[I originally posted this piece over 12 years ago. The information still holds true, but I suspect many have not found the necessary information elsewhere, so I dare post it again. I’ve left all the comments intact since they add to the ongoing conversation. Feel free to add your thoughts.]]
Here are a few suggestions for you to consider when approaching an agent or an editor. Remember to use these as hints…do not follow them slavishly as if a literary agent will spend their time critiquing your cover letter.
By the way, we distinguish between a cover letter and a query letter. A cover letter goes on top of a longer proposal and sample chapters. The query letter is a stand-alone letter that goes to the editor/agent without a proposal or sample chapters. We prefer the cover letter and the rest of the package. Why? Because a query only shows that you can write a letter. A proposal begins the process of showing that you know how to write a book.
Address the letter to a specific person. If sending something to The Steve Laube Agency, simply address the appropriate agent. Every proposal will cross the desk of the designated agent eventually. (Please do NOT send it to all of us at the same time)
Use this cover letter in the body of your email, but NOT the proposal and sample chapters! You’d be stunned to see how many people contact us with a blank email carrying only a subject line of “here it is.”
Don’t waste your time or ours. Do your homework! If you are submitting to an agent, visit their website and follow their guidelines!!! We cannot emphasize this enough! Make certain to spell the person’s name right. (My name is spelled, Steve Laube. Not “Laub” “Labe” “Lobby” “Looby” etc. But note that Bob Hostetler has to address me as “sir” or “the honorable” or “Mr. Boss”.)
If you use The Christian Writers Market Guide or some online database listing agents or editors, make sure you have the most current information because addresses do change (go to their website). Our main office changed its mailing address in February of 2007…and we still discover material is being sent to the old address. You would be astounded by the number of calls or inquiries we receive from writers who have not done their research. Someone called the Phoenix office the other day looking to talk to one of our agents who does not live or work in Phoenix.
Whatever you do, do not say your book is the next bestseller like Purpose Driven Life, Eat Pray Love, Left Behind, or The Shack, or that it will sell better than The Da Vinci Code, Twilight, Harry Potter, or The Chronicles of Narnia. That shows an ignorance of the market that is best left alone. [update note: These examples will date you really fast. The Harry Potter books are over 25 years old, published in 1997.]
In addition, please do not claim “God gave me this book so you must represent or publish it.” We are firm believers in the inspiration that comes from a faith-filled life, but making it part of your pitch is a big mistake. Read this blog post for a larger discussion on this point.
The 4-part Cover letter:
1) A simple introductory sentence is sufficient. Basically, you are saying “Hi. Thank you for the opportunity…”
2) Use a “sound bite” statement. A “sound bite” statement is the essence of your novel or non-fiction book idea in 40 words or less.
The fiction sound bite could include:
a. The heroic character
b. The central issue of the story
c. The heroic goal
d. The worthy adversary
f. The ending
g. A grabber
h. Or a twist
The non-fiction sound bite should include the main focus or topic.
One suggestion is to describe the Problem, Solution, and Application.
If someone were to ask about your book you would answer, “My book is about (write in your sound bite.)”
Another word for sound bite is “hook.”
3) Tell why your book is distinctive – identify who will read it. (Targeted age group….adult, teen, youth) – point out what’s fresh, new, and different.
One suggestion would be, for your intended genre, read several recent books in the same genre as your own to familiarize yourself with the market.
4) Give pertinent manuscript details: a) mention whether or not your book is completed (if it is not, then give an estimate as to when it will be finished) b) word length of the complete manuscript, even if it is an estimate (approximate – round off the number) c) pertinent biographical info d) tell the agent if it is a simultaneous submission e) let the agent know they can discard the proposal if rejected.
Click here to review a sample non-fiction cover letter from someone who approached us via an email inquiry. We signed her as a client.
Keep the letter to one page!!
Please don’t use narrow margins or tiny print to fit it all on one sheet. That is silly. We once received a cover letter with an 8-point font and 1/4-inch margins. It was virtually unreadable.