s important.
Lol! That’s fantastic! I think it may be comforting for some to hear about all of the rejections an author must pile up before we finally get that big break. Hearing how many times Dr. Seuss was rejected always makes me feel better :)
*Note: If the rejections are piling up and you find yourself feeling like giving up, go to here…you’ll feel much better.
Thank you so much for sharing, Pat! You have definitely given us something to chew on.
We wish you the best of luck with your current projects and we will definitely be looking for you in our local bookstores.
And now, what you’ve all been waiting for, the unicorn of the picture book world, the magical and ever elusive cover letter!
*Please note: Pat's personal information was removed from below her signature for privacy purposes.
As you can see, there is no magic here. This is a great example of a cover letter because it is professional and to the point. The introduction is short and sweet. The plot summary is three descriptive, yet enticing sentences. And the bio is, well, a lot more impressive than my bio, but it’s honest and professional.
Seeing this cover letter makes me realize that writing a cover letter is not as big a deal as we make it out to be. I have driven myself stir crazy (thanks for the expression, mom) trying to figure out how to write a cover letter. I’ve tried to be fancy. I’ve tried to be interesting. I’ve tried to be creative. But in the end none of that worked. What I should have been doing all along is writing a professional, to the point cover letter. As Pat said, this is a business letter. A well-written business letter with a strong manuscript should sell itself.
“Get in and get out. Don’t be fancy.” - Jill Esbaum
Stay tuned for another installment of First-Time Picture Book Author Cover Letters, Exposed! coming in March.
Thanks for reading!