When you are preparing to submit your finished story to an agent or publisher, it can be rather daunting. First, you need to decide whether you are going to approach an agent, a publisher, or both simultaneously. Once you have decided, you need to write the cover letter to accompany your manuscript – but how do you make the perfect pitch to an agent or publisher?
The importance of a cover letter
This is your introduction to an agent or publisher and an opportunity to concisely provide information about your book and yourself. First impressions count, so make sure it’s brilliant. (No pressure, then). Check there are no errors in the letter, such as spelling or grammatical mistakes and also ensure you have the correct name (and spelling!) of the person you’re writing to. Don’t distract an overworked editor or agent with fancy fonts or gimmicks. Just keep it simple and keep it clear. You want to leave the reader feeling confident that:
- You are familiar with the market and that there could be a place for your book.
- Your book itself will be worth reading.
- You could be a good author to work with (writing credentials aren’t essential for this – just follow submission guidelines, proofread your letter and make the effort to research the publisher/agent and authors they work with).
How to write your letter
Think of your letter as having a beginning, middle and end. There’s no precise formula, as long as everything that needs to be included IS included. A letter might look like this:
Beginning – this introduces yourself and your work. What age group is your book aimed at? Genre? Word count (this shows you know the market, and your word count is appropriate for the age range)? Why have you approached this agent/publisher specifically? It’s fine to submit to several places simultaneously, but out of courtesy, mention if other agents or publishers are also reading your manuscript or whether this publisher/agent has it exclusively.
Are there published books with a style similar style to yours? Mentioning these will not only give agent/publishers a feel of your book and where it might be placed, but it also shows you’ve read widely and are familiar with the market.
If nothing really springs to mind, don’t worry. If you say it’s like Harry Potter and it clearly isn’t, your reader will just think you’re wasting their time.
Middle – this is your big chance to showcase your book. Write a few lines with the bones of the plot, without revealing everything. If you’re writing a funny book, it can be a good idea to include an element of humour, too.
You can start with a concise pitch, which can help focus your reader’s attention. Using a logline like the ones you see on Netflix descriptions can help. One well-used formula is:
When (inciting incident happens) (character) must (do something) in order to (accomplish something).
There are other ways to communicate the information, however. You could introduce your pitch with a tagline – those witty, concise descriptions (which often come in threes), like the phrases at the bottom of a cinema poster. Or you could include memorable, impactful quotes from your story. Or you could pose questions to the reader.
Look at these examples for my middle-grade debut, The House At The Edge of Magic:
- When pickpocket Nine steals a house ornament which transforms into a full size magical house, she must break the curse which traps the mysterious residents in exchange for her heart’s desire: freedom.
- A witch’s curse. A hidden treasure. A wizard in fluffy slippers. Welcome to the House At The Edge Of Magic.
- Sometimes you are a whisper away from magic without even realising it. When pickpocket Nine accidentally steals a cursed house ornament, her life is about to change. Can she break the curse and secure her own freedom before the clock strikes 15, time runs out and her chance is lost forever?
End – after you have pitched the book itself, let the reader know a little about yourself. Do you have any writing credentials or writing experience? Have you attended writing festivals or courses? Agents like to know you’re capable of producing more than one book, so it’s helpful to give a brief outline of other stories you’ve written or works in progress.
Choosing where to submit
- Research agents – who do they represent? What books do they like? Have you heard of their authors? Follow them on Twitter to see whether this could be the agent for you. Attend webinars or talks where agents are speaking if possible.
- Follow publishers on Twitter, read their blogs, ‘like’ their Facebook page – how well do they promote their authors? Which books do they love at the moment?
- Do the publishers / agents have similar books to yours on their list?
- Do they accept books for your targeted age range? Some don’t accept picture books, or rhyming texts, or fantasy, or young adult books. Always double-check before you submit.
- You can use books or magazines (e.g. Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook) to research agents and publishers but always visit their websites for up to date information.
- READ SUBMISSON GUIDELINES – submitting without reading them may lead your story to be rejected.
The road to publication isn’t always easy but with a good submission and a perfect pitch, you stand a far better chance. So good luck and happy submitting!
Top Secret Location
The Depths of My Imagination
Dear CAREFULLY RESEARCHED NAME INCLUDING PRONOUNS IF APPROPRIATE,
A witch’s curse. A hidden treasure. A wizard in fluffy slippers.
Welcome to The House At The Edge of Magic.
I hope this finds you well. I’m delighted to send you the synopsis and first three chapters of my novel, The House At The Edge of Magic. I heard you speak at a webinar run by SOMEONE where you expressed an interest in funny books and fantasy, so I thought my story might be of interest.
The House At The Edge of Magic is a 30,000-word comic fantasy adventure for middle-grade readers. When orphan pickpocket Nine plucks a beautiful ornament from someone’s purse, she’s sure her bad luck is about to change. But when her treasure grows into an enormous house full of magic, mystery and ridiculous residents, she learns the house is under a terrible curse. If Nine can break the curse before time runs out, she will be given something in exchange. Something which she longs for with all her heart: freedom. But time is running out, and someone is watching her every move. The race is on.
With flavours of Dianne Wynne-Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle and Alice in Wonderland, against a backdrop of Oliver Twist, this story has heart, humour and more than a sprinkling of mischief.
This is my first middle-grade book, but I have been writing picture books for several years, and recently attended a Writing Fantasy and Magic course by Amy Sparkes. I am currently working on a chapter book series about a pig-obsessed princess who lives in a sock, and a picture book about Maud the Carrot who decides to rule the world.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I hope you enjoy it!
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