A cover letter introduces you and your novel to potential agents or publishers. This letter is your first point of contact between you and a publishing professional, therefore, it is crucial that aspiring authors know how write a decent cover letter.
Here are three common questions, answered for writers looking to pave a successful path into the world of publishing with a cover letter that leaves a good impression:
What do I need?
1. An ‘elevator pitch’ & hook
An ‘elevator pitch’ is a brief and punchy summary of your novel that could be told to a publishing VIP between floors of a short elevator ride. Condense the core ideas of your novel into a dynamic and enthusiastic couple of sentences. Remember that your cover letter should be no longer than a page, so this section can only take a up a paragraph or two. Show them why it’s worth reading and be sure to include a ‘hook’ – something that drags your reader into the story, and leaves them dying to know what happens next.
2. A target audience
Outline your target audience. A good way to start is by looking at previous novels they have published and whether these books fall in the same category as yours, and share a target audience. Remember to be specific, publishers need more information than ‘Adult Fiction’. Include your audience’s gender, age group, interests, etc., if applicable.
3. Novel titles comparable to yours
Give two titles comparable to your novel (even better if they’re published by the publisher/agent you’re reaching out to). This is a great way to establish direct relevance and relation to potential publishers. More than that, it gives them an idea of where your novel will sit in the marketplace and how it will work with their existing list.
4. A word count
A simple and necessary step to let them know how long your novel is.
5. A killer author bio
Be interesting, be readable and draw them in with who you are and what you intend to do with your work. Here is also the place to list existing publishing credentials, and relevant education such as writing courses or degrees. You want to be able to get publishers/agents to see that you are a capable, focused and passionate writer.
6. Contact details
Give yourself the opportunity to be contacted if they decide to get in touch for further questions or details. Include your phone number, address and most importantly, your email address.
How do I put it together?
Put the above elements together in an easy-to-read, simple form. Keep sentences short, purposeful and in an active voice. The desired length of your letter should no longer than a page. Opt for a 12pt standard font such as Times New Roman, and at least 1.5 spacing.
Many new authors make the mistake of attempting to detail their background, life achievements and a lengthy breakdown of their novel. Long, unnecessary paragraphs will irritate the editor and an irritated submissions editor is not someone you want reading your life’s work and deciding its future.
In addition to being concise, remember to keep it error-free. Creatively-written content may help you stand out, but keep in mind that your letter is still a business proposal. It also goes without saying that a successful pitch leaves no room for error so before you click send, proofread it again and again. Better still, have other writer friends review it and provide you with feedback.
Do I include my manuscript?
Always follow the agent’s/publisher’s submission guidelines. These guidelines are usually accessible on their website. The most common request is to include the first three chapters. In addition, you might also be asked for a synopsis (usually no longer than 300-words). I cannot stress enough the importance of adhering to the guidelines – this shows that you care about their work as well as yours.
Some other useful tips
- Address your cover letter by name. Avoid clichés such as “dear sir/madam” or “to whom it may concern”. It is more genuine and respectful.
- Use more formal language throughout the letter.
- Have a logical and readable structure.
- Thank them for their time.
- Sign off gracefully – e.g. “yours sincerely” – before your name.
With these tips, you’re good to go!