The art of cover letters

[Originally posted: 30/08/08 on my old blog]

The covering letter is the part of submissions that makes me time after time postpone sending out my work. It's considered that important. It's the first thing an agent (or their assistant) will read when they pick up a submission off the slush pile, and it will determine whether or not they bother to go on to read your synopsis and sample chapters, or so the talk goes. Either way, the key is getting it right.

Various sources differ with what to include in the covering letter, but some of the key advice repeated time and time again says to include:
  • A brief biography, especially to mention if you have work previously published.
  • A brief synopsis of your book, perhaps comparing it to similar works to your own.
  • The reason why you have approached this agent to represent you.
So, it doesn't have to be a master-piece it seems, but why is it so tricky to perfect a cover letter that will set you apart from the rest of the slush pile?

Daniel Clay helpfully wrote this article on how he managed to escape the slush pile, and more importantly, has included his covering letter and synopsis that landed him the marvellous Jonny Geller as his agent. As he concludes:

If you’ve been thinking of giving up yourself, try to remember it’s not just a thin line between success and failure on the slush-pile, it’s an almost non-existent one, and whether you fall the right or wrong side of that line often depends on the mood and skill of the person reading your submission as much as the quality of your submission itself.

Even more importantly, always try to remember that every now and then, despite the odds, someone does come out the other side of a slush-pile submission with a publishing contract in their hands. As long as you keep writing what you believe in and never let the rejections stop you submitting, one day it might just be you.

Sound advice indeed for any Pipe Dreamer to remember when faced with another rejection letter on the doormat! As a follow-up to this, I remembered this video that was sent to me by a friend. It is brilliant, and should make anyone smile who has ever had a standard rejection letter:


  1. Hi Elle,

    I know this probably sounds like the kind of thing that's really trite to say, but I honestly believe you will be published one day. I mean you've got the hard work, ambition, drive, flair to writing....and talent. Just remember if you did get published now (or find an agent) you would be extraordinarily young to do so! And think how much better you writing will be in say 2 years time! I know you probably don't want to hear that. But everything happens for a reason. But neither of us should ever give up!

    By the way, sorry I didn't comment on the latest installment of Arielle, just been so busy with uni work. But chin up missy!

  2. Hi Amy,

    I wasn't feeling down when I posted that!! It was actually an old post from August 2008 that I decided to bump forward as I doubt anyone would have seen it (I went public with my blog in September) and I thought it might be interesting the cover letter process to some people.

    But, thank you for your sweet words!! And don't worry, I have NO intention of giving up after all the hard work I've put in, but especially not giving up knowing there are people out there who want to read me. :0)

    I'm going to do this, I have a strong feeling, and it's going to happen SOON! :D

  3. I hate this word "rejection", and I hate to write cover letters...I know, it's stupidity, but I really hate it, because most of people lie there, but I hate to lie(well...most of time:))
    And of course, for the interview are invited only those people who wrote a lot, even if thay hadn't experience and so on...
    I mean...I hadn't ever written such letter as you sad because I'm not writer, but some cover letters I made..

  4. Oh, I hate all cover letters, ZuKi! From writing agent ones to job ones! Hate, hate, HATE them!

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