How to Write: Cover Letters to Publishers
*Update: I’ve done more research on query letters (cover letters, covering notes…) and have updated the information here to reflect what I have learned. The best source I have found for query letters is the Query Shark. I cite several other sources at the end.
In this post, I am assuming you have a publish-ready manuscript. If you do not, go back and edit your ms until it’s ready. The goal of the query letter is to interest the agent in you and your manuscript.
Margins: .7″-1″ on all sides
Font: something easy to read, size 12
Left justify all paragraphs. Do not double-space, do not indent, and do not use right-justify. The right side of all your paragraphs should be ‘jagged,’ while the left side is neatly aligned along the margin.
Basic Information: Follow the eHow quote below if you are mailing your letter in. If you are emailing it in, then move your contact information to the bottom, below your signature.
Type your name, mailing address, phone number, and email address in the upper left-hand corner. Skip one line, then type the date. Skip another line, then type the name, title, business name, and mailing address of the person to whom you are writing. — eHow: How to Write a Cover Letter for a Manuscript
Research the company and make sure you know the editor for your genre. Calling the receptionist to double-check the information is never a bad idea. Never use “to whom it may concern.” Always say Dear ____, and do your best to fill in the specific agent’s name.l
Now for the fun part! Your letter should not exceed one page. If it does, then you wrote too much. The body of the letter is widely up to you. If you don’t like my advice, don’t follow it. I’m not saying this is the only way to write a query letter. This is what I’ve found that works.
This is your hook, you want to grab interest and make the agent read more. This should only be one paragraph, and is often only one or two sentences. Don’t feel bad if it takes you days to get a gripping hook.
Contrary to other advice I’ve read, the book’s title, genre, word count, and comparisons would be better off at the end. You want the agent to grip her seat with excitement, and bland information doesn’t do that.
This section may end up a few paragraphs long. While that’s perfectly okay, remember that brevity is key!
- Two to three characters tops. The first character named should be the protagonist. Avoid mentioning minor characters. You may find you mentioned your protag in paragraph one. That’s perfectly fine.
- Less is more. Keep your sentences short and to-the-point. Erase all purple prose. If the sentence is not compelling, does nothing to increase interest, and has nothing to do with the plot, delete it.
- No giant blocks of text. Keep your paragraphs short. If you’re emailing your query, split your paragraphs so they only go on for a few lines, even if you’re splitting mid-paragraph (but never mid-sentence).
- Divulge the plot, not the details. Can’t stress this enough: DO NOT INCLUDE SETUP/BACKGROUND! Setting is one thing, but if you have a paragraph talking about your protag’s smelly uncle, and it has nothing to do with the subsequent plot, delete it. Gone.
For more information on what to include here, read How to Put It Together Into One Neat Tweet. No, it has nothing to do with Twitter.
By now, the agent should be dying to know more about your novel. Tell her the title, genre, and word-count. You can also include similar novels from the agent/publisher you are writing to, but it’s not necessary. Do not get this information wrong! Spell everything correctly, make sure the information is up-to-date and relevant, and do not compare yourself to literary masterpieces.
You also want to express your qualifications here. Have you been published by for? By who? For what? What medium? If you’re like me and haven’t had anything published, they say nothing. Only mention awards if you did exceptionally well (finalist or better) and the agent would recognize it.
If you have a blog, mention it here and add the URL. Agents will frequently check these to learn more about you and your ms.
End positively, thank the editor for reading, and encourage feedback. Thank you for your time and consideration works fine.
eHow: How to Write a Cover Letter…