Hello again! Welcome to another post for
First-Time Picture Book Author Cover Letters, Exposed!
Today we will be interviewing the wonderfully talented Keila Dawson!
Keila is the first-time picture book author of The King Cake Baby, which is a hilarious fractured version of The Gingerbread Man story. In this version, Keila takes the story to New Orleans and centers it around a local custom during the Mardi Gras season where a plastic baby is hidden inside a king cake leaving everyone wondering who got the baby? In this retelling, the plastic baby runs away from an old woman before she has the chance to hide him in the king cake. The baby meets other characters in his French Quarter neighborhood and runs away from them too, until a clever baker catches him.
This story is really fun and unique! I love how creative Keila was with her retelling J
Hi Keila! Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. I really enjoyed reading your book.
Q: How long have you been writing books for children?
A: I started writing for the children’s book market approximately 6 months before Pelican Publishing acquired The King Cake Baby in June, 2013.
Wow! You work fast!!
Q: How many picture book manuscripts did you write/submit before The King Cake Baby?
A: The King Cake Baby was my first attempt at writing a children’s story. Over the years, I have enjoyed journaling about my travels and kids. Most recently I had two articles published for the adult market. One published in a genealogy journal and another in a magazine for expats about raising third culture kids. Before that, I wrote educational reports professionally.
Nailed it on the first try? Okay, now I’m a little jealous ;)
Q: Now that you are a published picture book author, do you still have to write cover letters?
A: I wrote a cover letter to accompany the manuscript I subbed to my publisher while in New Orleans for my debut book launch. I believe the cover letter is an important part of my writing process. I will often draft a hook or pitch before my manuscript is submission-ready.
That’s a really good idea.
Q: Do you hate writing cover letters as much as I do (I hate them about as much as I hate doing the laundry)?
A: I don’t mind writing cover letters, but I dislike doing the laundry! I prefer to work out my hook early in the writing process. The better I understand the story I want to tell - a main character + the problem or goal + obstacles or conflict or struggles faced + the resolution - the easier it is to convey that to others. This process helps me with revisions too. I’m either tweaking the hook or sticking to it, until the words and story are in sync. The other two parts, information about the book and comparative titles and finally what I think the publisher should know about me, the cook, is added later.
No wonder you hit the ground running!
Q: How many cover letters did you write for The King Cake Baby before you found that winning one?
A: I wrote three or four drafts.
Sounds about right :)
Q: What resources did you find helpful in writing your cover letter?
A: I read a lot of articles on how to write a query and a cover letter. The first online group I joined was Children’s Book Insiders (CBI). I then joined a wonderful local Society of Children’sBook Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) group, and members encouraged me to join the national organization where I found more about submissions. I found HaroldUnderdown’s site and other online sources.
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
Harold Underdown’s site
Query Letters That Worked
Great info! Thanks for sharing!Q: How many agents and/or publishers did you send the cover letter and manuscript to for The King Cake Baby before you found your publisher?
A: I did what a lot of newbies do! I subbed to seven or eight well known large publishing houses. Online research taught me how to look for submission guidelines on each publisher’s site, but I didn’t yet understand how to look at a publisher’s list to see if my manuscript fit. After joining a local SCBWI group, I met some wonderful authors who mentored me and taught me to look more closely at publishing houses and the type of books they publish. I learned that big was not necessarily better. My story was a good fit with Pelican, a regional publishing house based in Louisiana, but I waited since they required an exclusive submission. I remember thinking to myself that I would send my story out just one more time. And I’m so happy I did!
I think a lot of writers get caught in the big publisher trap instead of researching who would actually be a good fit for their book. We want the fame and fortune that we think will come with a big publishing house, but there are so many other great publishers and small presses out there!
Q: Are you currently working on any additional picture book manuscripts, or have any picture books scheduled for publication that we should look forward to?
A: I am always “working” on other ideas. But for me that doesn’t necessarily equate to writing. I don’t actually write every day, but I do think about what I have written or an idea I want to develop. I can spend days thinking about whether or not a word I’ve chosen to use is the best one. Or my work for the day may involve reading other picture books, working with my critique partners or participating in groups like JulieHedlund’s 12x12 Challenge or Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo or Susanna Hill’s PerfectPicture Book Fridays and Would-You-Read- It-Wednesdays.
I will let you know if the story I subbed in February made the cut. But if my manuscript is rejected, I know it comes with the territory. And it’s happened to the best in the industry so no regrets for trying.
Sounds a lot like my day :)
Q: Were these books finished before, during, or after The King Cake Baby?
A: Once I started learning, studying and actively participating in writing communities, story ideas came more easily to me. After the acquisition of The King Cake Baby, I wrote another fractured fairy tale also set in New Orleans. And I have many other stories in various stages of the revision process.
Thank you, Keila! It has been a delight getting to know you. Definitely keep us posted on your progress and we will keep an eye out for you online and in bookstores :)
And now, the incredibly rare, amazing, fantastic, stupendous…okay, okay. Here is Keila’s successful cover letter for The King Cake Baby!
This cover letter does a great job in letting the editor know right away that Keila knows what she is talking about. It is short, professional, and to the point.
See a pattern here?
Well, that’s all for today. You can read more and connect with Keila by following the links below.
NPR affiliate WVXU interview with Around Cincinnati host Lee Hay
Local author Keila Dawson talks about her first children's book, The King Cake Baby
Twitter: @keila_dawson Author Facebook firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: The King Cake Baby (Facebook page)
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/keiladawson
The King Cake Baby is available at Pelican, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other online retail stores.
http://www.pelicanpub.com/proddetail.php?prod=9781455620135#.VLxlqUfF9r0 http://www.amazon.com/King-Cake-Baby-Keila-Dawson/dp/1455620130 http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-king-cake-baby-keila-dawson/1120276062?ean=9781455620135
Stay tuned for our next post for First-Time Picture Book Author Cover Letters, Exposed! Coming in April. We will be interviewing First-Time Picture Book Author Peter McCleery!
Thanks for reading!
When I wrote my article on Writing a Synopsis, I mentioned that it was one of the most challenging tasks for authors. The cover letter (otherwise known as a Query Letter), by comparison, should actually be pretty simple.
The main aim of your cover letter is to give the agent/publisher more detail about your manuscript and you, the author. Things like:
- manuscript title;
- word count;
- manuscript blurb;
- market placement;
- target audience;
- author background;
- ‘call to action’; and
- contact information (don’t forget this one!!!).
Most of these seem pretty obvious, however when you are caught up writing this letter, it can be easy to forget to include important details (I can’t tell you how many authors fail to include the genre and word count).
As well as offering information, it is also acting as a ‘call to action’. It is an invitation for the agent/publisher to read your manuscript, with the view to acquiring it. It is part business letter (informational), part sales copy.
The agent or publisher should be able to read your cover letter (along with the synopsis) and get a sense – ‘at a glance’ – of whether your manuscript is worth their time.
NOTE: It is important to remember that the below advice is based on general recommendations, you should always read and adhere to the guidelines that each publishing house and literary agent sets out.
So, what is a cover letter and why is it important?
Part informational and part sales pitch, the cover letter should provide necessary details to the agent/publisher as well as entice (sell) the reader to read more of your work (ie the synopsis or the full manuscript). This document should provide the agent/publisher all the details they need to decide whether it is a good fit for their audience, and therefore whether to consider acquiring it.
When you submit your manuscript to an agent, editor or publisher the first thing they will read is your cover letter and synopsis – which is why you want to get it right, it’s the first step to getting published!
Writing your cover letter
You will be happy to hear that cover letters aren’t actually too complicated to write. The cover letter should be no longer than two A4 pages (preferably one) and made up of a few brief paragraphs, see below for the breakdown of what should be in the cover letter (and can appear in any logical order you choose).
The letter itself, is just that: a letter. And it needs to be formatted accordingly with your contact details, a proper address to the editor/publisher/agent (using their name and title or the name of their organisation at the very least!) a signature, and body content. I would also consider using 1.5 spacing for clarity.
Even if you are submitting via email, your cover letter should follow the standard formatting for a letter. In fact, I would usually include the cover letter and the synopsis as an attachment to your email – always refer to the website guidelines for each agent/publisher to guide you on this.
So what do you need to include?
- Initial paragraph is the ‘fact’s dump’ where you want to provide the manuscript’s title, word count, genre… Remember, the person you are addressing knows nothing about your manuscript so you need to give them a snapshot of it.
- Follow this up with a brief blurb (teaser) of your work, this should read like the back cover copy you read on books. It should outline the central characters, the conflicts, the themes…
- Then comes the market pitch where you need to outline the target audience, competing titles, similar authors…explain why the manuscript would be of interest to the publisher/agents readers.
- And now you, the author, should figure in the form of an author bio. Keep this brief and succinct, your manuscript should do the real talking. Only include relevant information about you, like:
– What prompted you to write this particular novel?
– What relevant studies have you completed?
– If you have been published, tell us what and where. (Don’t include self-publishing credits unless you had unbelievable sales or were reviewed by a reputable industry reviewer.)
– If there are things about your personal or professional life that are relevant to the manuscript, let us know – if you’re a cattle farmer and you have written a rural romance set on a cattle farm, that’s relevant to mention.
– Only include writing awards if they are from well-known and respected organisations.
- Finish with a ‘call to action’. Invite the editor to contact you if they have questions, let them know the manuscript is ready to be sent on their request, ask for them to consider you as a future client. Whatever you are wanting from them, spell it out here.
- And don’t forget to sign off with a ‘thank you for your consideration’ and your name.
Sample Cover Letter
Please find attached a synopsis and three chapters of my[genre] novel, [MS TITLE], which is approximately 80,000 words in length.
[MS TITLE] is the story of Josie, an eccentric child, growing up on a remote cattle farm in Outback Queensland at the turn of the century, from her humble beginnings to her rise to become one of the most well-respected medical professionals in the Commonwealth.
The target audience for this novel is most likely to be women in the age range of 30 and up who enjoy the work of authors such as Kate Grenville and Thomas Kenneally[or other relevant writers or books].
I am a Brisbane-based writer of historical fiction[or whichever genre you write in]. My previous publishing credits include short stories inIsland Magazine, The Lifted Brow andOverland Journal– a full list of my publications is attached. I also spent my formative years on a property in central Queensland during the 1950s.
I undertook the writing of this book after discovering stumbling across a newspaper article on Josie in the Sydney Morning Herald. I chose to research her journey and write a fictionalised account of her life. I began writing this manuscript while enrolled in my post-graduate degree in writing, which I completed with distinction in 2010.
Many thanks for considering my work for publication, if you would like a full copy of my manuscript please notify me and I will happily send a copy through to you. I look forward to hearing from you in this regard.
A few more tips…
Here are a couple more things that I find helpful when reading a cover letter. I read quite a few and I want the information to be quick and easy to consume, and these are the things that help me:
- I rather like headings; ‘story summary’, ‘selling points’, ‘author bio’, ‘market position’, ‘competition overview’ just to name a few. This helps me read the information that is most important to me first, and stops me skipping other information while I look for the ‘good bits’.
- I also like the use of bold and underlined It helps me grab for the important bits quickly. I am usually looking for genre and word count information in the first instance, and this really helps me to grab this information quickly.
Things that annoy me (just a little)…
- Typos and misspellings, wrong word usage, incorrect punctuation – I know this all seems petty, but these are things that writers really should get right in their cover letter. It shows that they care about the words that they are putting on the page, and that they’re not lazy. No one likes a lazy author.
- Letters that use it as a platform for a diatribe of rubbish that is irrelevant to the manuscript, but seeks to prove their intelligence. PLEASE let your manuscript speak for itself, keep the cover letter simple. All I want to know is what your MS is about, whether it fits my list and whether you have any relevant experience. Here is an example of the above pet peeve:
I was reading information written by ‘experts’ who said ancient man was so stupid that he wouldn’t come out of the rain. When I read Thomas Hobbe’s, famous quote that life for ancient man was ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. Well I bristled…blah blah blah. What has all this to do with my novel? Well, nothing actually, but it is how I commenced writing…
- On this note, please don’t tell me what your novel was intended to be when you started writing it!!!! Tell me about what it is now. Here is another example of a letter I received:
It was originally meant to be a thriller for ‘a male on a plane trip’ reader, but has been softened and lengthened with the addition of two strong female characters, who made it as much about people as action situations.
And a few general items…
- Research relevant publishers for your work. The ‘bible’ for writers of articles and books is Writer’s Marketplace, which lists publishers’ contact information and the type of manuscripts they seek. Read the listings carefully and selectively make your choices instead of mass mailing your manuscript to every publisher under a certain category. Also, make sure you check the publisher or agent’s website to make sure what they are and are not currently accepting..
- Know your genre and the market competition.
- Expect to wait between six to eight weeks (or longer) for a response to your query – assuming you get one at all!
I hope the above information has helped you to formulate a draft of your own cover letter, or edit an existing one. If you are still having troubles with your cover letter and synopsis there are plenty of services (like The Manuscript Agency) who offer this service, professionals who will sit down and help you write your cover letter. Please contact me via email – email@example.com – if you would like more information on the fees and processes related to this service.
About Kit CarstairsKit Carstairs has background in book and magazine publishing, academic research, marketing and broadcasting. She has almost a decade of experience working with a wide variety of content including: fiction (adult and children’s), general non-fiction (craft, gardening, home improvement, general DIY, food titles, natural history, general reference, photography) as well as working with corporate (marketing and sales material, business reviews and papers) and academic content (research publications and thesis). Having worked both as a freelance editor and as an in-house editor and project manager in publishing, Kit has a comprehensive understanding of the importance of content development and the need for authors to be proactive in developing manuscripts that represent their full potential. As well as providing manuscript assessments Kit is also able to offer her editing and proofing services (POA) as well as fast and accurate transcribing services (POA). Contact Kit to discuss these services in more detail. Kit lives and works in the inspirational surroundings of the Blue Mountains, in Australia's New South Wales.
View all posts by Kit Carstairs