Not What But How

03 Jun

Your cover letter is the first piece of writing the editor will see.  Here is what to include:

1. What are you sending?

2. Who is your target audience?

3. Why are you submitting to that publishing company at this particular time?

4. Who are you?

There are lots of places online (Mary’s or Ellen’s comment for instance) and in books that help you with what to put in your cover letter. Instead, I want to talk about how to write a cover letter. Until recently, this was something I really struggled with.

5 drafts. That is how many different cover letters I wrote to one publisher. And even after five drafts, I still didn’t like one bit of what I’d written. Why? It sounded like a poor attempt at a high school essay. There was no sign of my writing style.  If I was a publisher and read my letter, I wouldn’t have wanted to look at the story. I didn’t make a very good first impression.

My first impression to my husband’s parents may not have been very good either, but at least it was memorable. My letter actually needed a little of that. It needed a zap. Here is how I found it:

  1. I let my character write my cover letter.

My middle grade character, Mabel, has the clearest voice of any of my characters. So, I let her write my cover letter.  I let her say what she would about me and my story. Mabel is also very honest, almost to a fault, so I couldn’t use all of what she “said,” but using her voice let the letter sound like my writing.

  1. I started a blog!

Writing this blog has given me practice using my “voice” (writing style) to write things other than fictional stories. That practice has greatly improved my cover letter.

  1. I wrote a “one minute pitch” of each story I was trying to submit.

When attending a conference or other writing event, it is recommended that authors have a short book pitch to share with editors. Writing this improved the meat of my cover letter.  Here are some resources for writing a book pitch:

  1. I cut about 60% of the length of the letter.

If my cover letter drones on and on, what is a publisher going to think about my story? I have to let my manuscript do most of the talking.

  1. I showed my cover letter to my critique group.

It was a forehead-slap moment when I finally got the idea to ask for a critique of my cover letter.  Why hadn’t I done it before? As always, the lovely ladies were honest and caring and helped me develop something I could be proud of.

 Writing a cover letter this way is no guarantee that I’ll get published. But, at least the outcome is a true representation of my writing.  Why would I want anything else?

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Posted by on June 3, 2011 in Publishing


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