The Sweet Smell of Submissions


Dear Melanie…

Don’t let the jargon trip you up. Submit two things: the cover letter (called a “query letter”) and your manuscript. That’s all.

Seriously. That’s ALL. Don’t include anything gimmicky. An author once sent me a vial of homemade perfume that tied into her story’s theme. Only, I didn’t know the vial was in the submission envelope when I shoved it into my bag to read at home—along with several full novel manuscripts. The vial was crushed in my car. The scent? Let’s just say the manuscript was about a horse and leave it at that.

Happy writing!

The Editor


  1. I’d add that the query letter can look a bit different for a PB than for a longer novel. You’d probably want to spend less time on the summary part of it (since the actual work is so short), which would free up space to do a comparison of your book to others on the market, or describe more about the themes/niche that your PB fits in.

    • Thanks for that link, Sue. I think Margot’s point in that article is even tighter than the resume comparison: Her definition of a “cover letter” is that document that comes after your query letter-only submission earns a “Yes, send it” response from an editor. At that point, you’d send the full manuscript with a cover letter stating, “Here’s the manuscript you requested. I look forward to hearing from you.”

      When it comes to picture book submissions, send the full picture book manuscript along with the initial query letter unless you’ve got explicit instructions from that editor not to. Editors (or rather, their assistants) can find it frustrating to have to take the time to mail back a response to something they’re intrigued by, then have to wait while the manuscript is mailed, then have to re-read the initial pitch when the manuscript finally comes. They already feel behind the eight ball with submissions; having to deal with each one TWICE adds to that terrible feeling. And since picture book manuscripts are so short and don’t add anything extra to the cost of postage, the delay isn’t necessary.

      • Thanks for this clarification. It helps a lot, but I’m still a little confused. There are editors who make it clear in their guidelines that they don’t accept unsolicited submissions. I’ve assumed this means they’ll take a query for a picture book, but don’t want to see the text. Is this correct? Or should I really go ahead and send the text anyway? I don’t want to look like I can’t follow directions.

        Thanks! Amy

          • My understanding is that if a PB editor of a publisher says, “Query. No unsolicited mss,” is that it does not mean that they only accept submissions from agents, but rather that they truly only want to see a query. If they respond to the query, then your ms is now considered ‘solicited.’ The editor of said publisher above specifically said, “Please note that we review queries only, not complete manuscripts.” This does not mean ‘agented submissions only.’ Also, the statistics of freelance potential is thus: “Published 20 titles in 2010. Of those, 5 were by unpublished writers, and 5 were by authors new to the publishing house.” It did NOT say ‘all 20 were by agented authors.’

            I’d say go with your research as specific as possible for each individual publisher and follow their guidelines. Query? Just send a query letter only. Send full ms? Then send a COVER letter WITH your full ms.

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