by Tamela Hancock Murray
This is the last installment of my proposal series. You may think it strange to write about the cover letter last, but usually, it’s the last part of the proposal an author writes. Our own Steve Laube has already written about the cover letter here.
His tips are so wonderful that I asked him if I should even attempt this post, but he encouraged me to write from my perspective. So here are key points I like to see in a cover letter:
1.) Title and genre of book: I can immediately discount horror and erotica. Saves everyone time.
2.) Target market and word count: While part of an agent’s job is to identify markets for your work, you still should do enough research to understand where your book might fit. A 250,000 word novel aimed at Love Inspired Historical shows you have no idea about today’s CBA marketplace.
3.) Story summary highlighting primary conflict. For example: “Set in Chicago in 1905, Party Time is the story of a political party boss who must fight his attraction to a suffragette.”
This is enough to tell me that I’d have to hesitate since the title is questionable for CBA and for the Christian market, a Chicago party boss is not a sympathetic hero.
4.) Past Sales: But, if you mention that your last CBA romance novel sold over 100,000 copies, I’d ask to see Party Time anyway. Those sales tell me you may possess enough talent to make the party boss the most dashing romantic hero ever.
On the other hand, if you are a new author, it’s fine not to belabor the point. I will figure this out since you didn’t mention sales history. (And this early in your career, I recommend writing about the type of heroine and hero everyone agrees deserve true romance).
1.) Title and topic of book: I will know immediately if I’m intrigued.
2.) Summary: What is your book’s overarching theme? For example: “Devotionals to Comfort Your Elderly Dog is a collection of devotionals meant to read aloud to your elderly dog. These devotionals will soothe your pet even more than his favorite treat!”
This summary tells me that, while well-meaning, your book’s potential audience is too small for your book to be a huge success.
On the other hand: a title like How to Have a Better Marriage enters into a market that is so crowded, you must have a never-before-thought-of twist or a huge platform to be a success.
3.) Platform: a snapshot of how you can reach your audience through a speaking ministry, social networking, etc. If you’ve snagged a stellar endorsement or promise from a big author who’ll write the foreword, mention this here. You can go all out with numbers, a speaking schedule, and other goodies in the proposal. The letter should just be enough to show you have a platform.
4.) Past Sales: Again, a highlight. This can be a career total or a mention of your most successful recent title. No past sales? It’s possible to overcome this with a fantastic, well-executed idea.
The purpose of your cover letter is to intrigue the reader so she’ll want to review the proposal right away. Granted, the key points are factual and don’t allow a lot of room to show your best writing, but you can always use the opening line to grab the reader. One way is to pose a question, such as, “What would you do if you were rescued from a trap during a mission trip by an avowed atheist determined to bring you to his way of thinking?” This type of lead-in can do wonders to keep the reader interested.
Most of all, don’t shortchange your cover letter. It’s the first introduction to your proposal, and must be your best. Read it aloud and check for errors. A typo should not get your work thrown into the “reject” pile, but it does show a lack of proofreading ability, or at least care.
And finally, Steve Laube pointed out to me that his “keep it to one page” rule doesn’t apply to email. Well, it sort of does. You don’t want to be too long-winded just because you can! And speaking of which, I’ll close for now. Until next time, happy submitting!
What is the hardest element of the cover letter for you?
Did I leave out any element you think should be included?