Our first literary agent query was to Steven Malk of Writers House by email on June 13th 2016. We received a no within 24hrs (about 10 hours later), so a failed query.
Also see How to Find a Literary Agent for Children’s Picture Books for a list of literary agents interested in children’s picture books we are querying.
The important part of the email from Steven Malk is below.
This is a very funny concept that’s well executed but I’m sorry to say that I’m not seeking new clients at this time as I’m very focused on my current client list. For that reason, I have to pass.
It was a bit of a long shot querying Steven Malk, he’s a popular literary agent with some top selling clients (many awards won). From our research it was also clear he wasn’t actively seeking new clients at this time, (he has about 80 clients!) so not surprised at the no response.
Was worth a shot though and it offers a potential learning moment.
To the actual literary agent query.
Our First Literary Agent Query
Email Subject- Query : That Greedy Goat Just Cannot Stay!
Dear Steven Malk,
We desperately need your help with a matter of great importance.
We recently had a problem with our family goat, we were so sure it ate a button from my coat and after it ruined Dad’s new toupee the greedy goat just had to go.
We tried to donate the goat to a farm, a petting zoo and in desperation a junk yard, but each time the greedy goat ate something it shouldn’t and we were sent away!
Eventually we found the goat a new home, he now works in a boutique and is featured in magazines like Cosmopolitan and Vogue. He’s so famous he’s even met kings and queens!
It’s an almost unbelievable story which we need your help to spread to the world. Maybe there are animals in other families with hidden talents like our goat. Every animal should have a chance to find it’s place in the world.
With your extensive experience of problem alligators in schools and little fish stealing hats, we know you are the right person for the job.
Lilly Addison (character from the story)
Book Title “That Greedy Goat Just Cannot Stay!” is a 466 word picture book.
TEXT OF MANUSCRIPT IN FULL DELETED
Authors: Marie Law and David Law
Illustrator: Marie Law
My wife (Marie) has created a few rough illustrations at
The webpage above explains what we’d like to do with the illustrations if Marie creates them. We appreciate a publisher might want another illustrator and we’d have no input on what they’d depict. It’s not a deal breaker if a publisher only wants the story, this is the case for everything we create.
We have four other manuscripts, I’ve included the full text for all four at the link above.
We are seeking an agent who specializes in children’s books and doesn’t always play it safe. An agent who will submit books like “I Want My Hat Back” and “This is Not My Hat” (they are so funny) to publishers.
For example early drafts of “That Greedy Goat Just Cannot Stay!” included:
Next we took our greedy goat, to a garden with a moat.
The goat chewed on the green, green grass, he also chewed the gardeners ass!
The gardener sent us right away, “That greedy goat just cannot stay!”
We need an agent who we can trust to make the right judgment call on whether to keep something like this in a manuscript. We like it better than the “gardeners tache” version, we think kids would find it funny, but feedback wasn’t positive.
We’ve not sent out queries to publishers and this is our first agent query, exclusive to you, we won’t be contacting another agent until we hear back or July 14th.
My wife (Marie Law) and I (David Law) are building a long term career in children’s books (currently unpublished). We both write and Marie illustrates, examples of Marie’s art can be seen at http://md-law.classic-literature.co.uk/.
Since we work together we are thinking of going by the single name M.D. Law for the writing and Marie Law for illustrations.
I studied genetics at University, but health problems put an end to that career path. I’ve spent ~15 years working from home building websites and working as a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) consultant: helping businesses gain more traffic from Google and other search engines.
I have a lot of experience building websites (built hundreds), managing web servers and own over 100 domains including a small number related to books:
LIST OF HALF A DOZEN URLs DELETED
I understand how social media promotion works, have a few thousand Facebook “friends” (https://www.facebook.com/david.c.law), over 11,000 Twitter followers (https://twitter.com/DavidLaw), around 4,000 LinkedIn connections (https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-law-9444b637).
Marie home educated our three sons for over 15 years, the eldest (in his early twenties) never went to school and has a computer science degree. He recently started a new job working on children’s educational software. Marie was their personal tutor and had to find/create various educational resources which are skills she plans to use to help promote our books.
We’d like to create free resources for parents/educators related to the picture books we create. For example pdf print outs like character face masks, word searches etc… As past home educators we understand how valuable supporting resources are to teachers/parents and for promoting sales.
Thanks for your consideration and we welcome your feedback.
ADDRESS ETC… DELETED
I think we made it too long and detailed, we like the fun starting part and it should show we researched Steven Malk before sending a query: we are researching each agent in detail before sending a query.
The “problem alligators in schools” is a reference to the book “If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t!” by Elise Parsley and the “little fish stealing hats” refers to the book “This is Not My Hat” by Jon Klassen, both authors are represented by Steven Malk.
Two books by Jon Klassen are also mentioned later as reasons for querying Steven Malk. We have a typical British form of humor, we like fart jokes and not all agents would be open to that type of humor in a children’s book (Marie likes the Captain Underpants series, also represented by Writers House). It’s interesting only Candlewick Press made an offer on “I Want My Hat Back” AND was willing to keep the original controversial ending where the squirrel might be dead! without that ending it wouldn’t have been a hit.
As a couple who write and illustrate (specifically I write, Marie writes and illustrates) it made it far harder to condense the about us section into a short blurb without cutting out important information. An online author platform is a must for today’s authors and my experience with websites, search engine optimization and social networking should make building ours relatively easy. Marie’s experience with home education will be invaluable in building supporting material for this and other websites**
** Since this website is blog like, we’ll probably build more websites when our children’s books are published. Marie is really looking forward to creating character face masks, word searches, mazes, cursive writing practice printouts etc… for our books.
If things go well I expect we will create thousands of webpages about writing and illustrating over the coming years.
We also wanted to show we are flexible, this is a new career path for us and at this early stage far more open to compromise than we will be in say 10 years time (assuming we are successful). Ideally Marie would illustrate all our books, but we understand with debut authors, publishers will pair new authors with an illustrator that’s had some success. I don’t think we’d complain if a publisher wanted someone like Jon Klassen to illustrate some of our picture book manuscripts :-)
Anyway, feel free to trash our first attempt at submitting to a literary agent in the comments below. Also take a look at How to Find a Literary Agent for Children’s Picture Books for a list of literary agents interested in children’s picture books we are querying.