I need some good advice about a cover letter. (and when I say need I mean I need something good to quote in a paper. In case your curious it's a paper on writing in your chosen field. My chosen field being writing it's pretty silly.)
So basically: what has worked for you? What do you know is wrong to do? Do you have any funny stories involving cover letters?
I have some suggestions for places to look that have spent a lot of time on cover letters, but no personal experience just yet.
I'm a follower of several agent blogs, and they almost all talk about cover (query) letters, including some outrageous ones.
misssnark.blogspot.com is a really good place to start. Check out her snarkives for specific posts on queries. Also, on her right sidebar she lists agents who blog, and I recommend reading Kristen Nelson, Jennifer Jackson, and Agent X (Rachel Vater). Rachel particularly addresses query letters in most of her blog entries.
I'm going to e-mail you an example of a cover letter I did (with certain information left out, of course) that I submitted to a business publication.
I'll also add that cover letters are something that everyone here needs to be proficient at, and while they're at it, formal proposals as well.
I guess this is where I reveal a little bit about myself here - while I'm here as a creative writer, I'm first and foremost a technical writer and editor (note: this is NOT the same thing as a "technical publications writer" although I certainly can do that) and I just recently in fact earned my official certification. Cover letters and proposals are a part of that business perhaps more than any other aside from engineering and academic research. I have a few templates here and there, and I'll be more than happy to help anyone who asks for it.
Oh, and another thing: while a good "hook" certainly helps in getting your book or short story published, it's not going to help at all if the accompanying cover letter is shoddy.
[This message has been edited by I need a good user name (edited September 27, 2006).]
I have done first reading for a couple of different publications, and found that cover letters were useful to me as a way to keep track of the stories as they came through. (I'd write the "received by" date on the cover letter, and a note about what my response had been to the writer: standard rejection, encouraging rejection, sent on to deciding editor, or whatever.)
There are some editors who put their coffee cups on cover letters so that they can return a rejected manuscript that looks fairly clean (instead of with a coffee-cup ring right on the manuscript).
I've heard that most editors only skim the cover letter to make sure it is with the manuscript it should be with (stuff has been known to get mixed up in editorial offices), and if the cover letter is too long (full of irrelevant information, for example), they roll their eyes and turn to the manuscript already prejudiced against the story.
I remember one cover letter on a manuscript I received when I was reading for a small press. It started out like some kind of legal summons instead of a cover letter. The writer hoped to get extra attention for his story by pretending that the editor he was addressing the letter to was a person in the world of his story (a totalitarian world of the future). In later paragraphs of his cover letter, he explained what he was doing and hoped I would enjoy the story.
I rejected the story for other reasons, and on the rejection letter I wrote a note telling the writer that while clever, his cover letter was entirely unprofessional and would get his story sent back unread by many editors because of that. I explained the basics of cover letters, and encouraged him to rewrite his.
I still shake my head when I think of that cover letter. (And, for what it's worth, I don't remember the writer's name. So the letter failed, ultimately.)
KDW also raised a good point that I forgot to mention - as a firm rule, cover letters should NEVER be more than one page in length, and the shorter, the better. Generally, it should be limited to three paragraphs - an introduction where you introduce who you are (typically just a single sentence), a short body paragraph giving a breif description of the manuscript, and a closing paragraph (sentence, really) where you say your thank yous and why you think your manuscript is worth publishing.
Posts: 45 | Registered: Sep 2006
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I need a good user name (yes, you do...) wrote:
quote:where you say your thank yous and why you think your manuscript is worth publishing.
I'm really not sure you should be saying why you think your story is worth publishing.
You obviously think it's worth publishing, because you wouldn't have sent it otherwise. But if the story doesn't convince an editor you're worth publishing, nothing else will (previous publishing credits are, I suspect, mostly useful only to indicate that you might actually know what you're doing, and that there probably won't be six elementary mistakes before the end of the first page).
If you review the last few weeks of Miss Snark's blog, you will find a host of advice on query letters.
I copied and kept her advice on query letters. I share it now with you:
quote:You need the outline of a plot in your query letter, such that hero, villain and conflict are clear.
Anything more than 50 words, or a paragraph, is heading to Synopsisville. A full page and you've gone way way way too far.
Now, for all of you screaming with anguish about not being able to pare down your 226,000 word novel to 50 words, yes you can.
My hero is: He faces this problem in the first 50 pages: His sworn enemy/treacherous friend/love interest is: A twist in the plot is:
Answer those questions and you're in.Start giving me genealogy and/or a police blotter report, and you're out.
It took me 25 seconds to type this.
It will take you 25 days to construct it. Writing briefly is insanely difficult. I know this first hand. I write cover letters and pitch emails for a living. I don't feel your pain cause I medicate it with gin but I know it's there.
There you go, direct from the Crap-O-Meter.
[This message has been edited by Elan (edited September 30, 2006).]
"I'm really not sure you should be saying why you think your story is worth publishing.
You obviously think it's worth publishing, because you wouldn't have sent it otherwise. But if the story doesn't convince an editor you're worth publishing, nothing else will (previous publishing credits are, I suspect, mostly useful only to indicate that you might actually know what you're doing, and that there probably won't be six elementary mistakes before the end of the first page). "
I realize that, but we're talking about cover letters, and this is how cover letters go. I suppose I should've said it's really just more of a conclusion or closing statement where you say something to the effect of "I hope you enjoy my manuscript and find it worth publishing" or so.
Keep in mind, it's a cover letter, not your story. Fragments and hooks do not factor into it. Being a certified technical writer & editor who routinely deals with cover letters, I would think that I would know at least a little something in this subject.
For short story cover letters, keep it brief. Absolutely don't describe the story or try to tell the editor how much your critique group loved it or whatever. When I see those I just roll my eyes. If the author's sending it to me, that's an indicator that she thinks it's a good fit for us; I'll make up my own mind about whether it's any good or whatever. The briefer, the better.
But for novel query letters, you need to give a brief summary of the novel, written in a way that captures the agent/editor's interest. It is much much harder than a short story cover letter. It's also common to say something like "this novel will appeal to readers of Dan Brown and Beth Wodzinski" (which sounds really disastrous to me, but whatever) to help identify the market for the book more precisely.
anyway they are totally different animals and I think some responses in this topic have been talking about one and some about the other. No idea which pyre is interested in.
The word count is important to the author because it may be the number the editor bases your payment on (x cents per word).
The word count is important to the editor because it helps the editor determine if your story will fit in the available space, and that may determine whether the editor purchases your story or one by someone else.