Cover Letters: More or Less?
Cover letters are one of the most hotly disputed aspects of the manuscript submission process, but in this case it’s completely a business of opinions. Many publishers call for sample chapters (usually three in the first instance) to be accompanied by a letter that should include – alongside the short-form synopsis – a brief CV and an overview or outline of your online presence. Believe it or not, however, these things can actually work against you and have, in my experience, become a negative factor unless the above has a great impact on your ability to sell the subject work in question.
For instance, an established mid-list author of sci-fi or fantasy fiction decides to move into general fiction or crime. There’s no point outlining all your achievements unless some of them make you a perfect fit for the area you’re trying to move into. Similarly, a few hundred or even a few thousand Twitter followers are not going to be of great interest to a crime or general fiction publisher if it’s quite obvious that most of those followers are hardened sci-fi fans or dedicated readers of your otherworldly work…because the chance of them crossing over are slim.
Likewise, far too many authors with self-published or one-lung deals with independent publishers (who rarely if ever offer a professional rate advance) consider themselves professional authors and think that a pro-editor from a major publishing house will share the opinion that their work should be read. This is like going for a role in a James Bond movie and stating that you should get the part because you were James Bond at the Tidwell village hall in Dr. No the previous year. Nobody cares but you. I’m sorry if a lot of the above seems harsh…but if you want to hear the right advice and not a flow of contrived dribble aimed at improving your opinion of your achievements, then do keep reading.
Your cover letter should be short and to the point. If you’ve had deals with major publishers, certainly point them out…but not at length. Again, if you have to underline who you are or what you’ve done then you’re undoubtedly corresponding with someone who has never heard of you and is unlikely to be impressed by all the things you’ve achieved under the radar.
Douglas Adams, bestselling author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, once wrote:
“Many men of course became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor – at least no one worth speaking of.”
This tells you everything you need to know about a cover letter: be humble, be direct and don’t waffle.
I’ve written more than 30 books for children and my cover letters could run to a page and a half of worldwide and territorial deals, but my cover letter to – say – a horror publisher would read:
Dear [editor’s name],
Please be kind enough to consider the enclosed synopsis and chapters from ‘The Underdark’. Although I’ve published many books, my only professional horror credit to date is the YA series ‘Undead Ed’ published in the UK by Hodder and the US by Penguin.
Thank you so much for your time and attention.
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© 2016 Keystone Brown Ltd
David Grimstone (David Lee Stone) from Ramsgate is a bestselling author of series fiction for Disney USA, Penguin USA and Hodder UK.