Friday, January 25, 2008

Cover Letter Critiques, Part Two

Helen and Christine, thanks for being brave and letting us tear your letter apart! Email Martha@ellorascave.com to let her know what ebook you'd like as your prize.

Submission Cover Letter #3:
Dear Ms Gorlinsky,

{TITLE} is a 120 000 word otherworld quest fantasy romance about Irini, a Healer and Kouncellor from the magical land of Thassos. She and her Keepers are on a quest to find the hidden ‘E’on Kyklonn’ (the chalice of life) before their rival. Throwing her plans into disarray is the unexpected reunion with her ex-lover Prince Andros of Nikeon. Their roles as Kouncellor and Prince must come first as the quest eventually takes them in separate directions, both filled with danger. They must find their way back to each other, learn to be honest, and learn to let go of the past.

This tale witnesses Irini’s rebirth both emotionally and physically, as she finally fulfils her destiny and finds the peace and forgiveness eluding her (the core theme being - "forgiving one’s self is harder than forgiving others.")

I have included the full manuscript for your consideration as well as a detailed synopsis. [I would tailor this to the publisher’s/agent’s guidelines.] Please find enclosed a SASE and international reply coupons for your reply. As for the manuscript, please shred/destroy if you do not accept. Alternatively you can email me at {email} for your reply.

I’ve had three short stories published in the Australian magazine {MAGNAME} and two in the anthology, {TITLE}. I use my training as a librarian in the researching and world building of my stories.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

MARY A:
“Otherworld quest fantasy romance” is a bit of a mouthful, and not entirely necessary. Cover letters are like editor pitches—you want to convey the basic information in a quick and seamless way, often using mutually understood shorthand. While I understood what you were saying, it is clunky and didn’t have that immediate mental connection, so it’s not quite right.

One of my first thoughts when reading the brief book summary was “Oh, hmm, the hero and heroine are separated for some time.” This is where a tighter genre definition would help you. If it was first and foremost a fantasy with romantic elements, I wouldn’t be bothered by that. If it was first and foremost a romance with fantasy elements, this would be an immediate red flag and I would continue reading the synopsis and manuscript with a slight prejudice already forming. Make sure you’re very clear what your story is so you can avoid this.

I was impressed by your final paragraphs. I really like that you mentioned world building specifically, as it’s so very important in fantasy.


MACKENZIE:
I started to lose interest in the blurb before I was done reading it, so it could use some shortening. There are a few grammatical issues that may be attributed to the writer being from a different country, but even still, this letter could use some editing, as there a few definite grammar issues. (Misplaced commas, etc.) The accomplishments listed at the end are appropriate. All in all, it’s a pretty boring letter and could use a little something to really get me interested in the writer.

I do like that this letter illustrates some issues with submitting a manuscript by mail, and I also like that she notes that she’s included a SASE and international reply coupons, which is really important when dealing with snail mail. I was mildly irked at the instruction to shred or destroy the manuscript if it’s not accepted. It doesn’t make me hate the writer of the letter or anything, but my knee jerk reaction was that it came off as a little bossy.


RAELENE:
The blurb did not grab me -- in fact, it turned me off. It doesn't actually tell me much about the plot of the story, it is overburdened with "foreign" words, and it hit my annoyance button immediately with the silly Kouncellor. And Kouncellor/Keepers/Kykllon within one and a half sentences -- kut it out. Save the odd words for the story itself; in this blurb, just say they are on a quest for the chalice of life. And tell me WHY they are doing that, and what it leads them into -- in just a few sentences, of course. A better story blurb should also clear up my confusion about whether this is primarily a romance or mainly a fantasy-quest story.

The common method for letting the editor/agent know you don't need the rejected manuscript back is to put "Manuscript return not requested" on the top of the first page.

Points to you for listing the length of the story, and your previous publication credits.

Submission Cover Letter #4:
To Whom It May Concern:

{TITLE} is a contemporary erotic romance, approximately 60,000 words in length.

Thirty-something kindergarten teacher, Lindy Whittaker is running out of time. Her biological clock is ticking and with each turn of the calendars page she is in danger of losing her beloved family home. When Steven Hamilton hints about marriage, she believes both her prayers have been answered. He's handsome, financially stable and he adores her. But when former boytoy Michael "Mac" MacIntyre comes to town, will memories of their passionate fling ruin all of Lindy’s well-laid plans? Will she find love in stability or in passion? And will the choice she makes lead her into blissful happiness or terrifying danger?

{TITLE} is a sensual novel set in modern day Tennessee. It has a Southern flavor and will entice even the most discerning romance reader with it's humor and sexual escapades.
An RWA member in good standing, I have several completed and partial manuscripts. In 1997, I had a non-fiction article appear in the October Issue of {Magazine}. My historical romance, {ANOTHER TITLE}, finaled number one in it's category in the {CONTEST}. Under the pseudonym "{AKA}", {PUBLISHER} released a pair of my erotic short stories in June and an erotic novella in July. Finally, I am owner/moderator of my own Yahoo! critique group, specializing in the romance genre.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

MARY A:
Be more meticulous with proofreading and editing. The cover letter is your first impression, and it is very important that you not ruin it with mistakes (even very minor ones). I’m far more likely to notice minute errors in a cover letter than I am when reading the submissions package—and far less likely to be forgiving of the ones I do find.

I mentioned this in an earlier critique, but here it is again—questions in a blurb are not wrong, but they are a bit dated. There are other, punchier ways to end a blurb. “Entice even the most discerning romance reader” earned a bit of an eye roll. It sounds forced to me.

Otherwise, you give the necessary information up front and were fairly concise with your credentials, though I wonder what the military history article has to do with the book you are offering for consideration.


Mackenzie:
Content-wise, this is a pretty nondescript cover letter. It doesn’t exactly force my attention, but it’s not terribly written. Opinions will differ over whether including a blurb is a good thing or not, but this one isn’t too bad, though it does end in the clich├ęd question. Also, it’s followed up by what feels like superfluous summary. The accomplishments noted toward the end make sense for someone submitting a romance manuscript, even the note about the published non-fiction article—if any writing is good enough to be published, it’s good to note. As a whole, the letter could be jazzed up a little.

But here’s something that really needs to be fixed, especially as the letter is going to be read by an editor—there are grammatical issues. I spotted the use of “it’s” rather than “its” immediately, and from there I was looking for more errors as I was reading the letter when I should have been giving my full attention to the content. It’s good to have another pair of eyes look letters over before they’re sent out to make sure these kinds of errors are caught.


RAELENE
I dislike "To Whom It May Concern". At least say "Dear Editor".

Not a bad letter. I wouldn't kick it out for eating crackers in bed. But it wasn't enticing enough that I'd invite it into bed to start with. The blurb has no hook, it reads like a thousand identical category romances. What is different about your story? What is the twist? And why did you end the blurb with questions?

OVERALL:
~ Reasonably good but not great letters, contain the important information and aren't cluttered with extraneous stuff.
~ Proofread! An cover letter should have absolutely no typos or errors.
~ Better blurbs are critical. The blurb is what makes the editor/agent think "Oh, this sounds intriguing, I want to read it right away," versus "Hmm, sounds like it might be okay, I'll put it on my huge stack to read when I get some spare time."

5 comments:

Sarabeth said...

Is ending a blurb with a question that terrible?

I ask because the blurbs on the back of many romance novels end with questions frequently. Why is this off-putting for editors?

Aimless Writer said...

Question: I have no publishing credits so the part where you should put that in always scares me. I write newsletters for a couple of groups, political ads in town but haven't had anything else published lately. (a while ago a personal essay & poem)
Can I just leave that part out???
I do have some very nice rejection letters with personal comments. :) I don't suppose those are worth anything. LOL (just kidding)

TherapistWriter said...

Dear Editors,
I've just found your blog and find it very interesting. Is it too late to submit a query letter for critique?

ECPI Editors said...

One editor's opinions:

To Sarabeth: The blurb in the cover letter is similar to but not the same as the blurb that would go on the back of the book. The editor/agent wants to know more about the story, not a hanging ending. So questions aren't necessarily "wrong", but it would be better to make a statement about the story.

To aimless writer: You could put in a statement that you write organization newsletters--phrase it to show that you do have writing experience, are used to working on deadline, are organized.

To therapistwriter: Yes, you can still submit your submission cover letter. We will do two letters every couple of weeks. See http://redlinesanddeadlines.blogspot.com/2007/11/cover-letter-critiques.html.

Raelene

Shopnerkotha said...

I also have few question like them But overall its a nice article.I am looking for a essay witer.