In this day and age of electronic communication almost completely overtaking all other forms, I feel that electronic submissions are only going to become more and more common. As more children’s book editor and agents want files they can read on-screen (either on readers at home or on computers at work), more and more authors will be emailing instead of mailing submissions.
Now, in a traditional hard copy submission, you would place your cover letter on top of your children’s book manuscript. It would look like a standard business letter with the date, contact information, and the actual content of the letter. Obviously, an electronic letter is going to differ in several ways:
- You don’t need to date it or include your email or mailing address of the recipient.
All of these things are going to be automatically included in the email anyway.
- You are going to need to have a subject line.
This line can easily be overlooked when you are busy worrying about the contents of your email. However, having a No Subject email is the surest way to have it deleted by the recipient unopened. If the editor/agent is specifically asking for a particular subject line, use it. Otherwise, here are some potential ones:
- Requested Submission — The best one, but it had better be true.
- Submission from XYZ Conference Attendee — For people who met an agent/editor at a conference and were invited or told to submit online.
- Picture Book Submission, Teen Romance Submission, etc. — No harm in naming it what it is.
- Unsolicited Manuscript Submission — Probably what most submissions are, but avoid using this unless specifically told to.
- You will need to address the email to someone.
I don’t mean the To: email line here. I mean that you will need to start your letter to Dear ____. This is a formal business email. Do not just start typing away as if this is a casual acquaintance.
- You will need to sign your full name.
Again, this is a business email. Sign it “Sincerely” or “Thank you again” or something else appropriate with your full name. You are not just dropping them a line. You are approaching a potential business contact.
- Add full contact information after your name.
This includes your phone number, website, and blog(s) if you have one. You can put your address if you like, but most likely the person will either call or reply to the email. You do not need to put your Facebook or twitter links here. Even though editors and agents realize what great marketing tools these are, they are a more casual form of communication than websites or blogs. I would only have these if you have thousands of followers and you specifically mentioned them as potential marketing tools in your cover letter.
After all this, you then have to tackle the actual body of the cover letter itself:
This paragraph is where you set the context for your submission. Did you meet the agent at a conference? Are you responding to a manuscript call? Were you referred by someone else? What this is not the place for is explaining how this book was written for your child/grandchild/niece or to explain that these are the true exploits of your most amazing and adorable cat. No matter how true these things may be, I don’t need to know them, and they will mark you as an amateur.
- One-Two paragraph pitch
The next one or two paragraphs should be your pitch of your book. Like a published book’s jacket copy or a written, more detailed elevator pitch, this is a teaser that gives the overall major plot arcs of the story, a feel for the major characters, the genre and age range of the children’s book, the themes you tackle, possibly the setting (if important), and anything else you feel is important and will help set your book apart from the other comparable books out there. You are not quoting or paraphrasing the text, merely summarizing, but if possible you should still try to convey your voice — your own distinct writing style that makes your writing sound like you.(*NOTE* These are very difficult to write but extremely important to get right. If this paragraph(s) does not interest the children’s book editor/agent reading it, there’s a very good chance the rest of the letter and your manuscript will not get read either. This is not to paralyze you into incapacitating writer’s block inducing fear, but merely to make you aware of the importance of a good pitch.)
- Series pitch
If you see your book as the beginning of a series, this paragraph is the place to tell me about it. However, if you don’t see this as a series (and despite the tale bookstore shelves may tell, not every book is the first in a series), do not suddenly try to develop one for your cover letter. Just skip on to the next paragraph. Besides, if your editor/agent ends up seeing it as a series, they will be happy to tell you. You’ll then be left with the pesky little detail of trying to think one up. Worry about it then.
This is the place to tell me a little bit about yourself. But be professional here. I would like to know if you have a PhD in literacy or an MA in Children’s Literature. I don’t want to know that you’ve been reading children’s books since you were a child. Also, this is the place for any professional associations that you belong to like SCBWI, Writer’s Leagues, etc.
Since we are discussing cover letters for unsolicited manuscripts, you would then thank the agent/editor and sign the letter. However, if we were discussing queries, this would be the place to politely ask to submit the manuscript.
Format-wise, the body of your email should look the same as a regular business letter: single spaced paragraphs with no indent and a double space in between. Do not use strange fonts or sizes. They will not make your email stand out, but merely make it annoying.
For a great discussion and annotated query letter, see Brooklyn Arden’s post. Although a query letter, all of the pertinent information is the same. I greatly admire this editor, and if you don’t already follow this blog, you should consider doing so. She is a great resource of information.