If you’re looking to be traditionally or independently published then one of the most important things you will ever write is your cover letter. It can make the difference between an agent/publisher reading your submission straight away or mentally consigning it to the bottom of the pile. A bad cover letter may mean your submission doesn’t even get read. This may seem unfair, but from their point of view, if you can’t write a good letter, how can you have written a good book?
So how do we get your submission to the top of the slush pile?
1. Research. Spend some time on the publisher/agents website to familiarize yourself with what they are looking for. Always follow their submission guidelines. And always start your letter with their personal name.
2. Remember they’re busy. Three, or at the most four, paragraphs should be ample. Include only relevant details.
3. Be professional. Know exactly what you’re offering them. Be confident, but don’t brag.
4. Check for mistakes. A cover letter with grammar, punctuation and/or spelling errors raises serious forebodings in the mind of an agent or publisher. They are now pretty confident they can expect the same from your manuscript excerpt. This is most off-putting when they’ve asked for a polished piece of writing.
So, now we know how to say it, what exactly are we going to say? This is the layout I’ve found works:
In paragraph one briefly summarise your story in one or two sentences. This is what I put for my book, Victoria’s Victorian Victory-
‘When their Pa dies, only fourteen year old Victoria realises that, in an age of industrial and agricultural revolution, new possibilities are emerging not only for farmers but for females. She hatches a bold plan to run the farm herself with the help of her mother and two sisters, in the process learning much more than just how to run a successful business.’
In paragraph two mention relevant details such as style, word count and target audience. I also like to put on something about why I’ve chosen to submit to that person in particular. Again, here is an excerpt from my cover letter-
‘The book is written in short, snappy chapters, each one followed by an excerpt from Victoria’s private diary, giving her very personal view of events. She experiences loss and grief, loneliness, complicated friendships, her first crush and family life on a whole new level. So the story is relevant to young people today, even though set in Victorian times. It encourages hard work and entrepreneurialism and will appeal to fans of Berlie Doherty’s Far From Home and Jacqueline Wilson’s Opal Plumstead and Hetty Feather. It’s around 36,000 words.’
In paragraph three tell them a few relevant details about yourself. Include previously published work, qualifications and writing courses. You can also put why you wrote the story you did. Do not include what your mother said about your manuscript, that your teacher said you could be a writer one day or that writing helps take your mind off your homicidal thoughts. (Okay, the last one may be a bit far fetched, but you get the idea!) I put this-
‘I’ve had short stories published in several online platforms, such as Mystery Weekly, Platform for Prose and The Flash Fiction Press. I also received a commendation in the 2016 William Soutar Writing Prize. I wrote this book because I wanted to write about ordinary people making a go of life.’
I hope that helps with writing your cover letter. Please feel free to leave any further questions in the comments.