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Designing a Multi-Purpose Query Using Topic Headings


Publishers, magazines, journals, and agents often require similar query information, even if the content and format for submissions varies. For example, some require submission via submission management software like Submittable. Submittable provides fields for you to complete tailored to a publisher or agent’s specific requirements. Other publishers and agents may request that you submit via email and refer to guidelines on their website like the Andrea Brown Literary Agency does. This means you may need to rearrange or remove information in your perfect query letter. 

illustration of author making query

“Your summary should be clear and concise.” Illustration by Josh Quick.

Instead of constantly revising your query, organize information into titled sections that you can easily manipulate to match guidelines. While one size never fits all, this advice will help, especially if you’re submitting the same type of work to multiple sources. 

Let’s look more closely at the basic information required in queries. For each section, I’ll furnish examples from a picture book query.

Opening hook

Regardless of who you contact, let them know immediately what the topic of your work is and why you feel it is important.

I am seeking representation for my picture book, Talk With Me! This book takes a unique approach by encouraging and helping readers learn to use American Sign Language.

Contact information

Most publishing venues, contests, and agents request that you supply a variety of contact information, such as a phone number, email address, and mailing address. A good place to do that is below your query letter signature. In the case of Submittable’s software, it stores your personal information, which will automatically appear with each submission.  Your professional website can also be included along with this general information.

Title and length 

Read submission guidelines carefully to see where this information about your work should appear. If no specific guidance is offered, include title and word count in your opening paragraph. That’s also a good location to state if you’re open to revision. 

My book is 250 words in length, and I am open to revision.


Some groups will ask that you place the genre in the information line of your email. In the case of agents, they specify on the agency website which genres they will consider.

Why this agency or publisher

Most publishing venues will ask why you decided to submit to them. This is one section of your query that you’ll alter for each submission. However, what won’t change is the importance that you read about the group to which you submit. In the case of many agents, they’ll present a wish list on the website in which they’re specific about what they love. Don’t be shy about quoting directly from their words in application to your submission.

Talk With Me! is a perfect match for the picture books you seek to publish with heartfelt themes, supported by well-done rhyme.


Also termed a synopsis, your summary should be clear and concise. Instructions from website guidelines for your synopsis may vary, depending upon its length and genre. My summary begins:

Talk With Me! features vocally-challenged children who go to a park with a caregiver. The caregiver teaches “sign-through-rhyme,” meaning that she describes the physical act of signing several common words while repeating easily understood rhymes. The word “please” is often repeated, in order to teach young readers the importance of using that term.

Publication credits

You may want to divide your credits section into two: those applicable to the work queried and additional credits in a separate section.

My cited books include a picture book, What Is My Name? (Reading Press, 2014), featured on the Renaissance Learning Accelerated Reading book list.

Comparison and contrast 

This section shows that your work can compete well in an overcrowded market.

While Talk With Me! focuses on signing with instructional texts just as Kathryn Clay’s Time to Sign does, it differs by emphasizing the importance of community learning.


This is another section that will vary depending upon your genre.  You must adhere strictly to guidelines. Attachments generally aren’t allowed, and snail mail is rarely accepted. With picture books, the entire manuscript is requested as part of one’s submission. Guidelines for long works will vary, depending upon whether you’re submitting fiction or nonfiction. Many guidelines request the first 10-20 pages. Others allow you to submit pages from any point in the manuscript. You can prepare for this instance ahead of time by identifying a strong section of your work that will grab the reader’s attention, and then vary the length according to guidelines. 

Time to query

Now that you’ve divided your query into sections labeled by topic, you can easily assemble the pieces required by different publishers and agents. The topics work so well as sub-titles that I insert them into my query letter, guiding readers to the precise information they requested.

If you enjoyed learning about writing a query, you may also like this blog by the same author about writing critique groups.

author photo, Virginia Brackett
Virginia Brackett (Guest Blogger)

Virginia Brackett helps organize writing sessions and workshops for veterans and their families. Her fiction placed second in the fall 2018 Owl Canyon Hackathon and was a finalist in the 2019 William Penn Foundation Early Childhood Book Challenge. Her 15 books have received citations from Booklist and the Amelia Bloomer Project, among others. Electronic books include Angela and the Gray Mare (children) and Girl Murders, a time-travel mystery, available on Amazon. Brackett’s book, In the Company of Patriots, a study on the effect of the loss of her father on her family, was published by Sunbury Press in the fall of 2019.