by Vivian Zabel
Usually the first thing an agent, editor, or publisher sees from a writer is a cover letter or query letter. I hear so often, "But how do I write a good cover letter?" I hope to help unravel the mystery.
Sample Cover Letter with Suggestions
*** The following cover letter is one I would send with a copy of my short story, "Hidden Lies" to an agent. Addresses, phone numbers, and names used (except for my name and email address) are not real. Any information between double asterisks (**) are not part of the letter but information about what goes in that place in the letter.
For this sample, I've used the block format; however, I usually use a format with the inside return address in the upper right hand corner, with paragraphs indented, and with the closing in line with the inside address, on the right side.***
2912 My Street
My Town, State zipcode
April 13, 2006
John Johns **Use name of editor or agent for genre and item, even call company to ask.**
Johns Literary Agency
Sometown, Somestate zip
Dear Mr. Johns: **If person is a woman, use Ms. unless you know differently.**
Life has many conflicts, and relationships aren’t always as the members involved believe. The enclosed short story “Hidden Lies” reveals that members of the same family don’t always know the “skeletons” hidden in the family “closet.” In fact, none ever viewed a freezer in the same way again.
As a teacher of English and composition for twenty-five years, I not only taught writing, but also studied and honed my own skills. From 1974 through 1977, I had short stories, articles, and poetry published in Potpourri magazine. Later years, articles and short stories appeared in regional publications, in the Teachers of English anthology Teachers Write, and in Standard magazine. More current information may be found on my web site, http://www.vivianzabel.com.
Thank you for considering my short story. I will await a decision at your earliest convenience. You may also reach me by phone, 405-555-1411, or by email, email@example.com. Enclosed is a SASE for your use.
Vivian Gilbert Zabel
Manuscript: “Hidden Lies”
* * * Notes about cover letter * * *
1. Author’s address and current date goes in upper left hand corner (if using block letter) or upper right hand corner. The author’s email address may go under date.
2. The inside address for the publisher, agent, or publisher goes next, using the name of the person who should get the manuscript according to the type of writing and genre. Call the company or agency and ask for the correct editor or agent if necessary.
3. Address the person by Mr. or Ms. (unless you know the woman prefers Miss or Mrs.) and his or her last name. Do NOT address the person by a first name unless you already know him or her extremely well.
4. The first paragraph should get the attention of the editor or agent as well as informing him of the material you are sending and a bit about the story. Do not go into great depth.
5. The next paragraph should give only a small amount of biographical information and only that which is related to closely to what you are submitting or your expertise. I included that I taught and learned more about writing while teaching, which gives support for me as a writer. Then I gave information about my published work and my website address, so if the agent/editor wants more information, she can find it. Do not falsify anything.
If you have clips (news releases or clippings) and have them on a website, be sure to include that information. For example, I am in the process of scanning and adding clips to my website.
6. Do not over praise yourself or your writing, complain about anyone else’s not accepting it, or give your friends’ opinions. At the same time don’t belittle yourself or your work.
7. Finally, thanking the person for taking time to consider submitted material is good manners. Notice that I don’t set a deadline but let the agent know I will be waiting for his decision. I also include other ways he can reach me: phone number and email address. I let him know that I have enclosed a Self Addressed Stamped (with enough postage to return the material to me) Envelope (which is large enough to hold the material) - better known as SASE. However, an electronic submission doesn't require an SASE. Be sure to follow the submission guidelines.
8. Then add a list of enclosures after the signature area. For an electronic submission, give a list of attachments.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Even one misspelled word, grammar error, or confusing passage would result in an agent or editor returning the manuscript or throwing the material away if no SASE were enclosed, or deleting the information if the submission is electronic.
If the letter is boring or contains any errors, agents and editors will often not read more than the first paragraph. The submitted material would then never be read.
If the cover letter is written well enough to attract the agent's or editor's attention, then the author must keep that attention throughout the manuscript - which contains NO errors.
I cannot stress that idea enough: Spelling, grammar, and other errors will destroy any chance of an item being accepted by an agent or editor. This idea is not my opinion but is stressed over and over by editors, agents, and other writing experts.
Hopefully, the above information will help writers fear a cover/query letter less.