The Cover Letter
to write that query letter? Register for WordSmitten's
Writing Workshop to be held November 3, 2007 in Florida. You'll
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editor of the St. Petersburg Times, Roy Peter Clark, author of the best-selling
book Writing Tools, Tom Valeo, editor, writer, and instructor
of The Existential Memoir, and Robert Plunket, columnist for Sarasota
Magazine, who teaches magazine writing courses.
you aren't sure what to put in your cover letter?
Here's the good news.
Whether you are writing to a literary agent or an editor, most
letters follow this simple three-paragraph formula.
If you've got this formula down, go to the bottom of this page
for additional tips for writers: Eleven Tips.
One: Introduction and Summary of Work
LETTERHEAD :: Editor's Note: Don't use a seafoam
color, we're just out of parchment this week.
Ima Storyteller, Sr.
Saga City, NY
(Name of Specific Agent or Editor):
I would like to submit my manuscript, (Title of Novel),
to your agency. (Title of Novel) is a story about
(two or three sentences of summary, no more). In ways,
it is similar to other books recently published, such as (Book
Two: All About You
my standard--stock paragraph--see the 11
Presently I am the Assistant to the Director of Creative Writing
at Florida State University, where, next year, I will graduate with
a Ph.D. I also hold an MFA (UC Irvine) and an MA (Oregon State).
My stories have been published in about 15 journals, the most
recent being American Short Fiction, The Literary Review, and
The Greensboro Review. This year, I will have stories in The South
Dakota Review, The South Carolina Review, Speak, and again in
The Literary Review (a novella this time). Earlier this year I
won the Charles Angoff Award for Literary Excellence, and in previous
years I received an IAP award and a Humanities Grant. I've had
non-fiction anthologized in a number of books, including Southern
Studies, Australia Literature, the textbook Rethinking How We
Teach Creative Writing, and Salon's Guide to Contemporary Authors
Paragraph Three: Contact Number and Closing
you again for reading my work. Please, feel free to call me at home:
(123) 456-7890. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely, Ima Storyteller, Sr
|Tip #1 :: Wait
until your work is absolutely finished before submitting. You rarely
get a second chance with a good editor or agent.
|Tip #2 :: Find
the right agent or editor. Find novels which are like your manuscript,
then find out their agent and editor. How? Simple, call the publishers.
Most are very willing to offer this information.
|Tip #3 :: Worried
about Paragraph Two, the personal history? Have nothing to say?
Be imaginative. Why are you the best person to have written this
novel? How has your personal experience prepared you for it?
|Tip #4 :: Still
worried? Never published anything? A cover letter is a persuasive
document designed to do one thing: entice an editor or agent to
read your manuscript.
|Tip #5 :: Don't
take tip four too far. It's best not to say you've been published
in, say, The New Yorker, if you haven't. Editors and Agents ask
|Tip #6 :: Never,
never, never list the word count. Not even on short stories. It's
says, HACK, in bold letters. It is a lie perpetuated by Writer's
Digest Books. No one cares about the exact word count. Editors and
agents can see that a 300 page manuscript is, well, a 300 page manuscript.
|Tip #7 :: If
you talk about your own life, make sure it is related to your manuscript.
No one will care if you're a Tennis Pro and Mother of Three, unless
your novel is also about these things.
|Tip #8 :: Call.
That's right, Call. Introduce yourself. Be confident. Let them know
your work is coming. It's the surest way to get out of that slush
pile and on to a desk. Too afraid to call? Write out what you want
to say, call AFTER HOURS, leave a voice message. It's not as good
talking to a real person, but hey, it's better than nothing.
|Tip #9 :: Do
not--I repeat--Do not include postage for the return of your whole
manuscript. A large, SASE with five bucks of stamps on it says,
Shove it back in here right now. Instead, enclose a letter
sized stamped envelope suitable for a letter only. This encourages
the editor or agent to at least write to you. (But, as always, really
good news comes with phone calls! Letters, for the most part, mean
|Tip #10 :: Mention
only one or two manuscripts, at most, to any editor or agent. If
you say, I've got seven more novels just like this, it tells the
editor or agent, Hey, no one's wanted the other seven.
Tip #11 :: Send
a whole lot of letters out. Cast a big net. Expect rejection.
Don't worry when you get it. Keep sending out more letters. If
you have a friend who has an agent, ask that person to recommend
you to their agent. That's the shortest way to the front of the
line. If you don't have such a friend--or let's say that agent
nixed you, too--consider attending a Writers
Conference which agents and editors will attend. That's another
short way to the front of the line. Be persistent. Be prepared
to shell out a lot of bucks at the post office. I can think of
no one--and, to be honest, I know a LOT of writers--who has found
a book contract after only a few months of submitting.
Pierce, MFA, writes for many literary magazines and produces a Web site
where he offers tips on writing, the literary life, and on agents who
stay under the radar.
appears with permission from Mr. Pierce and we thank him for loaning
it to us. This article is edited to conform to our site styles and formats,
including our editorial philosophy.
the unabridged article, travel from www.wordsmitten.com to the unique
site operated by
Mr. Pierce: www.literaryagents.org
and discover his very informative site.
We write with the
porch light on, expecting at any moment
that either truth or irony will appear on the doorstep.
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