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Covering letters Submissions

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No.10: Be helpful

The thing that I feel compelled to start off by moaning about today isn’t directly linked to covering letters but it is very close to them, too often it is pressed right up against them. I’m talking about my personal nemesis. These are the bane of my working life. A scourge on a literary agent’s very existence known as:

The plastic folder.

You know those thin envelopes of translucent plastic? Most of the time they have a strip attached with holes in it so that they can fit into ring binders but not always. Having looked them up on Wikipedia I found out that they are also known as plastic wallets and plastic pockets. Even deciding what to call them is an irritating process.

Plastic folders.

They seem entirely harmless, helpful even. I know that anyone who has ever included them in their submission has only done so in the interest of making the reading process as painless as possible for us. What bad could possibly come from a little strip of thin plastic, right? But don’t get taken in by the plastic folder propaganda, my friend.

It is when they are introduced to the carefully balanced ecosystem of a submission pile that they turn nasty.

Plastic folders ruin the integrity of any submission pile. They play tricks on them, slipping out from underneath, slowly sliding to the right so that the tower of stories leans nearer and nearer to oblivion, even lying in wait within a small pile to skid out from between the fingers of an unsuspecting agency editor.

They are clever. They are organised. They must be stopped.

And so we seamlessly segue into the final piece of advice I have to impart about how to write your covering letter. If you take nothing else away from these top ten tips (although I hope you do take a few other titbits with you) let it be this:

Be helpful.

As much as you can, be as helpful as you can, in any way that you can.

Make the basic information about your submission immediately available to anyone even glancing at your covering letter. Have your name and the title, genre and target audience of your novel right up there at the top either in your very first paragraph or right underneath your elevator pitch (if you have decided to take my advice on that front).

Something like this would be great:

Dear Vicki,

My name is Hugh Jass and I am submitting a fantasy novel aimed at the young adult market entitled THE UNFORTUNATE NAMES PARENTS GIVE THEIR CHILDREN.

For one thing, an agent could pick that covering letter up and immediately recognise that it is a submission. This may sound like a very simple distinction but when you are dealing with hundreds of submissions at a time a large portion of your week can end up being spent just on working out whether a letter or an email is a submission or not.

Another deceptively simple piece of advice that I can offer to make your covering letters as helpful as possible would be to make it easy to read.

Handwritten letters do bring a certain personal touch, granted, but the other thing they often bring to the table is being at best a challenge to decipher, at worst completely illegible.

Similarly, using a tiny and/or confusing font won’t help your would-be agent. Neither will overly bright coloured paper/backgrounds, using a font colour that is difficult to see or any formatting in an email that might go wrong (such as pictures that jump in front of the text or gif logos that have a tendency to stop the email from opening successfully).

While we’re on the subject of formatting, consider how the layout of your covering letter can help the whole reading process run smoothly. Simply using the traditional structure of a letter (whether you are sending your submission by post or email) is a world of helpful.

Name, address, phone number and email address up in the right-hand corner, everything else neatly spaced along the left-hand side of the page beneath a ‘Dear So-and-so’ and above a nice sign off ending with your name written out in full once more for posterity. Beautiful.

Including that inverted section in the right-hand corner with your contact details is particularly helpful too. Your contact details are the thing you want your chosen agent to be looking for in a heady haze of excitement – make sure they can find them immediately.

Ideally, you want to make it as easy as possible for an agent to get in touch with you, giving them as many options of how they can contact you as possible. Just in case.

Of course, in the body of the letter you can put your paragraphs in any order you think is best. Still, try as much as possible to make each point naturally move into the next, if only to show off your writing skills. Particularly avoid jumping about thematically between personal information and talking about your book only because this can be confusing and does not present the best impression of your writing abilities.

Last of all, keep it compact. If you do have to go over to the second page it is not the end of the world but a covering letter that stays under one page always looks better (especially in postal submissions) and is generally about the right length in most situations. Besides this, it is helpful too if your covering letter gets to the point quickly and doesn’t bury important information. Not to mention that keeping your covering letter compact and focused (all together now) shows off your writing skills.

And showing off your talent as a writer is what your whole submission is really all about.

Well, there we have it then.

In the interest of being helpful, here’s a summary of Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter –

1. Don’t self-deprecate – be positive and endlessly enthusiastic about your work

2. Include one or two concise paragraphs about yourself, leading with any writing-specific information and letting them know how fantastic you are in general

3. Open with an elevator pitch of your story to grab the agent’s attention. Make your work the focus of your covering letter

4. Address your covering letter to your hand-picked agent personally

5. Avoid email addresses and formatting choices that make it look like you aren’t really taking this all that seriously

6. Avoid covering letter clichés like the plague

7. Proofread until the letters start jumping around the page taking turns to dance with each other

8. Save discussing your pseudonym ideas and marketing vision for another day

9. Only include reader feedback if it is positive and comes from a source that the agent can assign weight to

10. Do everything you can to make reading your covering letter a smooth ride for your chosen agent

Do all this and your covering letter should act as the perfect virtual handshake to your future agent.

Oh and just for me, please don’t send your covering letter inside a plastic folder if you can possibly avoid it. The plastic folders are not on your side. But we are.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Categories
Covering letters Submissions

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No.9: Never judge a book by its Amazon review

Whenever I want to know anything about anything I look it up on Wikipedia.

I love Wikipedia. I could spend hours on there clicking from page to page.

Incidentally, if you ever do happen to be surfing through any of the pages dedicated to Roald Dahl’s books: you’re welcome. A lot of that stuff is put on there by me. You know I mentioned that time when I was looking for a job in publishing? Well let’s just say that updating my CV and writing perfectly crafted covering letters to prospective employers proved insufficient to fill every hour of my day.

Anyway, that aside, Wikipedia is definitely one of my favourite things.

Indeed, whenever I was researching anything for an essay or a similar sort of project my standard practise would be to firstly Wikipedia it then to take that initial notion of understanding to the library. At the library I would search through the tome-like dusty books for what my teachers/lecturers termed ‘actual proof’.

Sometimes Wiki let me down. Sometimes what my beloved Wikipedia had told me turned out to be complete doohicky. Sometimes it came through. But it was always my first stop. And still is.

The thing is, as much as I adore Wikipedia, I take everything it tells me with a pinch of salt. It’s just not 100% reliable. Often it’s not even 2% reliable.

The information could have been put there by a learned professor or a 14 year old prankster pretending to do his homework. The person telling you the plot to Matilda may only ever have seen the film or, on the other hand, they might be someone who has read Matilda at least a hundred times and even visited the Roald Dahl museum recently because she’s between jobs at the moment and has a lot of extra time on her hands.

It’s the same with a lot of the covering letters we receive and the readers’ reviews people choose to include in them.

A vast amount of new writers use up a lot of space in their covering letter outlining the feedback they have received from readers. So much so that at this point in my career I suspect I have read every variation of these phrases that there can possibly be:

‘My friends and/or family love my book/s…’

‘I’ve showed it to several people and they’ve all asked to see more…’

‘My children/grandchildren always demand to hear the next chapter at bedtime…’

‘I read it to my class and there was such a positive response…’

‘People say this is exactly the sort of thing they wish was available on the market…’

‘My writing group/people online have been really supportive…’

These are all lovely things and if anyone you know has been this positive about your work you should totally take it as the compliment it was intended to be. Nothing I am going to say on this subject should detract one iota from that.

However, the person you are writing to doesn’t know these people. They cannot judge the weight that they should assign to their feedback. Just like on Wikipedia they don’t know who has provided these opinions.

Therefore, these opinions can’t really inform their opinion of your work.

Some of the people whose opinions literary agents can assign weight to include: already published authors who have done well and/or gained notoriety, publishers, editors, other literary agents, literary critics and creative writing professors (particularly those who are known in the industry).

If any of these people have specifically agreed to support your work or have provided an impressive review of your writing definitely include this in your covering letter, the more glowing their praise the better.

Be sure to keep your rendition of their feedback nice and compact. If one of these people has given you an in-depth critique of every aspect of your narrative I would recommend simply pulling out a representative quote from them and mentioning that they have provided feedback which you have worked on.

Something like ‘Sir Salman Rushdie described my work as ‘literature at its best’ and has been immensely helpful with his feedback throughout the redrafting process’ would be mind-meltingly ideal (provided it is true, of course).

As ever, avoid including anything negative even if it is constructive. Agents do value honesty, of course, but presuming that any criticism you have received has been worked on accordingly there isn’t really any need to divulge. Omitting the heckles whilst singling out the applause is absolutely acceptable in this case.

All of that said, I would urge you not to worry if you don’t have any complimentary quotes or flattering feedback from people of note in the book world just yet. Many people who approach us have never shown their work to anyone before they send it to us; others just don’t have the contacts at their disposal. None of this works to your detriment.

If you do find yourself without anyone of note to vouch for your work at this early point in your career just let your work speak for you. Make your writing and your story the focus of your covering letter and in the interest of keeping things positive don’t even worry about mentioning whether anyone has read it yet or not. The agent is reading it – that’s what is important.

Positive reviews are a bonus to your covering letter, not a prerequisite.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Categories
Covering letters Editorial Submissions

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No.8: My name is Bob, but you can call me B S Goodwriter

Did anyone else notice that lots of people’s names changed, at least for a little while, once they left school?

After our last long summer together a selection of my friends and I flitted off to the lure of university placements. It was when we all returned at Christmas that I started to notice the effect that the change of scenery had had on some of my friends’ previously stalwart forenames. Ellen, who had always been Ellen as far as I was aware, was suddenly Elle. Annabel was Bella. Sophia had distorted into a Sophie overnight.

If I’m totally honest I had quietly considered a name change myself.

It felt like a rare chance to reinvent the old, tired Vicki format that I’d been using for years. I even had a name in mind. I was going to go with Tora, a nickname given to me in early childhood owing to the fact that my elder sibling had trouble pronouncing the challenging V sound.

But I chickened out at the last minute.

Remembering all these new names was quite enough to think about without having to remember to call myself something different as well. The cringe-factor of the whole business got to me too. To introduce myself with a different name felt like a lie. I wanted to explain, to let my potential new friend know that I wasn’t duping them, but I could not find a way of saying ‘I’m Vicki but I’d actually quite like you to call me Tora instead,’ without sounding at least a little bit unhinged.

So Tora wasn’t to be. Vicki’s fine though. I’m used to Vicki. It fits. And anyway, almost all of the Ellens, Annabels and Sophias reverted back to what worked eventually so I suspect that Tora never would have lasted either.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I often detect this same effect in covering letters. It seems that people have a similar instinct to tweak their own names when they become authors as they do when trying to reinvent themselves at university.

Of course, this must be largely influenced by the fact that so many authors use pseudonyms (Erica Leonard being a particularly topical example of this) or employ their initials rather than their forenames (as Joanne Rowling was advised to do to make sure boys were not discouraged from reading her books. I think it worked okay, a fair few boys read Joanne’s stories eventually as I understand it).

The thing is, as with making your first introduction during freshers’ week, in a covering letter your time is precious. And I would strongly recommend not wasting that precious time discussing something like pseudonyms.

Besides using up valuable space on your (hopefully no longer than a page) covering letter this is also one of those approaches which tends to say the wrong thing about you. Just as my instincts towards explaining my personally assigned nickname would have done, all it achieves is to tell the person you are approaching that you have spent time self-consciously dissecting your own name. The image you want to feed agents is of you diligently applying your creative genius to your writing, rather than to your name.

On top of this, in suggesting a pseudonym for yourself you are somewhat jumping the gun, in the nicest sense. Discussing potential pseudonyms with new writers is something that any agent worth their salt will do before sending their work out to publishers. After that the publisher may even wish to stick their oar in. Pseudonyms, at the heart of it, are a bit like nicknames; it’s a bit embarrassing to try to choose your own.

We’ve all met that sort of person at some point, haven’t we? The stringy teenager who awkwardly insists that his friends call him ‘Playa’, no really, because he has totally gone out with loads of girls, honest. The middle-aged business man who, before regaling you with tales of how many people tell him he should be a stand-up comedian, demands that you call him ‘The Gavinister’ because (apparently) ‘everybody does’.

Sadly, it gives a similar sort of impression if you immediately suggest pen names for yourself.

I often hear the same vein of complaint being made about covering letters that include detailed descriptions of how the writer envisages marketing their work. This, again, is getting a bit ahead of the game.

It can produce the same effect as the ‘it would make a great film/tv series’ cliché, I’m afraid.

It is great to briefly mention that you are excited to market your work and to tell us if you are good at public speaking or have the charisma and rugged charm of, say, George Clooney. These are helpful things to mention. It is also brilliant to let agents know that you have thought about your reader and where your book will fit on the shelves/bestseller charts.

However, if your book has potential for blockbuster success a good agent will see this from your synopsis. If you have professional respect for the agents you are submitting to you can rest assured that they will have a detailed understanding of the book market and will be instantly aware of the marketability of your work, or they wouldn’t be trusted with reading submissions in the first place. And if you are unfortunate enough to have a name like Eugene Bogdrifter any agent you acquire will almost certainly discuss pseudonyms with you in due course.

Use your precious time to tell them something they don’t know. Like your amazing idea for a bestselling novel which you have brought to life through your fantastic gifts with the written word.

There’ll be time enough for nicknames and readership demographics later. Believe me.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Categories
Covering letters Editorial Submissions

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No.7: Pobody’s Nerfect

I’m just going to come out and say it.

I am not a fan of grammar bullies.

In my opinion, picking on someone for a brief grammatical slip or a badly placed apostrophe is not big and it certainly isn’t clever. It particularly gets my goat when anyone is publicly pulled up on their spoken grammar. If you are correcting someone’s spoken grammar outside of the classroom then you are only revealing your own basic misunderstanding of the nature of language itself, namely that it evolves and most of that evolution occurs orally.

Leave the ‘would of’ers alone. They’re not hurting anyone and everyone knows what they mean. We wouldn’t have ‘don’t’ or ‘can’t’ or ‘you’re’ or indeed ‘wouldn’t’ if it weren’t for trailblazers like the ‘would of’s. Just because whoever makes The Rules has decided to draw the line there for now doesn’t mean that what you are saying is ultimately more intelligent because you scrupulously over-pronounce all your ‘h’s to the extent that even Henry Higgins would be satisfied with your pronunciation of his own name.

Indeed, one of my favourite extracurricular activities is to catch out these sorts of people who are forever hooting ‘whom’ at their friends and family by hiding intentional exceptions to The Rules in my conversation. For me there is nothing quite so satisfying as getting the chance to explain The Rules to someone who is trying to show off their own superior grasp of them to someone else’s detriment.

“On the contrary, my learned friend,” it is an endless joy to parry back at such people, “I think you’ll find that in the sentence ‘Clare asked Mary and me to go to Hay Literary Festival with her’ that ‘Mary and me’ are the object, not the subject, of the sentence. If you find it difficult to remember simply try to remove Mary from the sentence and see if it works or not. Don’t worry, sometimes even I get confused.”

Herein ends my rant.

I just want you to know that I am not, never have been and never will be, a grammar bully. (I may indeed be a grammar bully bully but that is quite another thing entirely.)

However, these creatures are not without their uses. In fact, I might recommend that you even enlist the services of your friendliest neighbourhood grammar bully when you write your covering letter.

If, on the other hand, you are one yourself I hope I have not offended you. I am told that grammar bullies can be perfectly acceptable human beings in all other aspects of their lives. Indeed, some of my closest friends are grammar bullies, and I’m sure you’re one of the lovelier grammar ‘instructors’ of this world. Now here at last is your chance to use your powers for good.

The fact is, little niggling mistakes in a covering letter stand out and they don’t create the best impression.

More to the point, there is an increased probability that your covering letter will be read by someone with at least a vague inclination towards the grammar bully end of the spectrum. In my experience a larger percentage of publishing types have leanings of this persuasion. That is not to say that they aren’t also all perfectly lovely people but you can be sure that they almost all understand The Rules thoroughly and will probably be used to keeping an eagle eye out for mistakes on a daily basis.

These are the people who you want to impress.

So proofread. Proofread until you begin to lose sight of what this letter you’re writing is even for. Look up the word ‘particularly’ so many times that it loses all meaning and goes a bit weird. Check every ‘your’ and ‘you’re’, don’t let a single ‘too’ sneak past you masquerading as a ‘to’ and make sure that there are only ‘would have’s to be seen.

And then proofread some more. Get your friends and family in on it. Everyone likes to be helpful and we all secretly enjoy the chance to point out someone else’s mistakes, don’t we? If we’re all entirely honest? That’s where grammar bullies come from, after all.

Send out a covering letter that you are confident is not going to show you up. Do not give the grammar bullies a chance to get one over on you. Together we can defeat them with our impeccably placed commas and our appropriate use of the semicolon.

Don’t let the grammar bullies grind you down. Proofread instead.

Oh and one extra, very important thing I have to add. Take particular care to ensure that you spell the agent’s name and the title of the agency you are submitting to correctly. Nothing says, “I have not put much thought into this,” like a covering letter addressed to Mrs Darley at the Darling Anderson Agency.

By the way, it’s Vicki with a ‘ck’ and an ‘i’. I wouldn’t dream of pulling anyone up on it but just so you know. Vicki. Vicki Le Feuvre. Much appreciated.

p.s. to any grammar bullies reading this please be aware that any and all mistakes you may find in this blog post are entirely intentional and were only put there to annoy you personally. Go on, resist the urge to point them out to me. I dare you.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Categories
Covering letters Editorial Submissions

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No. 6: There are plenty more clichés in the sea

Clichés exist for a reason. Because they generally work. They usually make a good point and/or have been borrowed from Shakespeare. And they don’t really do anyone that much harm.

But you should do all you can to keep them out of your covering letter and here’s a slightly convoluted story to explain why:

One September when I was still at school my drama teacher returned after a long and arduous summer to dispense some irreplaceable advice. This teacher was one of those brilliantly sparky people who never seem to run out of energy but she greeted us that morning with an uncharacteristically deflated air.

It turned out that while we had been lazing about in the sun our lovely, sparky teacher had volunteered to spend her summer marking the nation’s exam papers. From what I know of this job it is not particularly exciting, rewarding or well-paid work. Accordingly, I imagine that after the fifth hundred child has illegibly trawled out a panicked list all of the instances of light and dark imagery that they can remember from watching Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet an examiner’s sanity must start to wear thin.

‘Please, girls,’ our drama teacher begged as she slumped on the hall floor before us, ‘think of the people who have to read your exam papers.’

The funny thing is I’d never thought of them before, except maybe as a Machiavellian figure lurking in the shadows somewhere. Or even some form of test marking automated machine, the Gradetron 3000 perhaps.

From then on, if I had any spare seconds at my disposal, I used to round off all of my exam papers with a cheery note of thanks and on one occasion an apology. This was totally self-serving and stomach-turningly sycophantic in its way but I hope it helped at least a little bit to break up the monotony of a long day of marking. I did, of course, also strive to make my essays themselves more of a delight to read.

It strikes me that this sort of thinking could well be applied to many facets of our lives. It would be good to remember that our letters of complaint will likely be read by someone unconnected with the initial affront who probably spends a large portion of their day reading hurtful things and being shouted at on the telephone. The CV that you send out will likely not be the only CV the person hiring will look at that day and by the time they get to yours they might be feeling a little under the weather or slightly fed up or it might almost be lunchtime and they forgot to eat a proper breakfast that morning.

The same goes for your covering letter to literary agents.

It is a vast understatement to say that readers at literary agencies, like myself, read a lot of submissions. Furthermore, it is somewhat stating the obvious to assure you that they will all be real life human beings (until we work out the design quirks in the Readatron 3000 that is).

So, be kind to them.

Your covering letter may well be the tenth or twentieth or hundredth covering letter that your chosen agent has read that day. Their eyes might be getting tired, maybe their reading light is on the fritz, it might simply be one of those days that feels like a Thursday but is actually, depressingly, only a Monday. You know how it is.

Make sure that your covering letter is a breath of fresh air.

The best way of doing this is to avoid the covering letter clichés.

But how can you possibly know what these are? You don’t read covering letters all the live long day. How on earth are you to know which perfectly innocent statements are so ingrained in the zeitgeist that literary agents find themselves reading them at least twenty times a day?

Well luckily you are reading this blog and this blog happens to have a helpful list of the top five covering letter clichés to avoid. Which are, in no particular order:

  1. ‘My friends are always telling me that I should write a book’
  2. ‘Ever since I was a little girl/boy I have always wanted to be a writer’
  3. ‘This would make a great film/television series’
  4. ‘I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it’
  5. ‘You probably won’t read it anyway’

Don’t worry if you have already sent out covering letters in the past with any of the statements 1 through to 4 on them. If you have you are certainly not alone and this won’t have worked to your detriment. It is rather that not including them will definitely make your letter feel fresher.

In the interest of keeping your covering letters positive, however, I implore you to avoid statement number 5 at all costs. As I have said readers read a lot of submissions. And a lot of submissions hint at the suspicion that no one is reading them. Ignoring the irony of this, from the point of view of the real human being reading these covering letters it is very disheartening to keep being accused of not reading them.

We understand where this suspicion comes from but it is unwise to waste precious space on your covering letter voicing it. Logically speaking, if you are right then no one will read it anyway but if you are wrong someone will. No good can come of it either way.

I cannot speak for other literary agencies but I can speak for us here at the Darley Anderson Agency when I say that if you submit your work to us we will read it. It wouldn’t make sense if we didn’t. How would we find exciting new writers otherwise?

So, to paraphrase my drama teacher of times gone by: ‘Please, prospective authors, think of the people reading your covering letters’.

Make them exciting, make them sparky, avoid clichés and don’t imply that no one is reading them or you might hurt Readatron’s feelings.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Categories
Covering letters Editorial Submissions

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No.5: takemeseriously@sillybilly.co.uk

Today I would like to share a story about something that happened to one of my closest friends. We’ll call her Ellen, because that is her name.

When Ellen was a fresh-faced 14-year-old she decided it was about time she got herself a personal email account. But what to pick for her address? After much careful consideration, she settled on the timeless statement ‘Ellen Forever’. Of course, it being the golden age of text speak she felt she had to tweak it a little to fit in with her peers.

Accordingly, later that day we all received an email from ellen4eva@hotmail.com.

To her credit, she did try to stick with it. If I remember rightly she kept this email address for at least a year. But once the thousandth person had asked her who Eva was she gave up and created a nice sensible account, hoping that the whole debacle could be resigned to the past and thoroughly forgotten.

As you can see her hopes were in vain. We will never forget. And now anyone reading this knows all about it too.

The point is silly email addresses have happened to the very best of us. I myself have an email account which I, in my teenage wisdom, chose to base upon Dr Evil’s infectious laugh. I still employ it to order pizza and other such homely uses where I do not have to worry about anyone judging me.

However, when I started applying for jobs I decided it might not be the best idea to greet potential employers with a maniacal laugh. So I created my own sensibly chosen address.

It takes about ten minutes maximum to create a new account and I would recommend doing so for any serious correspondence. You can even link your silly account with your sensible one if you like, which is what I did.

The problem is, as fun as it might be, if the first thing a literary agent learns about you is that your email address is nippleumbrella@gmail.com then it won’t create the most advantageous impression. As much as it might be an accurate description of yourself badgerface@aol.com just doesn’t say ‘I am taking this seriously’ to the recipient of your email. No matter how well it represents all the quirks and zany personality traits you possess smellybrainfart@me.co.uk is not a good opening line.

If your email address is anything like these make a new one this instant. It’s free, it’s easy and it’s worth it a hundred times over. Something with your full name is ideal. Do it now. It’ll be ten minutes well spent.

While we’re on the subject of making sure that your covering letter lets literary agents know that you are taking your submission seriously I would also like to make a brief point about font.

Curlz Mt and Comic Sans are all very well to brighten up a fun email to friends or a Christmas card to your aunt. A little word art on an invitation to a child’s birthday party never hurt anyone. But maybe keep it away from your covering letter.

I’m afraid that these have the same effect on your submission as including a silly email address does. They just don’t say ‘I am serious about being a writer’. The message they are much more likely to communicate is ‘I spent more time selecting kooky fonts than I did choosing my words’ and if this is not the case make sure you are not communicating it.

Times New Roman or even a cheeky little Arial are much safer choices. Also sticking to normal sized headings and keeping the ink black is a good idea too.

I do not want to imply that we want all your covering letters to be bland and uniform. Not at all. We want to see something unique and individual! We just want to see it in your writing. Not the font your writing is written in.

Do not let the formatting of your covering letter speak for you. Let your words do the talking.

p.s. to the person who submitted to us about six months ago with the email address theangelshavethephonebox@genericemailprovider.com, I’m letting you off as an exception to the rule on account of you being brilliant. But you’re the only one. No silly email addresses on important emails. Starting from now.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Categories
Covering letters Submissions

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No. 4: To Whom It May Concern

Everyone who has ever been on the internet has Googled their own name. Bands and stand-up comedians alike know that they will get a big response if they simply shout out the name of whatever town they happen to be performing in that night. And I have a hoodie that I paid an extortionate rate for on my graduation day simply because somewhere on the back amongst hundreds of other names it has my name on it.

There’s no getting away from the fact that everyone likes to feel acknowledged.

Literary agents are no different.

I cannot stress enough that the literary agent you will be submitting your work to is a real person just like everybody else. They too will have Googled their name. They will have cheered to hear someone well-known mispronounce the place of their origin. They may not have fallen into the hoodie extortion scheme but they’ll probably have at least one of those bookmarks, key chains or coffee mugs that provide a complimentary character reference for everyone who shares the same first name as them.

So my advice would be to address your covering letter to a real person.

Dear Sir/Madam is always going to be a slightly disappointing opening to any letter. It feels so impersonal and is a difficult tool to communicate excitement through. Most of all it indicates that the covering letter you are sending out to us is almost definitely being sent out to other agencies without even a swift name change being employed.

Ideally, you want to make the person you are writing to feel special, like they have been carefully chosen out of the crowd.

A good way of communicating this is to make it true. After all, you are sending out your work, your writing, your talent. Choose carefully. Look into what books an agency represents. Are they similar to your work? Or do they seem to like representing new writers like you? Visit their website. Find out about their ethos and what their authors say about them. Visit their blog, if they happen to have one.

Once you’ve found that chosen person let them know why you selected them in your covering letter. Include a short paragraph telling them all of the reasons why you think they are great. If you’re a fan of any of the agency’s authors say so. If you found out something impressive about them, such as any particular deals they’ve done in the past, do tell.

Ultimately, as I said in Top Tip No. 1, what you are trying to do in your covering letter is create a positive impression. The personal touch will always achieve this. Tell us why you have chosen us and it will give us a little lift. After all, we’re only human.

Of course, judging by the fact that you are already reading this it is possible that I am preaching to the converted. So, well done. You’re already on the right track. Now go out there and use your covering letter to show your chosen literary agent that you took this initiative.

You want to Google your own name again, don’t you? Me too. OK, quickly do that first and then go and show off your initiative.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Categories
Covering letters Editorial Submissions

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No.3: The Elevator Pitch

Do you ever watch Dragons’ Den? I hope you do because it is going to feature quite heavily as my main analogy this week.

Imagine that your book is a product which you are going to take before the dragons. You wait nervously in that windowless basement and finally you are ushered up the stairs for the meeting which inexplicably takes place in someone’s sparsely furnished and badly lit attic room.

You stand in front of them. There’s Deborah Meaden, eyeing you up over the pile of cash which we’re led to believe all successful entrepreneurs carry everywhere with them. Duncan Bannatyne doesn’t look too happy, but then he rarely does.

What are you going to open with? You have three minutes. Go.

Obviously, we are nothing like as scary as the dragons and we don’t live in a gloomy loft guarded by Evan Davis. However, if we do take your work on we in turn will need to feel confident pitching it to intimidating teams of publishers (possibly in drafty attic rooms, you never know). So it’s a good idea to show us how pitchable your work is.

My advice would be to start your covering letter by talking about the concept you are approaching us with.

Personally, if I were an author writing to literary agents I know how I would begin. My covering letter would definitely start with something that is often referred to in the industry as an ‘Elevator Pitch’. For those of you who don’t speak yuppie, this is basically a summary of the thing you are selling which is short and snappy enough to be recited over the course of a short ride in a lift. (The business-minded folks who invented this term were presumably so busy doing business all day long that they decided even the precious few minutes spent standing idly in lifts had to be filled with something business related.)

Your ‘Elevator Pitch’ would ideally endeavor to get our attention and show us that, above all else, you are most excited about your writing. Fundamentally, it will act as a very short blurb.

Something along the lines of: Jane Doe always thought she was an ordinary girl until she found out [enter revelation here]…

Or: Imagine if [something really upsetting/exciting] happened. What would you do? This is the decision that Joe Bloggs has to face…

Or perhaps: My writing is [name of a successful author your work is reminiscent of] meets [name of another successful author your work is reminiscent of] but with [something particular to your work]…

Or even: [Adjective]. [Adjective]. [Adjective]. John Smith has had some tough cases in the past but he has never seen anything like this etc.

Whatever you feel is appropriate for your concept and style of writing. Just make it engaging, exciting, and not much longer than a paragraph.

Lead with your work. Get us interested in your writing from the off and once we’re hooked you can wow us with everything else we need to know about you. If someone went before the dragons and spent the first two minutes talking about their past experience, or how they came up with their idea, they would miss out on their one chance to actually get the dragons interested in their motorized forehead swabber or flamingo shaped ice pick.

Don’t miss out on your big chance. Sell your book to us. It’s why we’re reading your covering letter, after all. And this is your chance to get other people excited about your idea. Take full advantage of it.

 By Vicki Le Feuvre

Categories
Covering letters Editorial Submissions

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No.2: Let’s talk about you

In my experience the part of the covering letter that varies the most is the section that falls under our umbrella request to ‘include a bit about you’.

I have received covering letters that range between several full A4 pages worth of biography to new writers who forget to include their own name. Somewhere between these two there is a happy medium.

Personally, I find that the most effective covering letter often has one or two concise paragraphs concerning the writer, though of course it is not an exact science.

The best advice I can give you is to look at this as a writing exercise. How much relevant information can you get about yourself into one paragraph?

One of the lovely people who were kind enough to comment on Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter last week said that she would ‘create a character who represents me’ in her covering letter. I really liked this idea. Be yourself, of course, but is there a way that you can use your powers of characterisation to introduce yourself in the most concise and engaging style? Test yourself.

Though, do make sure that you include all the relevant information as well. If you have ever been published or signed to any other agencies you need to let us know. If you have a particularly relevant degree or you have attended any writing courses we would love to hear about it. Similarly, if you are part of any writing groups or have done well in any writing competitions please do share. Have you had any praise from anyone in the industry perhaps? Any experience in journalism or editing maybe?

Be sure to lead with your most impressive feature, as well. If a published author has praised your work definitely open with that. If you have a master’s degree in creative writing with fifteen years of journalistic experience specialising in novel reviews and have won several prizes with your multiple bestselling published novels maybe tell us about that before you let us know that you live in Shropshire with two dogs and one bad tempered goldfish. Don’t bury the stuff that is going to make us go ‘oh’.

But if you can’t think of anything writing-specific that will make us go ‘oh’ don’t worry. Just use lots of scrumptious words like ‘undiscovered’ and maybe work really hard on using your concise paragraph about you to show off your writing skills.

The most important thing is that we get an idea of you and your style of writing. Remember that when writing a covering letter you are not only selling your work to us but yourself as well. Make sure that we know what a great person you would be to work with.

Other than that we just need your contact information. We suggest including your address, phone number and email address just to be on the safe side. Oh, and your name. Please don’t forget to tell us your name. You’d be surprised how often that happens.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Categories
Covering letters Dictionary Corner Editorial Submissions

Exclusive – Dictionary Corner – Publishing Terms Translated

Have you ever spoken to someone in publishing or browsed the submission portion of an agency’s website and wondered what on earth we’re all talking about?

Well, wonder no more. Here in Dictionary Corner we will strive to shed some light on the technical jargon and industry lingos that often confuse new writers.

Exclusive – this is a very important word for us and one you really want to hear from agents.

The word applies in exactly the same context as it does in a romantic relationship. If we ask to see more of your work exclusively it means that we like what we’ve seen so far and we want to see more but that we don’t want anyone else to be seeing any.

If you offer your work on exclusive with an agent you are promising that no one else in the industry will be reading or considering any part of your concept at the same time as that agent.

Also, if you are submitting to us and nobody else please do slip this word into your covering letter. We like to hear it too!

Are there any terms we use that befuddle you? Please do let us know by leaving a comment or emailing assistant@darleyanderson.com and we’ll respond with our own personal definition just for you.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Categories
Covering letters Editorial Submissions

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

Categories
Meet the DA team Submissions

Welcome to the Darley Anderson Blog

Hello everyone,

We would like to officially welcome you to the Darley Anderson Blog!

Are you excited? We are. We’ve never had a blog before.

To begin with we thought it was only right that we properly introduce ourselves. Over the course of the next two weeks we will be doing just that in a feature we’re calling ‘Getting to Know Us’. Everyone on the Darley Anderson team will be answering five incredibly probing questions about themselves and we’ll be starting with Vicki Le Feuvre, our sparkling and brilliant Agency Editor. For any aspiring writers out there we would really like to speak to you in particular. We will be posting advice tailor-made for you, to help with your writing as well as familiarising you with the sometimes intimidating process of submitting your work to literary agents. We will also be using this blog to let you know exactly what submissions we are looking for and what books we most love to read.

Over the coming weeks we will be focusing on the often dreaded covering letter. It strikes us that writing a covering letter for a submission may well be one of the most challenging writing exercises known to man. If you are having any trouble or just want a few useful tips this is the place to come. We will be giving you weekly snippets of advice to help you get started filling that blank page with the right words to get us as excited about your work as you are.

Also be sure to keep a weather eye out for the exclusive giveaways we have planned for you very soon.

So that was our first blog entry. I hope you liked it.

But enough about us, what about you? Is there a question you would like to ask us? If there is, leave a comment or email a question to assistant@darleyanderson.com