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Writer’s Craft #74 – 5 Steps to Yes: Make a Good Impression with Your Cover Letter

May 29, 2012
Erin Lale

Erin Lale

Erin Lale is the Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books and the Editor and Publisher of Time Yarns, a freelance writer since 1985, was the owner of a bricks and mortar bookstore and was the Editor and Publisher of a quarterly magazine in the print era.

As a writer, you spend years perfecting your craft and working on your book. You agonize over your synopsis. So it only makes sense to polish the one page of writing that makes your first impression with a publisher: your cover letter.

1. If your submission is an email, you don’t need to include the double postal addresses in the heading like a print-era business letter, but if you do, be sure to change the addressee to the actual address of the publisher to whom you are writing. I once received a cover letter addressed to “We Reject You (unprintable) Agency” which ended with British postal code FUU.
2. Address the acquisitions editor by name if possible. Most company websites have staff lists, or the name may be in the submissions guidelines. The standard business form is Dear Mr. Smith or Dear Ms. Jones followed by a colon. If you can’t find the name, use Dear Editor, Dear Sir or Madame, or Dear Sirs and Mesdames. Please do not use just Dear Sirs. It is 2012; it’s unreasonable to assume that all presses in the world are staffed entirely by males.
3. Proofread your cover letter. If English is not your native language, have your letter proofed by a native speaker.
4. When describing your book, be factual. This is not the time to use review language like “tour de force.” Keep the genre description down to one or two nouns with the minimum modifiers that do the job, and use standard publishing terms like “Romance,” “Steampunk Romance,” “Steampunk Romantic Comedy,” etc. Tell me how long your book is in words, not k. Show me your professionalism. You can show me your creativity in the book itself.
5. Tell me your marketing plan, such as going to booksignings or doing guest blog posts, but do not include a plan to sell to your relatives or your 200 facebook friends; the kind of publisher that pays you instead of getting paid by you would consider a book that sells 200 copies to be a dismal failure. Only use numbers in your plan if they sound like “I will market to my 300,000 magazine subscribers” or “I will market on my radio program syndicated in 17 major US cities.” If the numbers won’t make me smell cash, leave them out. Remember, publishing is a business, and the goal of any business is to sell units.

I’ll leave you with one final piece of advice before the comments section opens: if I tell you what’s wrong with your book, that’s an invitation to fix it and send it back to me. A workshop or writers’ critique group is a great way to get your book purring.

So, what cover letter tips do you have for your fellow writers?

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