Month: March 2021

Your Compelling Cover Letter

Your Compelling Cover Letter

By Tamela Hancock Murray
 On March 31, 2021
In light of my recent posts discussing what we can and cannot overlook in submissions, I think authors may benefit from quick tips on how to add sparkle to an email cover letter.
What is the subject line? When you look through hundreds of emails in your inbox, you gravitate to those that grab your attention, right?

So do we! Consider these possible subject lines:
Book Submission
Romance Novel Submission
Romance Novel Submission: Love’s Burning Light by Bestselling Author
Romantic Suspense Submission from Genesis Winner

We will review all of these emails, but you can see that choices 1 and 2 are especially blah. The more detail you offer in your subject line, the better.

Why us? We realize that writers can choose from many excellent Christian literary agents, including four in our agency alone. We don’t need flattery from authors. We’re interested in why you are querying us in particular though. Revealing this reason not only helps us, but it helps the author. The author needs to know why they are asking us, and not another agent, for representation. For instance, the author who’s written a book of poetry might set out to query me. However, after discovering more about me online and through the blog, the author may decide to query a different agent. Targeting queries to an agent who can offer serious consideration saves everyone time and shows the author’s professionalism.

When applicable, you can mention such factors as:
Recommended by a client of the agent’s.
Recommended by other authors in general.
Recommended by an editor.

Conference connection. Please name the conference because some agents are in a conference whirlwind with many authors.
Genre. The agent has demonstrated success in the author’s chosen genre.
Social media. You have gotten to know the agent through social media.
Blog. We work hard on these posts, and we delight in our readers.

Who are you? We already know traditionally published authors or can discover more about authors online. Whether published or not, authors should still highlight one or two most remarkable accomplishments in the letter. We can learn all the details in the author’s attached proposal.

Who are your friends? If you are working with authors we know, that fact helps us understand that you are already connected and have author support. However, I cannot stress enough that a fantastic author who’s new to the industry will garner careful consideration from me. I remember when I was a new writer and no one had any idea who I was, so I have a heart for new authors.

What do you know about the market? Just as an author should be aware of current agents, the author also needs to be versed in today’s market. Of course, the agent’s job is to identify publishers’ book needs and contact the right editors. However, the author who knows the market demonstrates that they will be a good partner for the agent. One good way an author can demonstrate knowledge of the market is to mention publishers they hope will review their proposal. This part of the letter also helps the agent realize some of the author’s expectations.

Your letter is your personal introduction and should reflect who you are as a person and as an author. The goal of the cover letter is to entice the agent to open the proposal. The more the letter engages the agent, the greater the chances are for everyone’s success.

Hints for a great cover letter

Here are a few suggestions for you to consider when approaching an agent. Remember to use these as hints…do not follow them slavishly as if a literary agent is going to spend their time critiquing your cover letter.

By the way, we make a distinction between a cover letter and a query letter. A cover letter is what goes on top of a longer proposal and sample chapters. The query letter is a stand-alone letter that goes by itself to the editor/agent without a proposal or sample chapters. We happen to prefer the cover letter along with the rest of the package. Why? Because a query only shows that you can write a letter. A proposal begins the process of showing that you know how to write a book.

Address the letter to a specific person. If sending something to The Steve Laube Agency, simply address the appropriate agent. Every proposal will cross the desk of the designated agent eventually.

Don’t waste your time or ours. Do your homework! If you are submitting to an agent, visit their web site and follow their guidelines!!! We cannot emphasize this enough! Make certain to spell the person’s name right. (We’ve had people spell Steve Laube’s name as “Laub” “Labe” “Lobby” “Looby” etc.)

If you use a market guide book or some online database listing of agents or editors, make sure you have the most current information because addresses do change (go to the web site). Our main office changed its mailing address in February of 2007…and we still discover that material is being sent to the old address. You would be astounded by the number of calls or inquiries we receive from writers who have not done their research.

Whatever you do, do not say your book is the next Purpose Driven LifeEat Pray Love, Left Behind, or The Shack, or that it will sell better than The Da Vinci CodeTwilightHarry Potter, or The Chronicles of Narnia. That shows an ignorance of the market that is best left alone.

In addition, please do not claim “God gave me this book so you must represent or publish it.” We are firm believers in the inspiration that comes from a faith-filled life, but making it part of your pitch is a big mistake. Read this blog post for a larger discussion on this point.


The 4-part Cover letter:

1) A simple introductory sentence is sufficient. Basically you are saying “Hi. Thank you for the opportunity…”

2) Use a “sound bite” statement. A “sound bite” statement is the essence of your novel or non-fiction book idea in 40 words or less.

The fiction sound bite could include:
a. The heroic character
b. The central issue of the story
c. The heroic goal
d. The worthy adversary
e. Action
f. The ending
g. A grabber
h. Or a twist

The non-fiction sound bite should include the main focus or topic.
One suggestion is to describe the Problem, Solution, and Application.

If someone were to ask about your book you would answer, “My book is about (write in your sound bite.)”

3) Tell why your book is distinctive-who will read it. (Targeted age group….adult, teen, youth) – point out what’s fresh, new, different.

One suggestion would be, for your intended genre, read a number of recent books in the same genre as your own to familiarize yourself with market.

4) Give pertinent manuscript details: a) mention whether or not book is completed (if it is not, then give an estimate as to when it will be finished) b) word length of the complete manuscript, even if it is an estimate (approximate – round off the number) c) pertinent biographical info d) tell the agent if it is a simultaneous submission e) let the agent know they can discard the proposal if rejected.

Click here to review a sample non-fiction cover letter from one of our clients who approached us via an email inquiry.

Keep letter to one page!!

Please don’t use narrow margins or tiny print to fit it all on one sheet. That is silly. We once received a cover letter written with an 8 point font and 1/4 inch margins. It was virtually unreadable.Avatar

About Steve Laube

Steve Laube, president and founder of The Steve Laube Agency, a veteran of the bookselling industry with nearly 40 years of experience. More About SteveView all posts by Steve Laube →