“Don’t be self-deprecating. Come at me with some confidence.”
That was the bracing advice on queries from agent Heather Alexander yesterday at the Whispering Pines writing retreat in Rhode Island, hosted by the New England SCBWI.
If “Whispering Pines” sounds bucolic and restful… well, it is a beautiful setting. (It’s touted as one of the best children’s lit. writing retreats by Betsy Bird in School Library Journal.) But inside the conference rooms, all brain synapses were firing as children’s publishing professionals shared their wisdom and insights.
I was a one-day participant, dipping into the retreat on Sunday. In addition to Heather Alexander, I got to hear Simon & Schuster Executive Editor Christian Trimmer speak about what he looks for in picture book acquisitions.
First, Heather: An agent at Pippin Properties, she spoke about the querying process, dispensing wisdom such as “Keep it simple… query letters get over-thought all the time.”
“A query letter should have some of your voice in it. Show off your writing skills. It’s a business letter, but keep it conversational.”
“Avoid the wall of text,” Heather stated (a big block of text). Keep paragraphs and the letter brief. “Hit the main points and get out.”
She stated the query letter should have three main components (paragraphs):
- What is the book (genre, title, word count) and why are you sending it to that particular agent?
- What the book is about
- A bit about you, the writer
Some of the factors he mentioned include:
Promotional opportunities: When we think of big shopping times for children’s books, we generally think of larger holidays like Christmas or Halloween. But Christian also mentioned several other times in the year when book stores are looking to provide topical children’s books. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Earth Day, Black History Month, Chinese New Year, and Back to School were a few options he mentioned that may spark an idea for a picture book.
“Perennials with a twist.” There are certain topics that are perennial favorites in picture books: new baby, bedtime, mommy, daddy, dragons, grandparents, construction site, dinosaurs. Christian encouraged us to think about creating stories that incorporate these perennial favorites in a fresh and exciting way.
Christian talked about how these factors and more were present in recent books he has acquired. So many of his presentation points applied to middle grade and beyond, in addition to picture books. He is attuned to aspects of diversity such as biracial identity and addressing GLBTQ bullying. He was warm, funny, and insightful. You can find Christian on Twitter at @MisterTrimmer.
I drove home from Whispering Pines full of inspiration and the fellowship of the children’s lit. writing community. If you are looking for a small conference with stellar people– this is it!