Cover Page or Query Letter

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.

Dear Ms Marvelous Agent:

It was fantastic meeting you at the hotel bar during the Best Writers Ever conference. I’m sorry I spilled my drink on you, and I really wasn’t stalking you when I followed you into the bathroom and shoved my manuscript under the stall door. I’m trilled you asked me to send the first 50 pages of TO KILL AN AGENT.

Enclosed, you will find those 50 pages you requested, along with the other 500 pages you said you wouldn’t have time to read. (I know you won’t be able to stop at page 50.)

Waiting to hear from you. (By the way, I used Google, and I now I know where you live.)


Will B. Pubbed


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16 Responses to Cover Page or Query Letter

  1. Anne Stone says:

    Dear Ms. Soule,
    This is a very nice blog piece. I enjoyed it very much. I will file it away for future reference. Thank you.
    All the best,
    A. Stone 🙂

  2. Maris, this is a great explanation of the difference between a query and a cover letter. I would add that the combination query-cover letter can also be used for open calls, such as submitting to an anthology.

  3. Your info explains the difference between cover and query very well. Good advice! I love the humor in your sample letter! Do you do the same in your novels?

  4. Always good advice and insight, Maris. Your sample letter (also Anne’s comment) were both hoots. Thanks for the early morning smile, ladies.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Anne, does have agreat sense of humor, and to come up with that comment so early in the morning is amazing. At 7:03 a.m. I’m usually working on my second cup of coffee and wondering when my brain will turn on.

  5. Melissa Keir says:

    Great example and very helpful! Thanks for sharing!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thank you, Melissa. The tale of the writer shoving a ms under the stall door has been around for years. I’m not sure if it ever really happened, but I’ve known new writers who might try that.

  6. Julia Masters says:

    Great post, Maris! You provided a clear cut distinction between a query and a cover letter. Thanks for sharing your writing expertise.

    P.S. – I love your sample cover letter!

  7. Diane Burton says:

    Loved your sample letter. 🙂 Your explanation of the difference between a query letter and a cover letter is excellent.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed “the letter,” Diane. It was also a learning experience for me; I learned how to create that box and handle the text inside of it.