Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No. 1: We are on your side.

Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me in the finance industry, I thought I would move to London and try to get into publishing. Consequently, I found myself spending a lot of my time sitting at home in my penguin pajamas carefully constructing application letters that would make me sound like a chirpy individual who could stand out from the crowd but who at the same time was absolutely willing to conform, impeccably reliable and generally a joy to work with.

And I hated it.

It is such a daunting business having to approach people who you have never met and cheerfully present them with a list of reasons as to why you are the most accomplished person they will ever have the good fortune to come into contact with. It is particularly difficult to come across as a likable person at the same time.

I may be wrong but I imagine that writing a covering letter to accompany your synopsis and sample chapters must be a similarly daunting experience. Even more so, as you are not only trying to sell your time and hard work but also something special and personal to you. Your writing.

We often receive covering letters from new writers who refer to their work as ‘my attempt at writing’ or ‘something I’ve just put together’ etc. I have even read several covering letters that sign off with the assurance that ‘you probably won’t like it’.

We understand where this comes from. I would have much rather sent out letters saying ‘I am quite hardworking and not too bad a person to be around. You might not like me but I’ll come and do your filing for free if you’ll just give me a generally positive reference afterwards’. It would have felt much more natural and wouldn’t have left me feeling like quite such an arrogant sycophant. But it would not have communicated my enthusiasm for the industry, or indeed my ability to communicate eloquently.

Similarly, there is little room for self-deprecation in your covering letter to literary agents. It won’t communicate your enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is one of the most important things. Show us that you are excited about your concept. Tell us why you feel your writing style has that extra something that will make you stand out. Introduce your characters to us in a way that does them real justice.

Be positive about your work and we will feel positive about it too.

And don’t be scared of our reaction. Remember, we want to read your submission and think ‘this is it! This is the one!’ We want to join in with your excitement. We are on your side.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks – always nice to hear your side of things. Looking forward to Number 2:)

  2. writelindy says:

    Interesting to get your viewpoint. Sometimes it is easy to forget that the recipient of any letter or email is human and, in the same way that a smiling face is always more easy to respond to, evidence of humanity in the written form is the same. As far as boasting about myself, I am a Brit and we are hopeless at doing that!!! So maybe in my covering letter I need to create a character which represents me. I look forward to more great advice.

  3. Helen V Anderson says:

    Nice to receive constructive advice: a straightforward list of ‘don’t’s can be paralysing.

  4. steve64w says:

    It’s true. Vicki has seen a few on my manuscripts – one of which Sophie (Gordon) and I spent several months developing and developing … and developing. And for me, the thing that stands out is the team is not only on the side of the writer but on the side of the characters and story, too. Reassuringly so!

  5. Yes, it is good to be reminded that publishers are human too! Thanks for an encouraging and informative post Vicki.

  6. wole says:

    Thanks for this article. Guess you wrote it specially for me. Really get nervous and uneasy about sending queries, synopsis and the likes. I guess I feel better reading this article and I can now channel my enthusiasm right.

  7. Rosemary says:

    Thank you Vicki, you have confirmed what I was already thinking – Darley Anderson is the agent I want to try for. I will read through all the tips, renew the enthusiasm and get everything ready for a submission to a real human being who cares about the writers and actually enjoys and appreciates the job both they and the writer are doing.

  8. sean says:

    Thank you for the tips. I’m reading this with great interest as I will soon be in a position to use this advice after months of keyboard rattling and finally getting out of my head what’s swimming about in there; after taming the rough seas of creativity into controlled water, it’s good to see that the next step isn’t as scary as what can be imagined thanks to these tips. Very much appreciated and thank you- great work and keep it up.

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