Mind Your Cs and Qs - part one

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Today I'm talking about Query and Cover letters--including requests for guidelines and catalogs.

HOMEWORK TO DO BEFORE YOU WRITE THE QUERY OR COVER LETTER

(This information is aimed at those submitting directly to a book publisher or magazine themselves. If you're using an agent, what's in the query or cover letter is the same, but you will be researching the agent, not the houses or magazines. Note: agents generally do not handle magazine submissions.)

Have the most recent market lists (SCBWI puts one out annually for members) and market books (Writer's Digest Book's Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market - www.cwim.com, Institute of Children's Literature's Book Markets for Children's Writers and Magazine Markets for Children's Writers - http://www.writersbookstore.com/BooksonWritingforChildren.htm) and make notes when you hear of editorial or submission policy changes.

See if submission or writer's guidelines are available on the internet. You may want to save them on your computer, print them out and/or bookmark the site. If not available on line, write a letter to the publisher requesting guidelines. Keep it simple: Please send me your writer's guidelines for AAA BOOKS. I have enclosed a self-addressed stamped envelope for your convenience. You can often pick up guidelines at conferences, too.

  • Write the date you received/downloaded on the guidelines themselves so you'll
  • know how current they are.
  • File guidelines so you can locate them when needed.
  • Perhaps, mark in your market book that you have this publisher's guidelines.

Know what kinds of books or magazine pieces are appropriate for this publisher.

  • Editors really hate getting picture book submissions when they only publish novels, etc. More than that, you need to know the flavor of a publishing house. i.e. If they only do edgy material and yours is not, you're wasting your time and theirs.
  • Go to the library and/or bookstore and look at what a specific publisher has published recently, which leads to the next point . . .
  • Catalogs! Check websites to see if a publisher has an online catalog. Pick paper catalogs up at conferences. Ask bookstores for any extra copies they have--last spring's is better than nothing! Write a letter requesting a catalog, again keep it simple, but abide by what the market book says on what you send with it. i.e. Please send me your most recent catalog for BB BOOKS. I have enclosed $3.00 and a self-addressed stamped envelope for your convenience.
  • You may want to indicate in your market book that you have a publisher's catalog.

Know something about the editor of the publishing house. Have you heard him or her speak? Read interviews written by them or their blog or followed them on twitter? Each of these will give you some insight. Is she into paranormal or sick of it? Does he like humor or serious fiction? At the very least researching an editor will help you get title and name correct.

Have your story written, critiqued, rewritten until ready to go. Never send something the moment you hit the end. If you belong to a critique group, great. If not, consider doing so. At the very least, let your material sit a while (weeks, months) so you can come back to it fresh. Read it aloud. Consider reading self-editing tips (in books or online). Rewrite. Let it sit again. Repeat as necessary.

QUERY & COVER LETTERS

Q: What's the difference between a query letter and a cover letter?

A query is sent without the full manuscript. It's a letter sent to the editor asking her if she would like to request a partial or full manuscript (or rest of manuscript) to read. What you send depends on the house's or magazine's writer's guidelines.

A cover letter is an introduction letter sent on top of a manuscript, similar to a letter that goes with a résumé. The full manuscript is right there for the editor to read.

Why you'd choose one over the other . . .

The former is an easier way to reach more markets at once. Many novel publishers want a query with 1 or 3 chapters, or 5 -10 page - always send first chapter(s) or page(s). Nonfiction often requires a book proposal.

Picture books are usually sent with a cover letter. Many magazines do not want to be queried either. Some editors want to see the complete manuscript for a novel. In any of these cases, you'll use a cover letter.

The wrinkle of electronic submissions . . . Queries and cover letters can be sent electronically, at least if that is something the magazine or house wants. Some guidelines will say "no attachments" and want all text pasted into the email. Others will accept attachments, but will tell you they must be in Word.

You must read the guidelines to see what an editor, house or magazine wants in their submissions.

Q: Okay, I've decided not to query. Should I always send a cover letter with my submission?

2 views . . .

I don't. The reasons I do are: 1. The magazine requests manuscripts with a cover letter. 2. I have more information I want them to know (i.e. why I wrote the piece, or my submission fits a theme). 3. It might be pertinent for them to know my other writing experience and I don't think a full résumé is needed.

What one editor says: "As an editor, I did find submissions that lacked a cover letter a bit rude, like a phone caller who doesn't bother saying hello or identifying themselves before launching into the conversation." - Jacqueline K. Ogburn former children's book editor

Next entry, I'll go into more details on the specifics of a query letter.

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