Example Cover Letter

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  • #454
    Philippa East
    Participant

    As requested, here is a copy of the cover letter I used on submission. It wasn’t actually the version I sent my now-agent Sarah Manning back in 2016, because I didn’t even know to write a proper cover letter the first time I went to FoW, but this is the one I was using when I formally submitted to agents in 2017.

    This one was for my one-to-one with Emma Finn. A couple of points:
    Some facts I knew from my research about Emma before submitting: she grew up in Lincolnshire, now lives in Brixton, and she has an MA in psychology.

    Emma commented that my blurb was a bit long and could be tightened, and I agree.

    Lastly. Ideally don’t make the mistake I did and mention *by name* other agents in your cover letter. I put Sarah’s actual name in, which I now know was a faux pas. Oops! Oh God, and I’ve just realised I also mention Sheila Crowley too!!! Oh man. I think the problem with this, is it makes agents not want to tread on anyone else’s toes, so they may be less keen to express their own interest.

    ___________________

    Dear Emma,

    I’m delighted to send you the opening chapters and synopsis of my 92K word novel Here Ends an Abduction, a suspenseful psychological drama about a family reunited with their missing child seven years after her abduction.

    I saw in your C+W profile that you’re interested in books about universal human experiences such as love and loss, relationships and vulnerabilities, as well as stories about families. I hope you will also enjoy the psychological underpinnings of this novel, drawn from my work as a Clinical Psychologist. In general, I think the novel might appeal to readers of books such as A Song for Issy Bradley, Truly Madly Guilty and The Girls.

    In 2001, amidst the chaos of a London Tube crush, Jess’s eight-year-old cousin was abducted. The loss has haunted Jess ever since. The girls grew up like twins: hand-in-hand, breath-for-breath playmates; now Jess’s days are waterlogged with an endless, painful longing: If only Nancy would come home. But when wishes come true, when the worst is over, what then? Seven years on and miraculously Nancy has been found. Or someone has. No longer the glimmering playmate of Jess’s childhood, Nancy returns a stranger: a rebellious and restless teenager shaped by the dark influences of her abductor Cassingham. But is it Cassingham whom Jess and her family should still be most afraid of, or is it Nancy herself – a girl so damaged and ellusive – whom Jess should now most mistrust? Meanwhile, deep within the family lies an agonising secret: the wounding seed of division sown before Nancy’s abduction ever took place.

    Last October I tweeted this book on #PitchCB, and received a ‘like’ and some very encouraging feedback from agent Sheila Crowley. In December I submitted Here Ends an Abduction for the Writing East Midlands mentorship scheme and was thrilled to be awarded a place. I’ve since been editing the novel under the guidance of author Judith Allnatt.

    After a stint in South London, I’m now settled in Lincolnshire where I practise as a Clinical Psychologist. My psychology background has always influenced my writing and this novel is particularly shaped by my work with survivors of childhood trauma. I also write short stories, published in magazines such as Fictive Dream, Brittle Star and The Lampeter Review. My recent successes include 2nd prize in the Fiction Desk Ghost Story competition, and joining For Books’ Sake’s ‘Hall of Fame’ alongside authors such as Ann Patchett and Carys Bray.

    I’ve recently sent Here Ends an Abduction to a small number of other agents, and the full manuscript is currently with Sarah Manning. However I’d absolutely love it if you were interested, so I’m excited to hear what you think. Thank-you so much for your time in considering my work and I look forward to meeting you soon.

    Yours sincerely

    Philippa East

    —————-

    #466
    Hilary
    Participant

    I didn’t know that mentioning other agents by name was a no-no. How did you find out? Did they tell you?

    #472
    Philippa East
    Participant

    I’ve read and heard elsewhere (agent podcasts or something). I think it’s because they all sort of know each other and are friends, and it just makes it a bit awkward for them. They don’t want to feel they are in competition with each other.

    #1884
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    Hi @philippaeast
    I’m sure it hasn’t done any harm, and you’ve probably corrected it now, but it’s ‘elusive’, not ellusive’.

    Is this the novel Sarah asked to be dual pov?

    • This reply was modified 3 years ago by Alan Rain.
    #1888
    Philippa East
    Participant

    Hi @alanr,

    Nice typo spot! Man, there’s always one (or 12).

    Yes, this is the novel I’ve now rewritten in dual POV. The original version I was peddling here was too much of a coming-of-age story and (in Sarah’s words) “not twisty enough”. Cue complete rewrite!

    Though, as I’ve mentioned before, the suggested changes simply helped me get it closer to what I’d always intended it to be anyway.

    #1891
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    You know, since I read that cover letter earlier this afternoon, a memory has resurfaced, and it’s of familiarity with your work. I think, quite some time ago, I read an opening chapter about a Tube crash and a young girl that could have been Jess or Nancy.
    I can’t remember when, or the circumstances, or the writing site. It might have been in the earlier days of the Cloud when it was simply the WW forum.
    I also don’t remember if I said anything to you after I’d read it.
    Of course, if your novel is recent, I’m mistaken, and confusing it with another story.
    How interesting.
    Btw, dual povs are the best – mine’s like this.

    #1892
    Philippa East
    Participant

    Nice one! What is your book about?? Don’t think you’ve told me yet.

    Not sure it was mine you read. No tube crash in mine (just a tube crush). only started it in 2015 too. I wonder whose story it was!

    #1896
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    Ah, the difference is the crash / crush. The story I read was def. the former and it was long before 2015, so certainly not yours.

    My novel is about a manananggal possession.

    This is my current cover letter:

    Dear xxxxx xxxxxx,
    I’m pleased to submit the opening 50 pages of my completed first novel, AnGal, a supernatural of 137,500 words, which I would describe as upmarket, borderline literary fiction. I’m writing to you specifically because of the close match between my novel and your preferences. I am choosing agents with care, and have only contacted two others.

    The manananggal is a mythical, winged half-woman that feeds on its victim’s life force. Galina, a young Filipina possessed by a manananggal, flees her village for the squalid, neon-lit streets of Manila. There she meets James, an English aid worker, and Rozee, the girl he rescued from the aftermath of a typhoon years before. Both are inexorably drawn to Galina, but as attraction turns to obsession, all three find themselves in irreversible danger.

    I started writing this novel when I was living in the Philippines. I had experiences there that aren’t easily explained. I also encountered the fears of the local people for this malign spirit. It became my goal to convey that mystery, together with an acute and appropriate sense of dread. It’s a novel that I believe would lie close to Susan Hill’s Dolly, where the supernatural is finely woven into the fabric of the story, and the result is both implacable and inescapable.

    I’m happily retired, and have been able to devote time to fine-tuning this novel while planning the next. I also write poetry, formal and free format, and believe this helps me to refine my prose. I’m currently working through a proofreading course.

    Thank you for your consideration. I hope you find the extract and synopsis stimulating, and I look forward to hearing from you.
    Yours,
    Alan Rain

    Philippa, please let me know if you think it could be improved.

    • This reply was modified 3 years ago by Alan Rain.
    #1900
    Philippa East
    Participant

    Hi @alanr,

    Ooo, thanks for sharing! I like the sound of these supernatural elements, and the interplay between your three main characters. I was just thinking today about then book “Ice” by Anna Kavan. I think yours has similarities to this too.

    Okay, I’ve dived straight in and edited, as I see fit. Feel free to disagree with any or all of my suggestions. I am not holding back, so appreciate some of my thoughts won’t hit the mark.

    Dear xxxxx xxxxxx,
    I’m pleased to submit the opening 50 pages of my novel AnGal, a 100k word supernatural thriller. Set in the Philippines, the book centres on the manananggal, a mythical, winged half-woman that feeds on its victim’s life force.

    I’m writing to you specifically because of the close match between my novel and your preferences [obviously you can specify these for each agent]. More generally, it’s a novel that I believe would lie close to Susan Hill’s Dolly [can you include 1-2 other contemporary comp titles?]

    When Galina, a young Filipina, is possessed by a manananggal [this sounds exciting! Could you elaborate this plot point a little more?], she flees her village for the squalid, neon-lit streets of Manila. There she meets James, an English aid worker, and Rozee, the girl he rescued from the aftermath of a typhoon years before. Both are inexorably drawn to Galina, but as attraction turns to obsession, all three find themselves in irreversible danger.

    I started writing this novel when I was living in the Philippines, where I encountered the fears of the local people for this malign spirit. Now based in X, I’m happily retired and can dedicate my time to writing. As well as fiction, I also write poetry, formal and free format. I am a member of an active online writing group and attend the York Festival of Writing [is that right?!] I’m also currently working through a proofreading course.

    Thank you for your consideration. I hope you enjoy what you read and look forward to hearing from you.
    Yours,
    Alan Rain

    #1901
    Philippa East
    Participant

    To explain my changes:

    Para 1: what kind of book
    You sound a bit waffly on genre. I’ve tried to make it more specific, avoid the term ‘borderline literary’, and simply give your nice elevator pitch upfront. I think your setting is a real USP so I’ve got that in upfront too.

    I fear an agent will freak at your word count! Books above 100k words are HARD to sell (coz they are more expensive for publishers to print). Don’t give agents a reason to reject you right out of the gate. You might need to trim your MS…

    Para 2: why might the book appeal and who to
    I’ve moved some phrases around to focus on this: why the agent might like it, and which readers might like it. Supernatural (ghosts at least) is a bit of a trend at present, so hopefully you can find some more comp titles.

    Para 3: blurb
    I like your blurb and have pointed out where you could add some interesting detail. We could probably work to make this zing even more.

    Para 4: about me and my writing
    I’ve taken out bits where you are being a bit vague or ‘mysterious’. The agent doesn’t have time for that!

    I think it’s better to ‘show not tell’ when it comes to showcasing the quality of your writing and your abilities as a writer. So I’ve replaced your descriptions of your own style, intentions etc with evidence that hopefully shows your knowledge and practice of the craft. Let the work you’ve put in and your writing speak for itself.

    Para 5: sign off
    Be careful of hoping the agent is stimulated! Maybe just ‘enjoy’ 🙂

    Saying you are only subbing to two other agents might sound unusually picky (agent thought: “picky people are hard to work with”). Maybe round off by saying something like ‘I have sent submissions to a select handful of other agents’. The point is simply to inform the agent that you have approached others, in the interests of transparency.

    Phew! I hope the above is helpful. I think your book has some great selling points, and it sounds really original. I’m certainly curious.

    #1902
    Elle
    Participant

    Philippa if you ever want a side writing-business I suggest a cover letter consultancy/critique service.

    #1903
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    Hi again, Philippa,

    You’ve been really helpful and thorough here. Thanks so much.

    I’m waffly about the genre because I can’t pin it down. I looked up ‘Ice’ and notice it’s described as slipstream (the fiction of strangeness). I think slipstream could fit mine, maybe more so than thriller. It’s been said that AnGal is a book like no other (also by Joanna Barnard, who critiqued it), so I really ought to play on that. The comparison to Dolly is very apt because in both we’re asked to believe in the outrageous in a perfectly natural setting with down-to-earth characters. And in mine the outrageous is believable, because there is always an alternative and logical answer to everything strange.

    The word count: Joanna said I should try to cut, but admitted there was no fat that could easily be cut. Since it was critiqued I’ve managed to lose 2000 words, so 137,500 is about as low as I can get without distorting the plot, or short-changing the characters, both of which I can’t do. And, I do think it’s better to be straight in the cover letter. It’s a dilemma, because I agree I could be putting off potential interest.

    I’m going to include your ideas in a revised version. Yes, zing. That’s what my current letter doesn’t do.
    Thanks again.
    And if you want any 2nd opinions, just ask.

    #1904
    Philippa East
    Participant

    You’re welcome. Good luck!

    #1917
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    Hi @philippaeast
    Here’s my revised letter:

    Dear xxxxx xxxx,
    I’m pleased to submit the opening 10k words of my novel, AnGal, a 137,500 word supernatural / slipstream thriller. Set in the Philippines, its focus is the manananggal, a mythical, winged half-woman that grows within the one possessed.

    I’m writing to you specifically because of the match between your preferences and my novel. I believe AnGal would lie alongside Susan Hill’s Dolly and John Boyne’s This House is Haunted, while its unsettling originality would put it in close proximity to Anna Kavan’s Ice.

    Following an attempted rape, Galina, a young Filipina possessed by a manananggal, flees her remote village for the squalid, neon-lit streets of Manila. There she meets James, an English aid worker, and Rozee, the girl he rescued from the aftermath of a typhoon years before. Both are inexorably drawn to Galina, but as attraction turns to obsession, all three find themselves in irreversible danger.

    I started writing this novel in the Philippines, where I encountered first-hand the fears of the local people for this malign spirit. I also had experiences there that defy explanation. Now based in England, I’m happily retired, and able to devote time to writing. I also write poetry, formal and free format, and have contributed to online writing groups. I’m currently planning my second novel and working through a proofreading course.

    Thank you for your consideration. I hope you enjoy what you read and look forward to hearing from you.

    Yours,
    Alan Rain

    It may still lack zing, but I think – thanks to your help – it reads better(?)

    #1927
    Philippa East
    Participant

    Hi @alanr

    I think this definitely sounds clearer and more focused, well done. You sound like you understand your own book, because you have described it clearly in para 1.

    Couple of thoughts for the blurb bit (the bit we want to “zing”) – given that the book centres around the manananggal, I am curious to know how Galina becomes possessed… Could you put in an initial sentence to set this up? Currently it reads that Galina “just so happens” to be possessed – on other words, her possession serves only as a backdrop to the story, rather than as an active plot-point. Can you give us some kind of insight into how the possession took place? Can you make a hook out of that too?

    Also – “There she meets…” This phrases lack conflict or drama. Can you “zing” this up?

    The last line of your blurb is nice and zing-y: it has conflict and a sense of rising tension built into it, due to the juxtaposition of the protagonist(s)’s motivation (attraction to Galina) and key obstacle (increasing obsession).

    I think your letter is working pretty well overall. What do you reckon?

    #1935
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    Hi Philippa,

    Yes, I think this version is considerably better, and the point you make about when the possession occurs is a good one.
    The trick is condensing a fairly comprehensive physiology. I’ve made the manananggal a species that can reproduce, rather than a single entity. Galina is first possessed in her mother’s womb, and the spirit lies dormant until her menarche, although Galina doesn’t she’s possessed until the attempted rape.
    I’ll deal with the bits that still drag.
    Great stuff. You’re a star.

    #2029
    Philippa East
    Participant

    Hi @alanr,

    Great! That makes sense. I think all of the points you make about how the manananggal operates within Galina could be turned into a great hook in your blurb, while also satisfactorily answering the agent’s burning question of ‘how does this possession thing work?’

    A final couple of super-picky points.

    I would be wary of ‘selling’ your MS on the basis of its ‘originality’. Agents see THOUSANDS of submissions a year so the chances of never having seen anything like yours is unlikely. Agents get this ‘orignality’ claim all the time in subs letters. Given that it tends not to be true, it suggests that the author is not well read and / or doesn’t understand how well read the agent is! or… if the MS is TRULY original, then potentially it will be a nightmare for the agent to sell.

    What do you want the agent to take from this line: “I also had experiences there that defy explanation.” It sounds like you are throwing down challenge to the agent, or at the very least inviting counter argument from them, when you want to be in amicable agreement.

    I know I’m nit-picking now, but boy, do those agents make decisions quickly and the smallest thing can mean they pass.

    #2098
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    Hi @philippaeast, I’m half-way through ‘Ice’ and yes, there are some similarities in how hallucinatory passages flow in and out of the reality.
    What did you think of it?
    I’m thinking it’s the result of a troubled mind. And the style – sentence fragments, arbitrary punctuation, vagueness – isn’t for me, tbh. Interesting that in my kindle version the text: “In a peculiar way, the unreality of the outer world appeared to be an extension of my own disturbed state of mind.” (p.67) is actually underlined, as if the publisher wanted to make a point.

    Still, it’s a good starting point to explore other comparative novels.

    Haha – yes, you’re probably right – better not challenge agents, or try to stimulate them.

    • This reply was modified 3 years ago by Alan Rain.
    #2102
    Philippa East
    Participant

    Hi Alan,

    I really enjoyed “Ice” although it is a very strange book. Worth reading to the end though, if you can.

    Yes, my understanding is that Anna Kavan struggled with various problems, including depression and addictions.

    It’s probably a bit of an old and obscure novel to use as a comp title, but hope it will lead to other relevant books

    #2103
    Philippa East
    Participant

    BTW I think your book DOES sound very original! Setting, the manananggal etc…. My point was that it is best to ‘show’ this through your blurb and chapters, rather state this claim directly.

    #2131
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    Anyone read any Galley Beggar Press Books?

    #2174
    Philippa East
    Participant

    Not yet… although I think I started Francis Plug: How to Be a Public Author.

    I like the sound of them as a publisher, if you’re going for the literary / experimental end of the spectrum.

    #2176
    Elle
    Participant

    The only book I read from them was Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, which is very experimental, stream of consciousness prose but I loved it (I just love her as an author)

    #2177
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    I was at the FoW18 literary talk run by Galley Beggar Press, and was impressed by their focus on prose. Not sure if mine is quite what they’re looking for, but I’m interested to try. They do stipulate in their submission guidelines that you need to have read existing books they’ve published, so I have Anthony Trevelyan’s ‘Weightless World’ on order, and I’m sure I’ve seen ‘A Girl is a Half-formed thing’ in the local library. And just to further tempt me, they have a submission slot coming up in November.
    Btw, if you go to their website you can read the opening chapter of some of their books.

    I’m trying hard to reduce my word count. Even though I’ve already done multiple edits, I can still find words that aren’t absolutely necessary. They may be odd words in twos and threes, but they all add up. What I can’t do is cut whole passages. Not yet. Not unless it’s a matter of ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

    #2178
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    @elle, crossed with you. Yes, I must try Eimear McBride. I’m a very self-disciplined writer, the type who procrastinates over a comma, and who might benefit from loosened chains.

    #2181
    Elle
    Participant

    Hi Alan,

    Regarding Galley Beggar, I think you might want to double check but I believe they only accept literary fiction so no genre fiction (commercial, fantasy, horror, etc…) so if your novel is a paranormal fiction I don’t believe it is something they publish.

    #2183
    Alan Rain
    Participant

    @elle,
    Most likely they won’t, but not because my novel is commercial. I describe it as supernatural / slipstream / literary (and too long for commercial).
    I’ll comment more when I’ve read some of their published books, and I think ‘Half-formed Girl’ isn’t necessarily typical.

    #2188
    Elle
    Participant

    Sorry for the misunderstanding when I meant commercial, supernatural, etc… I meant submission in general not your novel in particular.

    The prose is not typical however the story in itself is just the story of an Irish girl growing up in the 60s and her relationship with her sick brother. Just let me know what you think once you’ve read it. My favourite book of hers is The Lesser Bohemians but it wasn’t published by Galley Beggar.

    #2214
    Philippa East
    Participant

    Hi @Alanr
    Sounds like a plan. My understanding of the “read our books before you submit” guideline is to help prospective authors determine whether their own MS would be a good fit. I’m sure you’ll quickly work this out by consuming a few of their titles to see if your own seems similar in style and flavour. Good luck!

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