Choosing the Picture Book to Query
By Beth Elliott
It pains me how much I agonise over what picture book manuscript to query an agent or editor with. I would like to call it strategizing, but I end up agonizing sufficiently that it really does describe my process best. Here’s how things typically unfold.
Step 1. Read everything I can about agent or editor that I am planning to submit to, who is often someone from a conference or course.
Step 2. Agonise about if we would be a good fit. Agent X really thrashed one of my pieces during the first pages reading at last year’s SCBWI conference, maybe they won’t like this manuscript, too? Publishing house Y doesn’t seem to publish books like mine, or maybe they would if the right manuscript presented itself?
Step 3. Read over my submission-ready manuscripts with the agents or editor’s likes/dislikes and ‘what they’re looking for right now’ in mind.
Step 4: Agonise some more about what may appeal to the agent or editor. They like anything that makes them laugh, so Broccoli Dude should be what I query with. BUT, they have a new baby girl so Your Dance may resonate with them, and I think it’s my most compelling story.
Step 5: Read over my submission-ready manuscripts again.
Step 6: Agonise some more. Suzy from critique group #1 keeps telling me how she cannot get the main character from Broccoli Dude out of her head. But Collette loves The Dance. To really complicate things, Myrna in critique group #2 thinks my in-progress, The Cover-Up, is my best work yet. But the submission deadline is in two weeks and it won’t be ready by then!
Step 7: Sleep on it.
Step 8: Have a glass of wine and re-read all of my best manuscripts again.
Step 9: Just make a decision already and hit send. Finally, now the agonizing can stop! Or can it?
Step 10: Agonise about why the submission process is always so agonizing. I suppose it is because I care. And I should care. But as Elizabeth Gilbert shares in Big Magic–lighten up! I take my writing seriously. It’s really important. But it’s not. The world will keep turning and my life will march on even if I, despite my best efforts, make the wrong choices about what story to query with. Gilbert’s words help remind me to travel through my really important writing journey with a lighter stride.
Something shared by an author (I cannot remember who) during a writing podcast that I listened to a few years ago also stuck with me: write stuff, then share it. Get it out there. No one will read it and certainly no one will buy it if it sits on my computer. Even though I may not send just the right manuscript to just the right agent or editor, at least it’s ‘out there’. And who knows, maybe one of these times just the right manuscript will get into just the right hands, and all that agonizing will have been worth it.
Beth Elliott writes, blogs and agonises about picture books from her home in Ottawa (www.bethelliottwriter.com).