Last week I had a writer friend tell me an agent had requested the first 50 pages of her completed time-travel romance. The writer asked me to look at her cover letter, which I did.
The problem was, the letter she sent me to look at was a query letter, not a cover letter. When I mentioned this to her, she said she hadn’t found any examples of cover letters, just of query letters. And sure enough, when I Googled Cover Letters for Manuscripts, what I found were examples of query letters.
So…when is a cover letter NOT a query letter.
A cover letter IS a query letter when you are sending a ms (be it a short story, children’s story, or proposal) that has not been requested. In that case, the letter accompanying the ms is written with the hope that the editor or agent receiving the submission will be intrigued enough to read the submission. Those “cover” letters will have all of the traditional query letter features: elevator pitch hook, stats on how many words, what genre, if completed, and finally the information about the author and the authors credits, if any.
What my friend needed was a cover letter for a proposal that had been requested. She’d already spoken with the agent–had given her pitch–and the agent had asked for the first 50 pages. So what is required in that case?
What I told her was this cover letter was simply a reminder of their conversation. Basically what she needed was a proper salutation to her email (Dear Ms Agent) followed by a short paragraph stating when they talked, where, that my friend enjoyed talking to her, and what they talked about. (A line that mentions the title of the story, its genre, and concept. Basically something like what you see next to a title on a best sellers list.).
The next paragraph would be what the agent requested (in this case 50 pages) and what my friend was attaching. (If she was snail mailing the ms, it would be what was enclosed) I suggested she also attach (as a separate attachment, and to let the agent know) a 1-page synopsis of the story.
The last paragraph would be the typical: I hope to hear from your soon. Or I hope you enjoy. Or whatever seems appropriate. Followed by, Sincerely yours, or Yours, or, again, whatever seems appropriate.
Then, most important, finish with your name, email address, web site (if you have one), and telephone number. (If the correspondence is via the snail mail, include your land address.)
That’s all that’s necessary for a cover letter. It’s simply a means of letting the recipient know what they just received and why…and how to get in touch with you if they lost the business card you gave when you first met.
Oh, and one more thing. It’s best to put REQUESTED MATERIAL either in the subject line of the email to the agent (or editor) or on the envelope if mailing the proposal.