Friday, June 22, 2007

Letters to the Editor

I was asked a good question this week. “Do editors prefer letters that are very formal or have personality?”

I can’t speak for everyone, but I like to see a good balance. By that I mean be respectful and professional but also be yourself. I don’t expect each cover letter or query email to be a cookie cutter copy of the last one I received. In fact, if I can see that you are a creative person from your correspondence, I am more likely to be interested in your manuscripts.

Even though I'm a friendly and informal type of person, here's an example of what I don’t want to see:

Hey, Jo!
Remember me? We met through the bathroom stall door at a writer’s conference.
Here’s the Heartsong proposal I promised you. I know you’re gonna love it. Give me a call at 555-5555 and let me know when you need the full manuscript.
Your friend,
Amy Author

But I’m sure you all know not to write a letter to an editor like that! :) So, here are some hopefully helpful tips of what I do like to see in a cover letter:

Things to include in a proposal cover letter:
  • Let me know if you have met me at a conference or other event or if we have communicated in some way. Especially let me know if I have requested your proposal or full manuscript.
  • Give me a 3-5 sentence summary of your story, written to make me want to buy it, like the back cover copy of a book. Highlight the unique elements—what makes your story different or better than others?
  • Assure me that you have read our guidelines and are submitting exactly what they ask for.
  • Tell me what the status of your manuscript is. Is it complete or are you still working on it?
  • Give me the word count (or if it's not complete, the projected word count) of your story. If it’s not between 45,000 and 50,000 words, I won’t consider it for Heartsong.
  • Tell me a little about your writing experience, why you are passionate and/or knowledgeable about the subject matter of your book, and if/how you are involved in an organization like American Christian Fiction Writers.
Other tips:
  • Make sure your letter is well written, free of grammatical and spelling errors, etc. I figure if you can’t write a good cover letter, your manuscript probably isn’t any better, and I probably won’t read any further.
  • When telling me about your writing experience, highlight your accomplishments and take pride in them, but don’t be overly boastful. For example, don’t call yourself a popular, respected Christian author if you’re just starting out and have one article or short story published.
  • Be positive and enthusiastic about your work and why I should want to buy it, but don’t tell me what I will do and when I will do it. I get irritated by sentences like this, “I just know you will want to publish this book!” or “I’m sure you will want to contract this right away!” and my personal favorite “God is telling me that you will publish my book.”
  • Don't send snail mail! The Heartsong guidelines specifically say where to submit and that I only take electronic submissions.
Those are my best tips for cover letters. Feel free to incorporate them however you like to express your own unique personality!

1 comment:

Mary Connealy said...

I rememeber a class taught on the ACFW loop by ... I think it was Terry Burns. He said that 85% of manuscripts are rejected for very simple reasons, like they don't match the line they've been submitted to. Or aren't send in the way they've been requested, like electronically.
He listed several other basic mistakes that just eliminate you immediately.
So if we can follow the basic ground rules you've laid out, JoAnne, in this article and on the submission guidelines, we aren't competing against 100% of the other authors, we're only competing against 15% of them. Much better chance for success.