When it came to querying publishers and literary agencies, I was surprised to discover how specialised they each were – Apparently no one size fits all. Each has areas of focus and preferences for the types of books they represent. Their submission guidelines vary too. However, in general, most publishers and agents require a cover letter, synopsis and sample pages of the manuscript.
A fair amount of preparatory work was required in producing the draft cover letter. Here are a few learnings I picked up:
1. The first step was to clarify the book’s genre. De’Angelo’s Orchestra is a modern love story with a dark, thriller-like edge. So I had to find agents who represented commercial women’s fiction, romance, and cross-genre novels. Based on that search criteria, I drew up a list of agencies to query.
2. The cover letter is the interface between the writer and agent. A positive first impression will encourage the agent to peruse the sample chapters. So it has to look and sound professional and clearly show you’ve done your research. Make it short and to the point allowing the synopsis and sample chapters to do the talking.
3. In the opening line explain why you have chosen to submit to that particular agent and why the novel might appeal to them. Then provide a ‘hook’ or ‘elevator speech’ for the book. This is a very brief synopsis. As a rule of thumb it should be no more than a couple of lines. The purpose of the hook is to entice the agent to read the submission. Too much description is unnecessary in the cover letter if you are submitting a full synopsis as well.
4. Then in a sentence or two provide the background and setting of the novel and explain why you wrote it. Here it is useful to include your inspiration for the story and personal experience of the subject matter.
5. Mention your educational background, particularly courses/qualifications relevant to writing. Any previous publications would also be beneficial in building credibility.
6. Clarify whether the manuscript is complete and the total number of words. Do also mention whether the book is a one-off or part of a series.
7. It is helpful to outline the target audience of the book. One can also mention similar books in the market to indicate potential readership.
8. I was asked by a couple of agents where I saw De’Angelo’s Orchestra sitting on the shelves in the book stores. It is important to clarify this point when dealing with cross genres.
9. And finally, don’t forget to provide your contact details.
Once the draft cover letter is done it is simply a matter of tailoring it according to the submission guidelines of the target agencies/publishers.