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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cover Letters

Cover letters are different from query letters in that you use them mostly for short stories or requested manuscripts. It's more of an introduction letter; something to tell the editor/agent a little about yourself and your credentials.

My cover letters are very short and to the point. And I'm cautious with the information I impart. I don't load up on superlatives, academic credentials, contest wins or publishing jobs.

The last cover letter I wrote was for a short story. I did not mention the contest wins, education or the two newsletters I edit. I did bring up the novel because it was in the same general genre as the short story. I also brought up that I had been published many times before to let them know I've got professional credentials, but only listed the magazines that were relevent.

A cover letter is not a brag vehicle. It's a business tool. Don't burn your bridges by citing things that won't make a lick of difference to the publisher. It might be tempting to list every single accolade and publication, but if it doesn't relate to the publisher you could possibly shoot yourself in the foot by trying too hard.

The cover letters I've used for requested manuscripts usually included a little reminder that the manuscript was requested as well as the original pitch. Be sure to include all your contact information and use standard query protocols: white paper, black ink, readable size text, and traditional fonts. It's a business letter. Leave the perfume, the sparkles and the gushy notes for your spouse.

Getting personal: I think some people make the mistake of getting too chummy with agents when they've had a request for a full, and address the person by their first name. As a rule I don't use first names until the agent addresses me by my first name. Some call me Maria by the second email they send me. But one didn't call me by my first name until we were almost at the negotiating table. A lot depends on their age, your age and a lot of variables in between.

Use your instincts to guide you, but when in doubt, use common courtesy. Until you've been properly introduced it's always polite to use traditional titles and standard greetings.

2 comments:

dawtheminstrel said...

Some advice says to resend the query letter when sending a partial or full so the agent remembers what she was excited about. What do you think of that?

Maria Zannini said...

Yay! You got in, Daw. Great!

I say do whatever the agent asks for, but if there are no guidelines, common sense is the best rule. There's no way an agent will remember every query, so if she doesn't ask for the original query, at least send the pitch to refresh her brain cells.