Kick! Jump! Chop! A Query Letter that Worked +Agent Sean McCarthy. Hiiiii-ya!

Today my book, Kick! Jump! Chop! The Adventures of the Ninjabread Man, releases from Sterling Publishing! It’s been a loooooong wait. I was querying agents way back in 2013. So, not only has it been a long road to publication, I’ve also been waiting impatiently to share this query letter with you all–because as I think you all know, I love query letters! This query is special because not only is it the one I sent for the book, it’s the letter that connected me with my kickin’ agent, Sean McCarthy.


Wanna read the query? Here it is:

Dear Sean,

Kick! Jump! Chop! As fast as you can. It’s a ninja twist on the Gingerbread Man!

In THE NINJABREAD MAN, an Old Ninja Master bakes some stealthily shaped gingerbread to share his secrets with. But first, the Ninjabread Man has to prove he’s the right cookie for the job. This 378-word picture book retelling of the classic tale is made to appeal to two to five-year-olds, who tend to like repetition, ninjas, and cookies.


We have spoken a little online and you’ve left a good impression on me. I’m asking you to consider taking me on as a client as my humor tends toward the offbeat and I find that my stories often skew boy friendly. I am querying other agents at this time but when I saw that you had opened up your own agency I had to ask you for your consideration as well. You will find the manuscript below for your review. Thank you for your time and congratulations on your new agency.


Heather Burnell

Now for the analysis. And guess what? Bonus! Sean is sneaking into this post like a ninja to leave his thoughts about the query as well. I’m gonna switch to red. Sean’s commentary is in blue:

I used Sean’s first name because I had emailed back and forth with him a bit. Otherwise I would have gone with Mr. McCarthy. <–That seems funny to type. I have never called him that before! The 1st very short paragraph is my pitch. I felt like that was all I needed.

I love books that can be pitched in just a sentence or two, and in this case, the title alone tells you so much about the story. But just in case I wasn’t quite getting it (I can be dense, sometimes), the “ninja twist on the Gingerbread Man” description is all that’s needed to get me excited about the manuscript.

I put my title right up towards the beginning because a.) it was catchy and basically tells what the manuscript is about and b.) You should always put the title of your manuscript in your query and that is where it fit well. *Yes, my title has changed because another book was announced using the same title. We did use it as the subtitle because it really does tell what the story is about in one glance. I do think the publication title is super cool though and I love what the illustrators did with it.

Re-reading this, I’m struck by how vivid the language is in this second paragraph, even as it’s summarizing the book. There’s the “stealthily shaped” (which pairs nicely with the ninja theme), and the clever wording with “the right cookie for the job.” I also like seeing the low word count and market awareness that it will be aimed specifically for a younger reader (e.g. 2 – 5, and not 4 – 8).

In my bio paragraph I told Sean about my publication and previous representation. I felt like having been represented before showed that I was a writer to be taken seriously. I also wanted to be upfront with what had gone on in my career up to that point. Sharing information about the submissions that had done well seemed like a positive way to go.

Agents hate to be surprised, so I’m always grateful when a writer is upfront about their previous publications and/or representations. It’s a small industry, and we all tend to talk (some more loudly than others), and it’s nice to have that information presented in a way that’s professional and direct. If you don’t have previous work history in children’s books, I’d be looking for other life experience or education that’s relevant to your writing. 

Okay, closing paragraph first sentence seems a little awkward, I must say. But it was true and I guess he forgives me. I basically wanted to remind Sean that we had spoken before. Then I told him why I was submitting my work to him. It wasn’t difficult because I truly did feel my work might be a fit for Sean. Did it help that Sean was just starting his own agency and actively looking for new clients? I’m sure it didn’t hurt.

It’s true – flattery will get you everywhere with me. (Wait, am I saying that out loud?) If we have met or talked before, it’s so helpful for the reminder and context, so that I’m able to immediately place you. Heather also slipped in some keywords that I often use to describe my taste (e.g. off-beat humor), and it perfectly fits this manuscript. It’s also a great tip to submit to agents or editors that are newly acquiring, as they are often more eager to build up their list right away. This paragraph tells me that Heather had really done her research and knew exactly why I would be a good match for her work, and she was absolutely right!

I’m so glad I was! Hiiii-ya!

To celebrate the release of Kick! Jump! Chop! The Adventures of the Ninjabread Man, I’m giving away a first 5 pages (any genre) & query letter critique! Pop over to my blog to enter. (Sorry, WordPress won’t let me do a Rafflecopter and that just makes life so much easier!)

Kick! Jump! Chop! The Adventures of the Ninjabread Man is illustrated by Bomboland and published by Sterling Publishing.


16 thoughts on “Kick! Jump! Chop! A Query Letter that Worked +Agent Sean McCarthy. Hiiiii-ya!

Add yours

  1. This is fantastic. It’s so helpful to see this letter broken down section by section with both of your comments. I got a lot out of this.


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