The Cover Letter
- Accompanies a ms in the same envelope.
- Shorter. Usually 2-3 short paragraphs.
- If solicited, make sure you remind the editor that they asked to see this ms.
- Use when you are sending the whole ms, whether solicited or unsolicited.
The Query Letter
- Is sent by itself without the ms. But still send a SASE so they can contact you to get that wonderful ms in their hands should they want it.
- Longer. Usually 3-4 short-to-medium paragraphs.
- Is used to get an editor to solicit your work.
When to Use Which
With picture books, I'd say about 70-75% (based on my own research) want the full ms. In other words, they accept unsolicited mss. The other 25-30% want you to query. You have to look up the publisher in a marketing book and/or online to see what they require. So just because it's a PB, doesn't mean that you get to automatically send the full ms. They may want you to query first. It just depends.
My favorite marketing book is Book Markets for Children's Writers (although some swear by Writer's Market). It is published by Writer's Institute Publications (The Institute of Children's Literature) and focuses only on books from early PB to YA. They also have a completely separate marketing book for the Magazine Market.
Writer's Market is like the marketing Bible for writers. It includes adult books for fiction and nonfiction, poetry, children's books fiction and nonfiction, AND magazines!!! It is pretty comprehensive. I would recommend checking that tome out from your local library.
Another good one to use is the Children's Writers and Illustrators Market. It's less comprehensive than the Writer's Market because it focuses on children's writing. But it's more comprehensive than the first I mentioned because this one also includes magazine markets.
Look at what you write to see what your best bet will be. Buy something that will suit your needs. And then compare the entries to the publishers' websites. I have found a few minor contradictions. I always go with what's on their website.
Make a List
I use the index in my favorite "trusty friend" and choose two categories. Say maybe picture books - fiction and humor. Then I cross-reference them and see which ones overlap. Those are the ones I write down first. Then I turn to the pages and read the entries. That narrows the list a bit further. You can tell which ones will be a good fit and which one don't match at all. Then go online and check their submissions guidelines further.
Lastly, now you have to actually write the letter!
Keep on keepin' on...