After spending countless hours agonizing over and reworking your novel, story collection, or even a short article or poem, the last thing on your mind might be the cover letter you send it off with. However, that letter is the first introduction your publisher has to you – and your polished, edited manuscript. It should reflect your talent and professionalism, while also respecting the time your publisher (or agent) will spend reading it. Bearing that in mind, here are three tips to get your manuscript, dissertation, or life story from your laptop to published.
- Keep it simple, silly. The publisher may be interested in where you got your degree. But agents and publishers receive hundreds of submissions a month (not to mention those that go straight to the slush pile), so they do not need to know your life story, the names of your cats, or the entire arch of your book. As your editor, she will need to be able to promote your book within the office at the watercooler, so make sure that you include a one to two sentence (and no cheating with semi-colons) summary of your work.
- Do your research. The last thing a science editor wants to see on his desk is a memoir. It shows that the author didn’t take the time to get to know the company well enough to figure out who exactly should be receiving the manuscript. In many cases you can call a switchboard to get contact information for a specific acquiring editor, but make sure that your book is a good fit for the house as well. Literary MarketPlace is a great resource for getting the feel for a house (how many books they publish, style, etc.), but you can also pick up cheaper versions like Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers.
- Editing, editing, editing. Just as important as sending off a well-edited finished product, it’s important to make sure your cover letter fits industry standards. Most freelance editors will have a feel for what should and should not be included, and general formatting. You may also want to consider hiring the editor who worked on your manuscript to check your cover letter for these sorts of issues and, of course, spelling and grammar. Heaven forbid that the next great American novel never sees the light of day because of a rouge “Frondly” or “Efitor.”