What is the first thing an agent or publisher sees when they open your submission package?
Your covering letter…
This is your first point of contact with someone who, potentially, has your future in their hand, so make the right impression the first time.
Your covering letter should be:
Beautifully presented. Typed on good quality paper and clean! Muddy cat pawprints and coffee rings are NOT acceptable. The person opening your submission package is someone whom you hope to build a professional relationship with – think of your letter as a job application.
PERSONALLY address your letter to the right person – use the agent or publisher’s name (NOT Dear Mr. Penguin/Dear Mrs. Curtis Brown) Speak to their receptionist, find out if the agent or editor you are approaching is a Mr. or a Ms.· Make sure this is the right person within the organization to handle your genre. Mistakes here show you haven’t done your research, which in turn throws a question over how serious you are about getting into the publishing business – why should an editor spend time reading your submission if you haven’t spent time finding out how they spell their surname?
- Clearly include ALL your contact information – email AND telephone. Include this information in the header or footer of your manuscript too, just in case the covering letter becomes detached from your submission as it is passed eagerly around an editorial office. This has happened. Take note!
- Ensure you include your book’s title, genre and word count. The word count will immediately tell an editor whether your book is of a commercial length.
- Be SUCCINCT – a maximum of one page. If you have significant writing accolades or are a TV star, include this information in a separate author profile.
- Try and summarise your book in one or two killer lines. You will need to practice this to get it right but these will be lines you will use continuously. When you find yourself standing next to a legendary agent at a book launch, stun them with your brilliant one liner and they’ll remember you when you send in your manuscript!
- Don’t start with a question that they might answer no too – have you ever wondered? Are YOUlooking for the next BIG thing?
- For a fiction submission, ensure the letter is more about the book than you. Your Himilayan adventures can go into the author profile. For non-fiction, platform and qualifications are very important, so your query should be 60% about the book, 40% about your platform (if your book is about surviving in the Himalayas, your adventures are relevant and important). If you are submitting non-fiction ensure that you make it clear why YOU are the best person to write this book – what are your qualifications/experience?
- DO NOT say that you are the next JK Rowling or Dan Brown, but do say that you hope to emulate/write in the style of, for instance, Maeve Binchy or Rosamund Pilcher. This can give the agent/publisher an idea where you see your book falling in the market.
- Do NOT say your mum loved it. DO say if you’ve worked with a professional editor or author on it. Ireland is small, if the person you have worked with is well known or respected, mention their name.
- Show you can write – no typos, tangled sentences or waffle. Or they may never get past the covering letter.
- Only pitch one book. Your book might be part of a trilogy, but that’s not the most important thing about it – if you can’t sell one book, you won’t be able to sell the other two. Mention in the closing line that you see this book as part of a series if it’s important.
- If you are approaching more than one editor or agent at a time with your manuscript make this clear in your letter.
- FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. It’s not difficult. Try not to irritate the editor you are submitting to by including the whole book when they’ve asked for three pages – if they like your book they’ll ask for more. If they only ask for three chapters and you feel that your book starts taking off at chapter five, don’t send the five chapters – rewrite them so they are fabulous from chapter one!
- If you are approaching multiple agents by email make absolutely sure each one is individually addressed.
Best of Luck!