Cover and Query Letters
Linda Arms White
from the new book Author to Editor: Query
Letter Secrets of the Pros
You've labored over your manuscript for months.
It's a polished, spell-checked, one-of-a-kind manuscript. Now
it's time to approach an editor. Does the editor want to see a
complete manuscript with a cover letter, or a query letter?
Either way, you'll have about ten seconds to get his or her
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a business letter introducing a particular
piece of writing, which accompanies the letter, to an editor or
agent. It should be concise, informative and professional.
Professional does not mean stuffy. This letter is your
representative. Let your own personality come across. The letter
should contain all the necessary information...and nothing more.
Cover letters are typed and single-spaced, written in standard
business form. They are printed on plain white, 8 1/2-by-11 inch
paper unless you have personal business letterhead, in which case
you may use that. Ideally, the letter is no longer than one page.
The more white space on the paper, the more inviting a busy
editor will find your letter.
Begin the cover letter with a paragraph that states what you are
submitting. It should include the title of the piece, the genre,
and the approximate word count. Usually, nothing more needs to be
written about the manuscript as it will be enclosed in the
envelope and will speak for itself.
However, there are instances when you may want or need to impart
more information--such as to alert the editor to the timeliness
of your topic, provide important exclusive source information, or
let the editor know that photos are available.
Next, tell why you have chosen to send your material to that
editor or publishing house. Perhaps your manuscript fits with a
series they publish, you particularly like the way a book similar
to yours was illustrated, or you read in a named resource that
she was looking for magazine features such as yours. All this
establishes the fact that you have some knowledge of the
Finally, tell a bit about yourself, but only what is pertinent to
the project. If your background gives you some expertise in the
field about which you have written, state that. If you have
publishing credits in the field or genre, state that. If you have
none of these things to tell, omit this paragraph all together.
Always keep a positive tone to your letter.
What is a query letter?
Frustrated editors everywhere have sought ways to decrease the
number and size of the stacks of unsolicited manuscripts. So,
more publishing houses each year hang out the "no
unsolicited manuscripts" sign. Many writers think this means
doors are closed to them, but it only means you must ask the
editor if he or she is interested in seeing your project. This is
done with a query letter.
A query letter asks permission to send the project described in
the letter. The query letter is sent without an accompanying
manuscript. So, a query letter must sell the editor on looking at
your completed manuscript.
The first paragraph must hook the editor's attention, just as
your manuscript must. That hook should be in the tone of the
manuscript you want to submit--whether rollicking, somber or
humorous. Then, in a couple of sentences, tell the plot of your
story. Many people write this as they would write a book cover
flap, drawing the reader in. Unlike the cover flap however, don't
keep the editor guessing. Tell the high points of your plot in a
sentence or two. That's hard to do. Plan to take your time and do
it well. If you don't sell your story and yourself in this
letter, that's all the editor will ever see...your letter. Do
this with facts and polished work, not hype.
The remainder of the query letter will have the same information
a cover letter would--the nature of what you want to submit
(genre, word count, title), why you chose to send to them, and
pertinent information about yourself.
One editor who still takes unsolicited manuscripts tells how much
she likes query letters. When the mail arrives, the manuscripts
are placed in the slush pile for later perusal but the queries
are opened that day, read, and decided on. If a self-addressed
stamped post card has been enclosed, she can check the
appropriate box and get it back in the mail. If the project is
not something she can use, in just a few days the author knows
that and can mail his or her manuscript to another editor. If,
however, the editor wants to see the entire manuscript, when the
author sends it, she or he marks its envelope "requested
material". When the editor receives it, she will put it in
the requested or solicited pile which will be dealt with long
before the slush pile.
Cover and query letters must be written with the same care as you
took with your manuscript. Use your ten seconds for all they're
Cover and Query Letter Checklist
* My return address includes my name, address, phone number and
* The letter is addressed to the proper editor, whose name is
* The letter is concise, polished and written in a business
* The one-page letter (two only if absolutely necessary) contains
no more than three or four paragraphs and as much white space as
* The letter sounds professional, much like any other job
* I have used Courier typeface at ten characters to the inch.
* I have checked my spelling and grammar.
* For cover letters, I have enclosed a self-addressed, stamped
envelope large enough and with the proper postage for the return
of my manuscript--just in case it's necessary. For queries, I've
enclosed a business sized SASE or a SASPC (self-addressed,
stamped postcard) for the editor's response.
Tell a friend about this article!
This article is excerpted from Author to
Editor: Query Letter Secrets of the Pros, edited
and compiled by Linda Arms White. It's the latest book from
Children's Book Insider.
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