I’ve heard it’s pointless to query between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Are there other times of year that are better or worse for agent responses?

It’s true that publishing slows way down over the holidays (we’re people with families too!) and during the summer doldrums (we love the beach too!), but anything sent during these slow times will still be waiting for us when we get back. I read chronologically, as I assume most slush readers do, and we don’t hold it against you if you’re querying on Labor Day.

One thing to keep in mind is keeping a realistic expectation of a response during these times. I once lost out on a submission because the querying author had gotten an offer after Christmas and needed a response before New Year’s. I was really bummed to miss it because I was eggnogging with family. If you’re nudging agents over the holidays, and you really would like to wait for their response, cut them some slack during the slow times!

I’m writing a children’s picture book. Do I need to have artwork to submit it? I’ve also read that picture books don’t necessarily require an agent but can be pitched directly to the publisher. Is that true?

You do not need artwork to query a picture book manuscript. In your query, you will say something like “please find attached the manuscript for my picture book Pugs Rule”—pitching it as simply a “picture book” rather than “text” or “manuscript” will make me think that art will be enclosed as well.

If you are not a professional illustrator, do not try to do the art yourself. Amateurish art will make me reject your book on sight. (The same goes for anyone trying to create their own book cover—do not ever do this!) Only use art of professional, publishable quality, not as a favor to your neighbor, or because you think your daughter’s stick figures are cute. It will be rejected, regardless of the quality of the text.

It is true that there are some smaller publishers that will accept books without an agent; check the submission guidelines on the publisher’s website and follow their instructions. Most major publishers, however, do require an agent regardless of the book’s age range or genre.