Writing Your Cover Letter

If you’ve been following us these first six weeks of 2016 you’ll have your novel and synopsis written, ready to be sent out to your chosen agent. The last thing you need to do now is write your cover letter. Unfortunately, this is something you have to do yourself; it’s not a job you can really pass on to someone else to do for you. Get it right though and you’ll be well on your way to publishing your manuscript.

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Remember the novel

It’s easy to talk about yourself in cover letters, especially when considering that’s what you’d do for a job. This is a little different though. In this cover letter you’re selling your novel, not yourself. Make your first paragraph a very short and concise summary of the novel. You’ll need to include:

  • Approximate length
  • The protagonist
  • The genre
  • Main plot line

If there’s anything else you feel is essential to getting across the general gist of your story you should include it here too.

It’s possible that your novel doesn’t fit perfectly into any genre, but instead spreads across two or three. This is fine. State that it crosses over confidently and with conviction; if you sound like you’re questioning yourself you’re giving the agent reason to question it too.

Show off

That’s right, we’re telling you to show off, just a little. Have you had anything published before? Whether it’s a poem in an anthology or a short story in a magazine, the agent most probably wants to know. Take this opportunity to write about all of your writing achievements, including any writing courses you’ve been on. Keep it short though. This paragraph about you is just a little bit of background information, not your autobiography.

Future plans

Do you know what agents love more than your first manuscript? Your second. If you only intend on writing the one novel in your lifetime it means the agent only has one shot with you, so they’re less likely to take it on. However, if you’re planning a few more books they’re much more likely to consider you. If your book is part of a series that you’ve planned, briefly mention this. Or maybe this manuscript is a stand alone novel, but you fully intend on writing another in future. Either way, your agent wants to know what your writing plans are past the novel that you’ve submitted so they know what to expect from you in the future.

Be yourself

Most importantly, be yourself. You’re not writing your novel here, you’re writing a letter asking an agent to represent you. This means you should just sound like you, not your narrator. Avoid using clichés, avoid being braggy (stating that your novel is the best modern day fantasy romance won’t do you any favours), and avoid exaggerating. Just be genuine, tell the truth, and inject the enthusiasm you have for your novel into your words.

 

Do you have any questions about writing your cover letter, writing your synopsis or approaching an agent? Or, come to think of it, do you have any questions about writing or the publishing industry in general? Post them in the comments below or message us privately here, then join us on the 26th February to see them answered.

NB: if you want your question to remain anonymous, please let us know in your message.

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Literary Agents: Starting Your Search

Crime books

So you’ve finished your novel, and now you’re trying to decide which agents to send it to. Choosing an agent can be really tough, but the time you put into the search will be well worth it when you finally get an agent that’s right for you. Here’s a few things to think about when starting your search.

 

Your favourite reads

Most of us tend to read what we write, so for example if you write horror you’re likely to read Stephen King’s work. This is great for you, because it probably means you know whose work yours is similar to. Write a list of these authors, then research which agent represents them. Chances are, if an agent likes Stephen King’s work, they’ll like yours too.

 

Your goals

Do you want to be the next J K Rowling, known worldwide for your success? Or are you more bothered about making an impact in a more focussed publishing community, such as LGBTQ or women’s publishing? Whichever you’re looking for, you need to find an agent that understands your passion and goals. It’s also a lot more helpful to you if they have experience in whichever publishing route you want to go down.

 

Your genre

One agent doesn’t represent every genre. Most of the time they have 1-5 specialist areas or genres that they work hard on to get published. Make sure you choose an agent that specialises in your genre. There’s no point in going to a crime writing agent if you’re a romance novelist. Don’t waste your time or theirs. Decide what your genre is before you go looking for an agent to make sure you find the right one.

 

Your experiences

If you’ve gone to see an agent give a talk or if you’ve had a natter with them at a book festival, they’re much more likely to take you on than an agent who you have no connection with. So always look at agents you’ve met in some way. Not only will the fact you’ve heard them talk be a great talking point for your cover letter, it will also prove to them that you really are dedicated to getting published.

 

Your niche

It doesn’t have to be a niche as such, but you do need something that makes you special. For example, your book may be set in a specific city. If this is the case, check out local agents and publishers as they are more likely to take on your book than others. It’s hard finding something in your work that stands out from everything else in your genre, but there will be something, and that’s what you need to sell yourself on.

 

Once you’ve decided on all of these things, start searching for your agent. We recommend picking 5 to start with and applying to all of them. This way, if you get accepted by more than one agent, you can go for the one you feel has more to offer. Don’t apply until you’ve finished writing and editing your novel; you don’t want them to ask you for an extract and be unable to give them your best work.

We’d love to know what genre of fiction (or poetry!) our followers write. Share your specialism in the comments below so we can start to tailor our posts to you.