Query and cover letters are not fun, but they are necessary evils.  I don’t know of anyone who has ever gotten away without writing a single one.  However, in order to avoid sounding inexperienced, naive, or just plain crazy, avoid these common mistakes:

  1. Address the letter to the correct person. — Nothing is more annoying than getting a letter addressed to someone else, or addressed to the wrong agency/publishing house.
  2. Do not make unrealistic claims about your story.  —  Your book might become a best-seller someday, but you have no way of knowing that.  However, if you already have (in writing) a deal from a charity to purchase 10,000 copies or you self-published and sold 45,000 ebooks or you’ve already sold the rights in 15 other countries that information is worth including.
  3. Do not tell who has already read your manuscript.  — If it’s other agents and editors who have read and passed on it, you don’t want me to know that. For one thing, it would tell me others didn’t like it, and for another it would make it clear that I wasn’t your first choice. (This may be the case, but why rub the editor’s nose in it?) If it’s children, educators, friends, families, librarians, etc. this information isn’t actually all that useful to me.  Only dedicated market research would work, and I doubt you want to go to the time (or expense) of a statistically sound study.
  4. Do not offer unrealistic comps (like bestsellers) or say there are none for your book. —  Either one makes you sound seriously unread or clueless of your market.  Don’t get me wrong. Comps can be hard to do, but no book is truly incomparable.  If you are having trouble, don’t bring up comps at all.
  5. Do not make demands. — You can ask things politely, but don’t tell me that I have to print this, or that I have to respond by a certain date, or that I have to give you XYZ royalty or to not even bother.  I don’t know about you, but nothing irks me more than a bossy letter from a stranger.
© Copyright 2006-2011 Madeline Smoot. All rights reserved.
May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.
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