How to write a covering letter to a publisher, editor or agent
The first thing publishers see when they open your submission package is the covering letter. It doesn’t matter how good your synopsis and sample chapters are, if this vital document fails to impress an editor or agent, then your submission will be rejected. So to ensure you make an excellent first impression, follow the advice of the experts...
Find the right publisher for your manuscript
Before you start writing your covering letter, you need to find the right publisher for your manuscript. If your book is a non-fiction guide to growing your own vegetables, you need to find a publisher who produces non-fiction gardening books. Sending it to a publisher who specialises in short story romances will result in instant rejection. It is also essential that you check their submission guidelines and follow them precisely. They may specify how long the covering letter should be or what you should include.
What to include in your covering letter
Generally, there are three things your letter should focus on: you, your book and reasons to publish it. ‘When writing about yourself, aim for a paragraph summarising relevant points about what qualifies you to write this book,’ advises Stewart Ferris, author and co-founder of Summersdale Publishers. ‘The publisher needs to know if you have had any publishing successes before, if you have any relevant qualifications for writing your book, and if you plan to write any more books on the same subject.’
Obviously, you also need to tell the publisher about your book. ‘Always include a short paragraph about your book, so who, where, when and what happens,’ says author Tamsyn Murray. This should not be given in great detail – you can do that in your synopsis. Here, it needs to tempt the publisher to want to find out more. ‘Imagine you’re writing the publisher’s blurb that they will use to describe your book on the back cover, in their catalogue and on their website,’ says Stewart. ‘There’s no need to give away the full plot – leave it open for the editor to wonder how it resolves.’
In your covering letter you also need to give the publisher reasons to publish your book. ‘List any significant reasons why the publisher’s risk will be small in taking on your book,’ says Stewart. ‘Perhaps you have contacts in the media who have promised to help you publicise the book. Or you’ve done some research into the likely level of demand for your book and can demonstrate that the market is crying out for it. Or you’re a lecturer on a subject and are sure the students at your college and others will all buy this book. Or you have the ability to sell the book through your own business.’
Show off your strengths
Julia McCutchen, a professional publishing consultant, recommends that authors include a Compelling Key Sentence. ‘This is a one sentence summary of the most important information about your book,’ she says. ‘Fiction writers may extend this to two or three short sentences.’ Here is one she wrote for her own book:
The Writer’s Journey: From Inspiration to Publication demystifies the world of publishing and outlines the steps non-fiction writers need to take to present their work to agents and publishers professionally and with confidence.
For non-fiction covering letters, include:
• Compelling Key Sentence
• what makes your book different
• who it is for
• your passion for writing it
• your credibility as the author
• a mention of your platform/key sales, marketing or promotional opportunities.
For fiction covering letters, include:
• Compelling Key Sentence(s)
• key themes/features of your story
• why you wrote the book
• something about you/background
• life experience
• your influences as a writer, writing career
• how you see the book in terms of the market ie who for, is it first in a series etc.
Points to remember when writing your covering letter:
• Get the name of the publisher/editor right
• State where you found their details and why you are approaching them
• Tell the publisher about your book
• Give your blurb or Compelling Key Sentence
• Tell the publisher about yourself
• End on a positive note