Cover Letters and Query Letters – Marketing Your Writing

Query Letter (Sue)Cover Letter – For Editors/Publishing Companies

Definition: A cover letter is what goes on top of a longer proposal and sample chapters. (In this article, the cover letter will focus on an editor/publishing company).

Editors are usually very busy people who focus on the quality of the work submitted. And they most likely review hundreds of manuscripts and skim through that many cover letters each week, so be brief.

Parts of a Cover Letter

A cover letter (less than 1-page long) addressed to a specific person is included with your manuscript. Make sure the address and names are current. Follow the guidelines that are requested by doing your research using market guide books or other types of informational databases.

The letter should contain your address and how to reach you (home address, email address, and phone number).

  • First Two Paragraphs

    In the first two paragraphs, begin with a simple introductory sentence to offer a greeting, and then share some basic information about the article/story/book you are submitting. This includes the title, the genre of the writing, a 1-2 sentence summary (40 words or less) of the plot or essence of the writing, the total word count, and the suggested age of readership. You can also mention what you think is distinctive about your manuscript.

  • Make Your Words Come Alive

    Use your voice and personality to set your letter apart from others. This is an opportunity to shine as a writer and to showcase your creativity and uniqueness.

  • The Third Paragraph

    In the next paragraph, you can name any titles of work that you have published/publications or share something important or unique about yourself as it relates to the story (for example, if you wrote a book about twins and you are a twin). Another idea is to share some unusual research that you have done or some unique detail about the manuscript to catch the attention of the editor.

  • A Genuine Thank You

    Then you can genuinely thank them for viewing the manuscript. Another suggestion is to let the editor/publishing company know that they can discard the sample manuscript if they are not interested.

  • Stamped, Self-Addressed Envelope

    Finally, mention that you have enclosed a stamped, self-addressed envelope for their convenience in responding to you.

Proposal

In addition to the single page cover letter described above, you submit a proposal (a maximum of three pages) which includes a synopsis of the manuscript (a summary of the whole story).

Sample Chapters

Lastly, you include sample chapters, always the first pages (the prelude and preface if applicable as well.). Do not send too many or it will look daunting to the intended reader and your writing may just be set aside. (Obviously children’s books are relatively short, so you can send the entire book.)

Then, all you need to do is cross your fingers and wait for a reply.

Query Letters for Literary Agents

Above all, a query letter is a sales pitch and it is the single most important page an unpublished writer will ever write. It’s the first impression and will either open the door or close it. It’s that important, so don’t mess it up. Mine took 17 drafts and two weeks to write. – Nicholas Sparks, American novelist, screenwriter and producer

Definition: The query letter is a stand-alone letter that is sent either to an editor or an agent without a proposal or sample chapters. (For this article, the query letter will focus on a literary agent).

Take some time to look at the writing and publishing section in a bookstore or library. There are many writing guides and marketing type resources that list agents, addresses, and the steps needed to secure an agent. Another resource by Jeff Herman The Insiders Guide to Blood Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents is highly recommended by many writers. Then make notes of the agents’ preferences for submitting your writing.

Writing a Query Letter – Getting Your Foot in the Door

Since most agents don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, you will need to draft a query letter to showcase your work. Remember the power of this letter. A typical agent in New York may see as many as a hundred query letters a week, and ask to read about 3-4 scripts before deciding to represent one of these “authors”. If it goes well, they may just ask to see part of your manuscript, and in some cases, the entire manuscript. And if that goes well, then you may have just found an agent.

What Makes a “Good” Query Letter?

1. Limit to one page
2. Include your name, contact information (home address/email address/phone)
3. Personalize the letter by addressing it to a particular agent (not an agency)
4. Type it with zero errors
5. Include the information that the agent has requested as indicated in your research
6. Add the title of the manuscript, the intended market, page numbers, and a brief synopsis
7. Possibly include other writings similar to yours but indicate the differences and strengths of your writing
8. Describe your previous writing experience
9. Cite a genuine reason why you would like to work with the selected agent
10. Indicate the work is finished and that you would like them to read it
11. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
12. Send out personalized letters to a number of agents, selected for your own reasons and be patient. The average wait time is a minimum of 6 weeks.

When to Follow-Up to Editors/Publishers and Agents

You should wait about 6-8 weeks before following up. Then only follow up one time. If you don’t hear back, assume that it is a rejection. Then move with your marketing to different avenues and to other writing. Do not attempt to pay a personal visit or to call via a phone.

Resources Worth Your Time (in addition to agency websites to personalize your query letters and those mentioned above)

AgentQuery: a free online resource advertised as “offering one of the largest searchable database of literary agents on the web—a treasure trove of reputable, established literary agents seeking writers just like you.”

PublishersMarketplace: membership is $24/month for in-depth information on publishing deals and agents

WritersMarketplace: membership is $5.99/month or you can subscribe annually for information on “where and how to sell what you write”

So much for the advice on marketing your writing via cover letters and query letters. I know that you are excited to get started. So I will let you write those letters. Go ahead… add that voice and personality. Remember, it’s your time to shine so your manuscript is chosen to be read… and who knows? You might very well be offered a contract and on your way to becoming a published children’s author, adored by the children who discover your work.

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