For anyone approaching writing a submission letter for an agent or publisher, here is some basic advice, in advance of my forthcoming book, Dear Agent (scheduled for August 10th and published by the one and only Crabbit Publishing - me).
Many of you have heard this advice over and over again, so I apologise, but you wouldn't believe how many writers are still pitching in eye-rolling ways to agents and publishers, still clearly never having bothered to discover this very available and consistent advice.
Your covering letter with your submission to agent/publisher SHOULD:
- Be individual – written specifically for this agent or publisher.
- Think of recipient – he/she has little time, expects worst but hopes for best.
- Be properly laid out – and include various contact info for you. ("Properly" not because agents care about precise layout rules but because they just want to see all the info clearly and not be confused.)
- Make your book have “must-read” factor – apt for the genre.
- Avoid common mistakes. (See further down the page.)
- Have the following basic (but adaptable) structure:
1. Para 1 – genre, title, length, age if not adult. If fiction, indicate complete and give length to nearest 1000 words. If n-fic, need not be complete – est length?Things NOT to put in your covering letter
2. Paras 2 (& 3 if req’d) – pitch/hook. Start with core sentence which sums book. Then expand to give clear idea of MC & his goal/problem. Include only most compelling aspects. Indicate MC’s “journey”. Like back-cover blurb (but without gushing praise!)
If non-fiction – pitch clearly, concisely, compellingly, indicating what makes it different from competition. Again, imagine writing back-cover copy.
3. Para 4 – bit about you; relevant publishing credits; what you do if relevant; your “platform” if you have one. Show passion for genre – but please avoid word “passion”…
If non-fiction – this para MUST say something about credentials for writing your book; definitely mention platform. (Without it, probably won’t be published.)
4. Final para – rounding off. Keep it plain. Mention if sending to others at same time. Sound v professional and amenable. Could also be where you reveal passion for the genre – again without using that word!
- Typos or crossings-out – not even one.
- Boasting or value statements about your book’s brilliance (or yours) – eg “beautifully-written” “lyrical” “highly original”.
- Gushing – “I know you’re going to love this”; “We’re going to be rich together”.
- Claims that your book has film potential.
- Claims that anyone other than an objective expert has enjoyed it – ESPECIALLY your family and writers’ group.
- Comments about how much you love writing/how long you’ve wanted to be a writer.
- Instruction that the recipient visit your blog or website to read samples of your work.
- Tacky email address – eg firstname.lastname@example.org.
- “Wee extras” – gifts, photos, confetti, toffees…
- Abbreviations such as LOL. (You’d be surprised what people do…)
- Exclamation marks unless grammatically necessary.
- CAPITAL LETTERS FOR EMPHASIS. (Caps are correct for your book title, though.)
- Pointless details such as what sort of printer you used.
- Irrelevant detail about yourself - such as that you sing in a Welsh choir, unless your book is about Welsh choirs
- The phrase “fiction novel”, unless you've discovered another sort.
- Moronic comparisons – “…a kind of Clockwork Orange meets Bridget Jones’s Diary”.