How to Write a Cover Letter

Exactly What Should Be in Every Paragraph to Sell Your Writing

A literary agent gives you step by step instructions about the contents of a cover letter to accompany your submissions for publication.

Your query letter was successful, and the agent or editor has requested your material. Hurray!

Now it’s time to write a cover letter, which is actually easier than writing a query letter. Good news: a cover letter should be shorter than a query letter!

How to write a great cover letter, paragraph by paragraph

1. The first paragraph:

The very first sentence in your first paragraph should state that you are sending requested material. This way, the recipient knows that you’ve been pre-screened and that they are already interested in considering your work.

2. The second paragraph

Write up one to three sentences about your project, using the title once. This should not be taken directly from your query letter. The information can be the same, but use different words. Remember, be brief. The purpose of this paragraph is to jar the recipient’s memory of what the project was about. If you can write it as one sentence, it could be the last sentence of paragraph 1.

3. The third paragraph

Should be a brief summary about the audience for your material, move on to highlight your promotion and perhaps include why you are the right author for the project. Keep this as short as possible.

NOTE: If the second and third paragraphs are each only 1 sentence long (highly recommended,) you can combine these into one paragraph.

4. The next paragraph (optional)

We call this one the “anything new” paragraph because here is the place to mention anything new that came up to support your project since you sent the query letter, such as a news story, new research results, a big name endorsement of your work, etc. Or it can just be some tantalizing bit of information you didn’t include in your query, but which would be effective here to further sell your project.

5. The last paragraph

This one is your call to action. Briefly state what you want: that you are seeking representation if writing to an agent, or you are seeking publication if writing to an editor. The last sentence should be a thank you, just as in your query letter. You can accomplish both things in one sentence.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Briefer is better. One-half page would suffice, but a cover letter should never be more than one page in length.
  • Don’t copy anything verbatim from the query letter. The cover letter wording should be different—you are a writer, after all.
  • Be sure to include your contact information (and SASE if using snail mail) just as in the query letter.

TIP: Include a copy of the query letter right under the cover letter. The agent or editor will appreciate your thoughtfulness, because it saves us time digging for your original query in our huge pile of submissions.

A cover letter should accompany any submission to a publishing professional, whether it’s your manuscript, book proposal, article, images or even a self-published book. Never send in any material without a cover letter.

Copyright 2007 by Barbara Doyen. All rights reserved.

Discuss This Article

Security Code: