Friday, October 9, 2015

Pay It Forward Friday - Query Critique!

TGIF, writer friends! Today for Pay It Forward Friday, I did a critique for Julie Affleck's picture book, A is for Applesauce. Julie is super brave for putting forth her query for public critique, so give her a round of applause for that. If you have additional constructive comments or alternate suggestions for what I've written below, go for it! Also, if you are interested in getting a query critique or have a query question, email me (address in the sidebar). 

On with the critique!
I don’t write picture books, so I will announce right up front that this type of query is not my area of expertise. Picture book queries are a bit different than queries for middle grade, YA and adult because there is an author and illustrator (sometimes the same person, sometimes not). I did a bit of research to confirm the etiquette on this, which is to include a link to an online portfolio of pictures if you are the artist. Also, in my research I discovered that it is normal to paste in the whole manuscript below your query since picture books are usually 1,000 words or less. Of course, ALWAYS check each individual agent’s guidelines and send exactly what they request.
So, my notes and edits are below in red:
Mr./Ms. Agent’s Last Name (always address formally and confirm spelling),
A is for Applesauce is the first in the Arthur & Zita Alphabet Book series. Nine year old Zita loves words and her favourite book is the DICTIONARY! Today is "A" WORDS DAY. While she and her younger brother Arthur await the arrival of awesome Aunt Alice, Zita searches for all the words she can that begin with the letter A. A is for Applesauce tells of a trip to the Animal Zoo cut short, and various other commotions, involving applesauce, ants, attempted arrest, angel food cake, awards, arguing, and antics. As a "day in the life" family adventure with expressive, whimsical, and colourful illustrations, A is for Applesauce is a read alone or read aloud book to be enjoyed by both children and parents.
  • I think your opening paragraph is great. A query should be brief, enticing, and carry the voice appropriate to the age and genre of the book, which I think yours does nicely.
  • I struck the last sentence because you are telling us something unnecessary. Let your words speak for themselves (which they do).
  • Nine years strikes me as too old a character for an alphabet book. Kids are learning their ABCs and reading picture books between ages 3-5, maybe 6.
  • Make sure to use the American English spelling if you are querying American agents.

A is for Applesauce is a good choice to expand your child's A Words vocabulary using A Words in context and with Zita's lively AWESOME A WORDS glossary at the end of the story. A is for Applesauce is accompanied by A is for Applesauce Word Play as a separate colourful activity book, geared towards the grade three to five level.
  • I am not sure about this paragraph. I would do serious research on whether it’s typical to have a glossary and activity book with a picture book. I can see it in an educational text, but I’m not sure about a regular picture book.
  • Again, grades 3-5 seems too old to me for this. That’s the age kids are moving on to early readers and even middle grade.

While A is for Applesauce is over 1800 words, which is more than the normal picture book count, it has many uses for teachers, including alliteration, developing word choice, making lists of ‘juicy’ words, descriptive writing, and using a glossary. I am not ‘in love with my words’, and getting the chance to work with an editor, cutting, revising, etc. to make this book more enjoyable for children, parents, and teachers, would be a wonderful opportunity.
  • I would strike this whole paragraph. Add the word count in below. Since you are not a teacher, I would not mention what they need. Also, teachers are not the only ones who will read this.
  • I researched word counts on picture books, and 1,000 is considered pushing the upper limit. You already know this, which is good, but also know that by almost doubling the high end of the norm, you are going to turn off a lot of agents. While on the one hand, plenty of debut authors break the rules and succeed, on the other hand, you’re just putting an extra hurdle in front of yourself, of which there are MANY on the road to traditional publication.
  • NEVER say you’re not in love with your work. It comes across as unprofessional. Also, I hope you mean this in a self-deprecating author fashion, when in fact you have edited, and edited, and edited some more, and gotten feedback from others, and edited several more times. Your work should be as perfect as you can possibly get it before submitting to an agent.

I have been working on the Arthur and Zita series for a few years, and found the perfect illustrator for the books, Alexander MacAdam. A website to view some of his work is
  • I am not sure of the proper etiquette here. Since you are not an illustrator, my gut tells me that picking one yourself may come across as unprofessional or even a bit demanding. I would tread lightly here. Either don’t mention the illustrations at all, or indicate that you’ve had an illustrator do some mock ups of what you envisioned, though you understand that this decision lies in the hands of the publisher.

As a stay-at-home mother of four children, I have spent many years reading picture books, chapter books, middle-grade - well, you know what I mean, and have begun the writing stage after numerous on-line writing courses and many, many workshops. I also write middle-grade books, and my first attempt at writing young adult  has resulted in being shortlisted for the Silverwood - Kobo - Berforts Open Day Competition.
  • I struck the above because it’s a bit wordy, and also because taking writing courses is not something typically mentioned in a query. Mention any paid pub credits or awards, perhaps your degree if relevant. Since you were shortlisted for an award I left that in, and also the personal bit about motherhood.

I've included a couple of pictures taken from the book layout as well.
  • Never send an agent attachments unless requested. As I mentioned above, research suggests including a link to an online portfolio.
  • Also include full manuscript pasted in below query IF the agent indicates this is acceptable (only for picture books).
  • I would state this as such: “A for Applesauce is complete at ___ words. Per your submission guidelines, I’ve included the full manuscript and a link to an online illustration portfolio below (or whatever they’ve asked for).”

Thank you for taking the time to read my query. I hope you enjoy Zita, and her spirit and spunk as she makes learning new words fun!

My overall comments: I think you have a really good hook here, which is the hard part of the query. It sounds like a fun picture book! Where work is needed is making sure you use the proper etiquette so you come across as professional and knowledgeable about the publishing world.

Here are a couple links to great articles I found while researching picture book queries: This agent is a TOP agent in kid lit, very well known. See her query example to see how to piece together your closing paragraph. The Query Shark blog is also written by a top agent, not one that reps kid lit, but she has excellent advice on queries. This one is for picture books, but all of her posts are super informational.

So, writer friends, what are your thoughts on Julie's query? Leave a comment below. I wish good luck to Julie in her querying endeavors!


  1. Thanks so much! Wonderful comments, Your positive criticism is easy to work with. I have some work to do.

  2. Thanks for being brave and putting your work out there!

  3. Queries are so hard. I think Julie did fantastic. Good notes, Alexia!

    1. Thank you! I do not like doing querying either. It is hard!

  4. I agree with your assessment, Alexia! The book does sound like a lot of fun, but I wonder if the age of the character and the age group should be lowered. Third to fifth graders usually know how to read and are at the point that they read to learn. Picture books tend to relate more to younger children, unless they are more comic book-like.

  5. Thanks for sharing useful and valuable information.
    Trikle Trade


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