Monday, February 27, 2012

Cover Letters and Manuscripts

Saturday I spoke about query letters, those necessary evils that one must know how to do and to do well. I spoke about editors not being able to publish everything they love, that sometimes--yes--even editors go through a divorce, and that even if an editor likes your work, that doesn't mean that they will publish it.

Today I want to talk for a minute about cover letters and the difference between a query and a cover letter. I also want to uncover some things you may not know about cover letters.

  • Because a query letter is sent alone, without the manuscript, it's a good idea to include the most important details within the letter. With a cover letter, however, you send it as the front-is piece before your manuscript, and so the letter will be less about the details and more of a conversational letter to the editor. 

Photo By: rmkoske, courtesy of Flickr

  • In other words, a query letter talks about the book in glowing terms, it shows the editor through summary, plot and other important writing ingredients that you use, that the editor should consider your work. With a cover letter, your work, (or at least the first three chapters of it) are already in the editor's hands. You don't need to try and "sell" your work like you'd do in a query, rather, you thank the editor for taking the time to review your work and you detail in the cover letter what you've sent to him/her.
  • At this point, the editor has either asked for the manuscript because of your terrific query, or they are asking, through Writer's Market, that you eliminate the query; what they want to see is the first three chapters of your manuscript, a synopsis of the story and maybe even a chapter by chapter synopsis of the story. They may ask you to specify other things in your cover letter such as your marketing suggestions for the book, or why you see yourself as the best person to write this book, but these details will be shared within Writer's Market.
  • Gathering these things and getting them ready for submission will take you some time but you will make the time worth it if you spend some focus time on your cover letter. Don't just send your manuscript without remembering this important front-is piece.
  • Again, make sure you address the editor by name and construct your letter just as you would do a query. Thank the editor for his/her willingness to read over your work. Tell the editor the name of your book, (or remind them if they've said yes to your query) the book's genre, how many pages the book has, and let the editor know what you've included: "I have included the first three chapters of the manuscript and a one-page synopsis of the story as well as an SASE for the return of my manuscript." 

Basically the cover letter just informs the editor of what you've included in the package. It tells him/her that she can expect to read the following documents.

The cover letter is short, not more than a page, and many of mine are about half that length. It's your manuscript that's really going to "sell" the editor this time. Just make sure the cover letter is polished, conversational (but still professional), and worthy enough to have that editor turn the page to see chapter 1.
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