Cover Letters

- Prospecting for Gold -

Peter E. Taylor ©2003

Please feel free to print this page if it could be useful to you.


Your latest masterpiece is complete and ready for the post. All you have to do is slip in a cover letter, stick on a stamp and give it a hug and kiss good-bye for luck, before you drop it in the mailbox.

Then wait.

You know it's good, but you also realise that there is a possibility that you could be getting it back with a rejection slip. Such has been the fate of manuscripts from even the most famous and well-established authors.

Returned to sender.

Maybe the publishing house has just accepted a picture book about a chicken …and yours is about a chicken too.

Or they have just accepted their last picture book to complete their catalogue for the year.

So is that it?

Not necessarily. Yes, in these cases you'll receive a rejection, but your cover letter could uncover gold for you.

Now I've heard many editors say that they don't read the cover letter before reading the manuscript, but a lot do, so it's a good idea to write it as well as you can and make a good impression.

If it's not professional, they may not even bother reading what you're offering.

First, make sure you're sending your manuscript to the right place - you don't want to send a picturebook story to a publisher that only deals with adult non-fiction.

Second, get the editor's name right. Phone the company, explain that you wish to send them a manuscript to be considered, of whatever genre it is, and ask who would be most appropriate person in the organisation to address it to. Some prefer 'The Children's Editor', some the name of an editor. Ask them to spell out the person's name for you.

Editors move. Even if you have sent something to a person before, it's still a good idea to phone and check first that your contact hasn't left or changed departments.

You can be familiar and call them by their first name if you have corresponded previously, or met them, but I always feel it's safer to use a title that won't offend.

If you have met them before, use the first paragraph to jog their memory. Another approach is to thank them for their presentation at the xxxx Festival (to butter them up a fraction, but also to let them know that you are a serious writer who attends these kinds of thing).

In the next paragraph, start by just saying that you are enclosing a manuscript / proposal for consideration, give its title, and in about 5 or 6 words or so, expand on its genre, e.g. 'a humorous adventure story suitable for 7-9 year old children', or 'a guide book to Australian nature reserves'.

In one or two sentences at most, you then sell the book. The idea is to explain what it's about as if trying to tempt someone to buy it (hopefully, the publisher). Think of it as an entry in a competition with the prize of being published. You know the sort I mean - '…in 40 words or less, compel someone to read your book.'

'Kookaburra and Owl have seen Kangaroo's latest weird invention, but who is brave enough to visit him and find out what it is? Koala volunteers, but finds that the new machine does a lot more than he expects.'

Editors don't want to know that you're completing a course, or that grandchildren liked the book, or that your best friend fell about laughing after reading it - the next paragraph is about you as a writer. That's easy if you've already had things published, but if you haven't, think of what you have written. For example :-

'… in my normal work I have written training manuals for many years, but am now writing …',

'… I have written extensive educational material for school use …',

'… I have regularly written articles on ZZZ for newsletters of the XXX Club and the YYY Society, to which I belong, but am now concentrating on writing …'.

If you are sending a proposal, list what you are providing, e.g.

· A synopsis and explanation of the book concept (what gap in the market it fills)

· A short blurb about you as an author - why you are qualified to write it

· Its potential market - what kind of people are likely to buy it, and how many of them there are - e.g. if it's a book on photography, you could provide numbers of people who belong to camera clubs, how many photography magazines are bought each year , …

· Sample chapter (s)

· Sample illustrations

· SSAE

Publishers of non-fiction often like some input into the length and style of a book, so you may wish to send a proposal before it's completed. Give them some realistic idea, however, of how long you think it would take you to finish it.

Now for the 'panning for, and discovering, gold', even if your manuscript is rejected. Unlike many authors, before closing, I slip in a paragraph about other books I am working on.

I have many writing projects completed and in progress, and have :-

· An illustrated picture book ready to send

…and at various stages of planning and writing :

· Making Origami Animals - Simple ways to make realistic models

· Planning a 'No Watering Required' 'Desert' Garden

· 'Before' and 'After' - A collection of photographs of prize-winning house renovations

I am wondering if any of these have appeal, or if you would like me to fast track any in particular towards filling a requirement that you may have? Would you like me to send them all to you in due course? (If they say 'yes', add 'Requested Manuscript' to the envelope and, in the accompanying cover letter, again state that they have asked to see your title).

They may like the style of your writing, even though your submission does not fit in with their present acceptance policy. You will probably never know what they are looking for unless you ask. I have certainly found opportunities this way, particularly for non-fiction.

Finally, let the editor know if you are making simultaneous submissions to other publishers. Some accept that, some don't like you doing it. You should check their preference in your initial phone call to the switchboard to confirm mailing details.

If you know that they don't like simultaneous submissions, a compromise could be that you tell them that if they have not replied within three months (a reasonable time to expect a reply - but some can take longer), you will be sending it to others.

In the last sentence or two, you thank the editor for reading your manuscript, tell them that you hope that it will be a successful book for them (their interest is only in making a profit), that you look forward to hearing favourably from them (fingers and everything else crossed until you have arthritis) and that you enclose a SSAE.

Here's what the finished thing might look like:

David D. Davidson
P.O.Box 5 Davidstown
Queensland 44554, Australia

Ph / Fax (61) (07) 7777 6666
David@DDD.com

9 September, 2003

Ms M Walker, Children's Editor
Walking Books Press
Footford, Qld 45554

Dear Ms Walker,

Enclosed for your consideration for publication is a copy of 'Willy Wombat Goes Fishing', my latest picture storybook for children from about 4 - 7years old.

Will Willy Wombat have the 'nice quiet day' he wants when he goes fishing? From the moment he asks his children if they would like to come with him he realizes that this is highly unlikely. What an adventure! What a laugh!

Over the last 10 years I have written 40 training manuals for workers in the building industry, and my stories are read in the A-Z Kindergarten and other local schools. As editor of the Davidstown Historical Society Newsletter, I am constantly writing articles on a wide variety of subjects.

I have many writing projects completed and in progress, and have :-

· A picture book ready to send

…and at various stages of planning and writing :

· 'Make Your Own Museum'

· 'Planning a 'Bog Garden''

· '101 Things To Do With A Plate Of Cold Rice Pudding'

I am wondering if any of these have appeal, or if you would like me to fast track any in particular towards filling a requirement that you may have? Would you like me to send them all to you in due course?

I hope 'Willy Wombat Goes Fishing' will make a successful book for you, and I thank you for reading it. I am sending it to two Australian publishers apart from yourself, and three overseas.

Hoping to hear favourably from you,

Yours sincerely,

David Davidson

SSAE enclosed.

If you use this guideline and are successful with a submission, please let me know.

Good Luck and Happy Writing!