Cover letters need to keep the tourists happy

I just tossed two submissions – unread – because the authors’ cover letters were abysmal. They couldn’t spell themselves out of a paper bag, and any knowledge of sentence structure had been tossed under a bus. Adding to the mayhem was a lack of focus on their pitch, which boiled down to descriptions and no plot.

I’ve received heat for rejecting someone based on a lousy cover letter in the past. Authors complain that even if the cover letter isn’t up to par, the submission still deserves to be read. My comeback is that a cover letter is the most important introduction of the author and their work, and if they can’t get that small part right, then I will assume that the rest is equally inferior. Given the stack of properly written submissions that are reaching for my ceiling, I slice and dice out of necessity. Unfair, you shout?

Let’s say you’re the manager of La Fussy Restaurante de Yummy and you need to hire a front desk receptionist. Two women walk in. One smells like week old meatloaf, is wearing ripped leather, has safety pins stashed in her lips, ears, eyebrows, and nose, and sports a tattoo that says “Death to Twinkies.” The other woman is wearing a conservative dress, nylons, sensible shoes, neatly styled hair, and smells like fresh flowers. Who do you think that manager is going to interview? Even though Tattoo Lady could be the best person in the world, her appearance precedes her, and she’ll be shown the door faster than the manager can utter, “Gastro demonics.”

Thus is the case with a submission – the cover letter precedes everything, and like the restaurant manager, I’m going to decline to interview anyone whose appearance is disheveled and unprofessional. A lousy appearance tells me that the author doesn’t care or, Twinkie forbid, doesn’t know enough to realize they are ignorant. Ignorance or apathy isn’t an effective method to catching my attention.

So, remember, cover letters are a lot like snappy window dressing; they entice the tourists to come in and buy. Or at least read.

  • Tagline / genre/ word count
  • Pitch: A condensed version (paragraph) of the synopsis
  • Bio: A smattering about you
    • Why you wrote the book
    • Book’s unique qualities
    • Connects with a specific audience
    • Future books, plans for career

    A sample cover letter can be seen here.

    2 Responses to Cover letters need to keep the tourists happy

    1. Allen says:

      One smells like week old meatloaf, is wearing ripped leather, has safety pins stashed in her lips, ears, eyebrows, and nose, and sports a tattoo that says “Death to Twinkies.”

      Well, I do like meatloaf. That ripped leather jacket is appealing and everyone knows I like a good safety-pin stabbing or two. And besides, what is the point of carrying two pistols if you can’t shoot a Twinkie once in a while? Jeez, the whole world is going preppie.

    2. m.rose says:

      Hi, I just came across your blog while perusing your publishing company’s website, and you’ve got some great advice!

      This post definitely speaks to me. As a freelance editor/proofreader, it amazes me how many people think they can write, yet can’t spell words we learned in elementary school. That’s why I say every good writer needs a good editor!

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