The first thing a publisher will read from your submission is your cover letter. This will tell them whether you are a good match for their list and their company, and a good cover letter always shows commitment. So don’t wreck your chances with a bad cover letter, and here are some tips on how to write a good one. (These tips mostly apply for fiction books; cover letters for non-fiction books may vary slightly.)
1. Addressing your letter
Most of the publishing houses, especially indies, will have on their website a list of their employees (if you’re lucky enough, their job titles will be mentioned as well). Research the company thoroughly and address your cover letter to the right person; this always makes a good impression!
However, if this information is missing, there are other ways you can start your letter, the most effective being: ‘Dear Editor’, ‘Dear Submissions Team’ or ‘Dear [name of publishing house]’.
Important: preferably don’t write ‘Dear Sirs’ – the editor reading your submission might be a woman!
If you nail this you’re already halfway there.
2. Follow the Guidelines
While researching the company’s website, look out for any guidelines you might find on what to insert in your cover letter. Usually, this would include the title of your work, the length, the genre, and some general information about the book (for example, the overall themes, why you decided to write it, background research that might have been involved in the process etc.).
However, don’t insert a detailed synopsis in your cover letter; this could make for a long letter and the editor might not read it as carefully. This may vary in different publishing houses, so always check their specific guidelines.
3. Who are you?
It is always good to have a section with your biographical details. This does not just mean a history of your writing experience, but also your background, profession and other information that you think is relevant. A biography will help the publisher understand if you are a good fit for them, and also if you have any experience on the subject of your book or any personal connection to it.
4. Why did you submit?
Always tailor your cover letter to the publisher. It will make a good impression if you show that you know the company, what they usually publish, and mentioning any of their past publications is a plus. This shows that you understand their mission statement and that you’ve thought about how your book is going to fit into their list.
5. Closing the letter
Leave your contact details: email address, phone number and even your home address. This will ensure that the publisher will have a way of contacting you.
And most importantly, finish with your name; each publisher gets a big number of submissions every year, and every detail that can make it more personal helps. If you finish your letter with your name, there might be a chance it will stand out and the editor might recognise it later when they read your manuscript.
These tips are just overall guidelines; tailor them to your submission as you see fit. The most important one, however, is to always research the company you are submitting to; you put a lot of hard work into the novel, and if you do your research you can make sure that it is the right home for your ‘baby’. The rest follows from there.
Read some of our further submission tips following this link.
Fairlight Books’ submission guidelines can be found here.