Friday, April 1, 2011

Hovering Over a Cover Letter

Week of March 27: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
Friday, April 1: Hovering Over a Cover Letter

Now that I (and hopefully you) have a better idea of the publishers I want to target with my submissions, I’m ready to begin mailing out more manuscripts! I have developed a tracking sheet for my submissions. Some folks do this electronically, I like an old-fashioned clipboard. My sheet includes:
·   Publisher/agent name
·   Special submission instructions
·   Manuscript sent
·   Date sent
·   Date acknowledged
·   Additional notes

I’ve used this sheet for some time and it’s succinct and effective.

Queries and Covers
You hear the terms query letter and cover letter a lot in this business. Simply stated a query is a question—Hey, I’ve got something here, do you want to see it? A cover letter literally covers (sits on top of) the manuscript you are mailing in. Cover letters are what we use mostly as picture book writers. Most publisher’s and agent’s submission instructions tell picture book writers to send the entire manuscript with a cover letter. On occasion you will find a publisher or agent who wishes to be queried first about a picture book. (I only found one publisher like this in my search of 2011 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market®.

Those companies and agents that request an email submission also expect that the email will begin with the “cover letter” (which technically is not a letter, but is in letter format).

Basics of Cover Letters
1.  No more than one page
2.  Business letter format, single spaced, an acceptable font (just like your manuscript). I use Times New Roman, 12 pt. (Don’t try to be clever and use fancy fonts or 10 pt. type to try to squeeze more info into one page.)
3.  Address the letter to a specific person—check and double check the spelling of the name and the person’s title. (NOTE: Sometimes a company will require you send an unsolicited manuscript to Manuscript Submissions or a similar title. Always do what the company requires.)
4.  Start with a hook. Grab the reader’s attention. I like to make a personal connection (if I have one) with the editor/agent, acknowledge something about the company’s wants/needs, and then throw in my hook. For instance:

Ms. Smith, I enjoyed your presentation at SCBWI, NYC, and was encouraged by your positive outlook on the current state of publishing. I know at Smith Publishing you like books with humor, strong characters, and surprise endings. I think my wacky tale about Festus, a flamingo who hates seafood, warm weather, and being pink, would be a nice fit for your list.

5.  Next, include your one-paragraph pitch/synopsis. (See yesterday’s post.)
6.  In the last paragraph of your letter tell a bit about yourself—but stay professional. Being a school teacher, working in a library, reading to children every Saturday at the community center may give you credibility. On the other hand, saying that your children or grandchildren love your book probably won’t give you credibility. Saying that you are published in other genres in the children’s market could give you credibility, but saying you wrote for your high school newspaper probably won’t. End by thanking the editor/agent and say that you are looking forward to hearing back from him/her.

A Sample of a Successful Cover Letter
Below is the cover letter for my book, Cowboy Christmas. This was not an unsolicited submission, but for the most part the cover letter would work if the manuscript had been unsolicited.

August 23, 2010

Xxxxx Xxxxxxx, Editor
Golden Books/Random House
1745 Broadway
New York, NY  10019

Dear Ms. Xxxxxxx:

Thank you again for the helpful consultation you provided at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. Your suggestions about Cowboy Christmas helped me turn the story into a picture book manuscript. I am excited for you to see the changes.

Cowboy Christmas is a warm, humorous picture book written in 640 words. In my research I have not found a similar picture book or story line.

“Santy Claus will never find us out on the range,” Dub moaned to his fellow cowboys. Dub, Dwight, Darryl, and their cook, Cookie, were stuck roping steers, wrestling longhorns, and wrangling up strays on Christmas. The cowboys’ attempts to recreate childhood Christmas memories end with one hilarious failure after the other. But a surprise is in store for the Circle D dudes when Santa (who oddly resembles Cookie) visits their camp. The cowboy’s moaning and moping soon turn to whooping and hollering.

As we discussed during my consultation, I am an experienced writer who was published extensively. I also worked for many years as an editor, editorial manager, and project manager. I now work with kindergarteners through fifth graders as a creative writing teacher.

Cowboy Christmas is an exclusive submission. I am submitting the manuscript in two formats—a typical, double-spaced version and a version that includes illustration suggestions. For your convenience, a self-addressed, stamped envelope is enclosed. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Rob Sanders

A Great Resource
There are many resources on the market that coach you to write successful query and cover letters. There are also free helps online. The one book I own on the subject is Author to Editor: Query Letter Secrets of the Pros, edited by Linda Arms White. The book provides helpful information and examples of many query letters and cover letters for all genres of children’s writing, fiction and nonfiction. The book is available from the folks who bring you the Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Book Writers and the The CBI Clubhouse (

It’s Your Turn!
1. Have you perfected your cover letter for your latest manuscript? Now’s the time! Be sure to run the letter by your critique group for input!


Leslie Gorin said...

Hi Rob,

Just wanted to let you know that even though I've been pretty quiet about it, I'm becoming a regular reader of your blog and really appreciate how thorough, helpful, and generous you are with it. Good stuff!

Leslie G.

Rob Sanders said...

Thanks, Leslie! My motives are selfish, in fact. I'm wanting to learn all I can and I'm wanting to make lots of picture book friends! Thanks for the kind words.


Suzy Hayden said...

Congrats on the PB venture with Golden Books. Love your blog.

Anonymous said...

This is probably as useful a post as the ethidium one which a lot of people will appreciate. !@bose
Sample Cover letters

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siryoz0 said...

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Albert H. said...

The post was really helpful! Thank You! That cut down some time on my own be half.

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Unknown said...

Wow, great post.

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