WRITING A COVER LETTER
Your manuscript should always be accompanied by a short cover letter. A cover letter is essentially a business letter introducing your story and yourself to the editor. The tone should be friendly but professional. If you are submitting electronically, your email will be your cover letter. If you are submitting by snail mail your cover letter is on a separate sheet and included in the envelope with your manuscript.
First, read any submission guidelines the publisher may have. These guidelines will tell you whether to submit by email or snail mail, whether the publisher accepts simultaneous submissions or prefers to have the manuscript exclusively, and whether to included a self-addressed stamped envelope for reply. You can usually find guidelines on the publisher's website. The Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Marketplace is also a good source of information. If you use the Marketplace double check the publisher's website, as the policy may have changed since the book's publication.
Formatting Your Letter
- As with any business letter, you should include your contact information. Email will automatically include your return internet address and the date. However, it is always a good idea to include a phone contact. Some people prefer to place this below their signature. If you are sending a hard copy, use the traditional format for a business letter. Place the date and all your contact information in the left hand corner.
- Drop down two spaces after your contact info. place the editor's name, the name of the publisher and address. (Again, you don't need to do this for email.) If your manuscript is unsolicited you may not have the name of a particular editor. Many publishers prefer that submissions be addressed to "Submissions Editor" or simply "Submissions." In that case your salutation will be "Dear Editor."
- How do you get the name of an editor? Attending conferences is one way. Editors who speak at conferences will sometimes invite attendees to submit directly to them, even if the publishing house does not normally accept unsolicited manuscripts. Follow any instructions you receive from the conference organizers regarding this. For instance, you may be asked to put the name of the conference on the outside of the envelope or receive a sticker designating the manuscript as one from a conference attendee. If you had any personal contact with the editor, it's a good idea to remind her of that. For instance, "We met at the recent SCBWI conference in New York after your presentation on Picture Book Humor and you said you would be interested in seeing my work."
- If you are writing to "Dear Editor" then go right into introducing your story. Your letter should include the following information:
- The title of your story: "I would like to submit the enclosed picture book manuscript Centipedes Play Soccer for your consideration."
- Take another sentence or two to indicate the age group for which you are writing and to briefly describe your story: "Centipedesis a humorous story for the early grades that emphasizes the joy of participating in sports. Even in the confusion of too many legs going in too many directions, Suzie Centipede and her friends manage to have a great time. When you're having so much fun cares who won?
- Why are you sending this manuscript to this particular publisher? The most obvious answers is that they are one of the few houses that still accept unsolicited submissions. However, even a little research on your part can do a lot to put yourself in an editor's good graces and save you from wasting your time. Go to the company's website and look at what books they've released recently. Many publishers will also send a hard copy catalog upon request. In addition, Publisher's Weekly puts out a special edition on upcoming children's books twice a year that lists books by publisher. Ask your local librarian if she has a copy. After you've done some research on publishers your letter can read something like this: "I've noticed that Snapdragon Press has published many books that use humor to teach children social skills. I believe my story would complement many of those on your list, especially Proud to Be a Slowpoke and Who's on First?
- In the next paragraph you can add something about yourself and your qualifications if you wish. If you have previously published work for children list it here. Likewise, if you have professional experience relevant to your book--say you're a teacher or coach, for example--you can mention that too. And what if children' s writing is a completely new field for you? Don't worry. Ultimately, your work must speak for itself.
- How long should your letter be? No more than one page. Remember, this is a brief introduction. Your purpose is to make the editor want to read your manuscript.
- Should you include an SASE? SASE stands for Self Addressed Stamped Envelope. Of course, if you are submitting by email, you do not need one. For many years publishers used the SASE to return unwanted manuscripts and/or a rejection letter depending on the size of the envelope. If you include an SASE and wish your manuscript back, be sure the envelope is large enough and includes enough postage. Publishers will not add postage to it. If you don't wish the manuscript itself back but still want a letter, use a business size envelope with a single stamp.
- When not to include an SASE? These days, many publishers are no longer responding to manuscripts unless they are interested. Read the submissions guidelines carefully. Publishers that do not use SASE's, often state they will respond within a certain time frame (usually 3-4 months) if interested in pursuing your submission. If you don't hear from them within that period you can safely assume your manuscript has been rejected.
- Should you submit the same manuscript to more than one publisher at the same time? Again, read the publisher's submission guidelines. If the guidelines indicate that multiple or "simultaneous" submissions are okay, you can send your story to other publishers. Some publishers, however, prefer to have manuscripts "exclusively." This means you should not send the story to another publisher until you have heard from the first one. What if they don't send rejections? How long should you wait? Most likely, the publisher will give you a window of time in the guidelines, saying something like, "We prefer to have manuscripts exclusively for three months." In that case, if you haven't heard from them after three months, you are free to submit elsewhere.
- Close your letter on an upbeat and courteous note. It's always a good idea to indicate that you have read the guidelines and are complying with them. "Thank-you for your time and attention. In accordance with your guidelines, I have included a business size SASE for your convenience." Or, "I understand that you will respond to me within three months if interested. Thank-you for your consideration. I hope to hear from you."
What should your letter look like. Here is a basic sample.
What should you do while you're waiting to hear from a publisher? Work on another manuscript. Publishing can be a slow process. That's why it's a good idea to have more than one story in the works.
WANT MORE COVER LETTERS?
This is only a bare-bones guide to writing a cover letter. If you want additional advice or variations on formatting, take a look at Harold Underdown's excellent The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, available in bookstores or at your library. Underdown includes many sample letters for manuscripts of all genres. You will no doubt find something that you can adapt to your own purposes in his book.
Hello again! Welcome to another post for
First-Time Picture Book Author Cover Letters, Exposed!
Today we will be interviewing the wonderfully talented Keila Dawson!
Keila is the first-time picture book author of The King Cake Baby, which is a hilarious fractured version of The Gingerbread Man story. In this version, Keila takes the story to New Orleans and centers it around a local custom during the Mardi Gras season where a plastic baby is hidden inside a king cake leaving everyone wondering who got the baby? In this retelling, the plastic baby runs away from an old woman before she has the chance to hide him in the king cake. The baby meets other characters in his French Quarter neighborhood and runs away from them too, until a clever baker catches him.
This story is really fun and unique! I love how creative Keila was with her retelling J
Hi Keila! Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. I really enjoyed reading your book.
Q: How long have you been writing books for children?
A: I started writing for the children’s book market approximately 6 months before Pelican Publishing acquired The King Cake Baby in June, 2013.
Wow! You work fast!!
Q: How many picture book manuscripts did you write/submit before The King Cake Baby?
A: The King Cake Baby was my first attempt at writing a children’s story. Over the years, I have enjoyed journaling about my travels and kids. Most recently I had two articles published for the adult market. One published in a genealogy journal and another in a magazine for expats about raising third culture kids. Before that, I wrote educational reports professionally.
Nailed it on the first try? Okay, now I’m a little jealous ;)
Q: Now that you are a published picture book author, do you still have to write cover letters?
A: I wrote a cover letter to accompany the manuscript I subbed to my publisher while in New Orleans for my debut book launch. I believe the cover letter is an important part of my writing process. I will often draft a hook or pitch before my manuscript is submission-ready.
That’s a really good idea.
Q: Do you hate writing cover letters as much as I do (I hate them about as much as I hate doing the laundry)?
A: I don’t mind writing cover letters, but I dislike doing the laundry! I prefer to work out my hook early in the writing process. The better I understand the story I want to tell - a main character + the problem or goal + obstacles or conflict or struggles faced + the resolution - the easier it is to convey that to others. This process helps me with revisions too. I’m either tweaking the hook or sticking to it, until the words and story are in sync. The other two parts, information about the book and comparative titles and finally what I think the publisher should know about me, the cook, is added later.
No wonder you hit the ground running!
Q: How many cover letters did you write for The King Cake Baby before you found that winning one?
A: I wrote three or four drafts.
Sounds about right :)
Q: What resources did you find helpful in writing your cover letter?
A: I read a lot of articles on how to write a query and a cover letter. The first online group I joined was Children’s Book Insiders (CBI). I then joined a wonderful local Society of Children’sBook Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) group, and members encouraged me to join the national organization where I found more about submissions. I found HaroldUnderdown’s site and other online sources.
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
Harold Underdown’s site
Query Letters That Worked
Great info! Thanks for sharing!Q: How many agents and/or publishers did you send the cover letter and manuscript to for The King Cake Baby before you found your publisher?
A: I did what a lot of newbies do! I subbed to seven or eight well known large publishing houses. Online research taught me how to look for submission guidelines on each publisher’s site, but I didn’t yet understand how to look at a publisher’s list to see if my manuscript fit. After joining a local SCBWI group, I met some wonderful authors who mentored me and taught me to look more closely at publishing houses and the type of books they publish. I learned that big was not necessarily better. My story was a good fit with Pelican, a regional publishing house based in Louisiana, but I waited since they required an exclusive submission. I remember thinking to myself that I would send my story out just one more time. And I’m so happy I did!
I think a lot of writers get caught in the big publisher trap instead of researching who would actually be a good fit for their book. We want the fame and fortune that we think will come with a big publishing house, but there are so many other great publishers and small presses out there!
Q: Are you currently working on any additional picture book manuscripts, or have any picture books scheduled for publication that we should look forward to?
A: I am always “working” on other ideas. But for me that doesn’t necessarily equate to writing. I don’t actually write every day, but I do think about what I have written or an idea I want to develop. I can spend days thinking about whether or not a word I’ve chosen to use is the best one. Or my work for the day may involve reading other picture books, working with my critique partners or participating in groups like JulieHedlund’s 12x12 Challenge or Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo or Susanna Hill’s PerfectPicture Book Fridays and Would-You-Read- It-Wednesdays.
I will let you know if the story I subbed in February made the cut. But if my manuscript is rejected, I know it comes with the territory. And it’s happened to the best in the industry so no regrets for trying.
Sounds a lot like my day :)
Q: Were these books finished before, during, or after The King Cake Baby?
A: Once I started learning, studying and actively participating in writing communities, story ideas came more easily to me. After the acquisition of The King Cake Baby, I wrote another fractured fairy tale also set in New Orleans. And I have many other stories in various stages of the revision process.
Thank you, Keila! It has been a delight getting to know you. Definitely keep us posted on your progress and we will keep an eye out for you online and in bookstores :)
And now, the incredibly rare, amazing, fantastic, stupendous…okay, okay. Here is Keila’s successful cover letter for The King Cake Baby!
This cover letter does a great job in letting the editor know right away that Keila knows what she is talking about. It is short, professional, and to the point.
See a pattern here?
Well, that’s all for today. You can read more and connect with Keila by following the links below.
NPR affiliate WVXU interview with Around Cincinnati host Lee Hay
Local author Keila Dawson talks about her first children's book, The King Cake Baby
Twitter: @keila_dawson Author Facebook email@example.com
Facebook: The King Cake Baby (Facebook page)
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/keiladawson
The King Cake Baby is available at Pelican, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other online retail stores.
http://www.pelicanpub.com/proddetail.php?prod=9781455620135#.VLxlqUfF9r0 http://www.amazon.com/King-Cake-Baby-Keila-Dawson/dp/1455620130 http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-king-cake-baby-keila-dawson/1120276062?ean=9781455620135
Stay tuned for our next post for First-Time Picture Book Author Cover Letters, Exposed! Coming in April. We will be interviewing First-Time Picture Book Author Peter McCleery!
Thanks for reading!