Posted by: nancyisanders | January 7, 2015

Writing Opportunity: The Cover Letter

I’ve led critique groups for years, taught at writer’s conferences in different states (including the SCBWI Nationals in Los Angeles!), and edited numerous children’s manuscripts.

And each time the term “cover letter” or “query letter” comes up, I see writers freeze in their footsteps. Some panic. Some quit and never actually submit their manuscript after all this hard work. I mean, I even feel my blood pressure rise.

Why is it we get so scared of writing a one-page letter? Perhaps it’s because we’ve sat in far too many conferences or read far too many books that say your cover letter must be PERFECT or it will ruin your chances of an acceptance and all your hard work will go quickly down the drain.

I’m here to reassure you that it’s not really like that. On the contrary, most editors I work with rely on the actual manuscript itself rather than the cover letter. In fact, I’ve heard editors say they don’t even look at the cover letter! They just read the manuscript itself to judge it on its own merit.

So I want to encourage you. You can do this! You can write a cover letter and actually submit it with your manuscript to Kaeden Books! I’ll walk you through the process, step-by-step. In fact, let’s play a little game and have fun with it. Why not?! In my next post, I’ll show you how.

For now, though, to refresh your memory about cover letters (and query letters) you can read this excerpt 13.1 from pages 188-189 in my book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career.

Queries and Cover Letters
Queries and cover letters are very similar. The basic difference between the two is that a query is a letter sent by itself. A cover letter is a similar letter but it’s sent along with a proposal or the completed manuscript.

Thanks to the age of e-mail, queries can be a lot less formal than in the past. If you’re sending an e-mail query, simply address the letter to the editor by her first name. Include a short description of your idea or ideas and how each will potentially fit into your target publisher’s product line. If you are sending the same ideas to different publishers, be sure to state, “This is a simultaneous query.” Conclude your query with your full name, address, phone number, e-mail, website, and blog if you have any that are writing-related. One click on your web URL and the editor can get an instant overview of your writing credentials.

Avoid sending file attachments at this point since many editors won’t open them due to potential viruses unless they specifically request attached files in their guidelines.

If an editor does not accept e-mail queries or cover letters, type it more formally. Use white typing paper only. No cutesy stuff unless you have a professionally-designed letterhead.

Center your name, address, phone number, e-mail, website, and blog at the top. Use Times New Roman size 12 font, single-spaced throughout. It is the standard in the industry.

Skip down a space and align all remaining text on the left just like a standard business letter. First type the date.

Skip a space. Then include the name of the editor and the publisher’s address. (If you don’t have an editor’s name just type “Editor.”)

Skip a space. Address the editor by his first name such as “Dear Bill.”

Skip a space. Start the letter and separate each paragraph by a space. Don’t indent paragraphs.

When the letter is done, skip a space. Type “Sincerely,” and skip four spaces, then type your formal name.

Sign it by hand in the space above your name with a black pen.

Query and cover letters are very important. They’re the first thing an editor sees and if one catches her eye, she’ll pass it around the editorial team. Length varies—many of my e-mail queries are just one paragraph long yet a cover letter for a series can be two or three pages. Try to fit your query or cover letter onto one page if possible, but it is okay to go longer if your proposal or manuscript is requested, or if you’re pitching a series. No matter the length, I like to include four points in my query or cover letters:
• a description of my idea or manuscript
• a reference to my writing credentials
• how my idea or manuscript fits into the publisher’s product line
• details about the projected or completed manuscript such as: age of target audience, projected word or page count, and marketability

This is the general info about how to write a cover letter…any cover letter. In my next post we’ll play a fun game on how to write a specific cover letter targeted to Kaeden Books!


Responses

  1. I’ve never heard of addressing the editor by their first name unless I knew them personally.

    I have to admit, I am one of those who usually stress over writing the cover letters. Need to shift my paradigm!

    • Yes, it’s totally old school to use Mr. or Mrs. It shows our age in this tech society!!!!

  2. It seems disrespectful and assumptive. I’ll probably stay old school on this one! 🙂

    • Here’s a tip…ask a bunch of editors at conferences which they prefer…and why. What you find out may surprise you!!!!

  3. I don’t doubt your knowledge on the subject, it’s my upbringing that stops me! I will ask the question, however.

    • Oh that’s okay, Pat! Don’t trust my word on it. I’m not an editor. I’d love to hear what you discover!!! Please come back and share with us what you learn.


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