It’s important to appear professional in how you conduct and represent yourself in a cover letter or query. You are contacting a publisher or agent to propose a potential business relationship. There are many, many talented writers with whom they could chose to work. They have the option and an obvious preference to work with writers who are going to be professional in their dealings.
So put on your marketing hat and remember that you are trying to sell them two products: your creation and you. What you tell them about your story is as important as how you tell it. How you tell it also speaks volumes about you as a writer.
Make it short and sweet, and remember:
- Keep it to a single page
- Simple, white paper
- 12 point font
- Times New Roman, Arial or another readable font
- Decent margins & reasonable spacing (Cover letters do not need to be double spaced but they shouldn’t be tightly packed either)
What’s the difference between a cover letter and a query?
A cover letter accompanies your manuscript when you submit it, similar to the letter you would include with a job application or a resume.
A query is a letter asking an editor if she would like you to submit your manuscript. A query is needed if submission guidelines state that the house requires a query before you go ahead and send your manuscript. You will also need to query if the house is not open to ‘unsolicited submissions.’ (If you send a query and get the go-ahead to send your story, then your manuscript is now a ‘solicited submission.’)
Important details to include
Make sure that your cover letter or query includes the following details:
- Your name
- Title of the story
- Genre (You need to show that you know this.)
- Age range (You need to know this too in order to show that you are researched, professional and therefore competent to be writing for your specific audience.)
- Word count (This needs to be appropriate to the genre and age range.)
Format for a cover letter or query
A query or cover letter includes (and often in 3 simple paragraphs):
- Paragraph 1: The Hook (also known as the “Logline.”) Yes, it’s okay if this paragraph is only one sentence long!
The hook, or logline, gives the synopsis of the plot and the emotional hook. It is a “concise, one-sentence tagline for your book, meant to hook your reader’s interest, and wind them in.” (agentquery.com) Take this sample logline for The Kite Runner: An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present.
A good hook/logline will often follow the “when” formula. “When such and such event happens, your main character—a descriptive adjective, age, professional occupation—must confront further conflict and triumph in his or her own special way. Sure, it’s a formula, but it’s a formula that works.” (agentquery.com) Here’s a sample of the “when” formula, using Bridges of Madison County: When Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into Francesca Johnson’s farm lane looking for directions, the world-class photographer and the Iowa farm wife are joined in an experience that will haunt them forever.
- Paragraph 2: The Synopsis or Mini-Synopsis. A full synopsis may be appropriate for a picture book, but a mini-synopsis will suffice for an epic novel.
This expands upon your hook and should read like catalogue copy or a jacket flap, telling the reader what the book is about in 200 or fewer words. A good synopsis is exciting or intriguing. It should make the publisher want to finish the cover letter and get straight to the story.
- Paragraph 3: The Author Bio – Keep it short, sweet and relevant.
The bio is intended to be a brief overview of your relevant experience and credentials. It can include things like:
- Previous publications, reviews and awards (or the biggest ones and a link to your website)
- Relevant work experience – with children or children’s books, or in an area that is relevant to the topic of your book
- Relevant education – with children or children’s books, or in an area that is relevant to the topic of your book
- Your involvement with any children’s books associations (e.g. Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers, Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).
You may also want to work this paragraph into a full-page bio or resume to have on hand in case it is needed. Some publishers will ask for it in addition to a cover letter. It’s also helpful for your own reference when you’re trying to remember the most important details of your career to highlight.
Things to remember about your manuscript
When preparing to submit your manuscript, don’t forget that it should:
- Be double-spaced
- Be paginated (it may help to have a header that includes the page number, your name, title of book and perhaps your contact info in case things get separated)
- Include a title page with your information on it: name, address, e-mail, phone number, website (if you have one), title & word-count.