Friday, January 11, 2008

Cover Letter Critique Part 1

Our editors have been diligently reviewing and critiquing submission cover letters sent in. (See We've selected two for today, suitably disguised, and will be doing more in a few weeks.

WINNERS! Marie and Nancy! Thanks for your bravery in playing with us. You know who you are (well, we hope you recognize your own letter!) - please email and tell her which Ellora's Cave, Cerridwen Press or The Lotus Circle ebook you would like as your prize.

Letter the First:

Dear (Editor's name):

“A thousand thanks for freeing me at last. What does my beautiful mistress wish as a reward?”

Jayne let the ancient oil lamp drop from her nerveless fingers. It rolled harmlessly on the rug and stopped at the feet of the gorgeous, gray-eyed man who had definitely not been standing in her bedroom a moment ago...

In my new romantica novella, {Title}, when JAYNE GIDEON buys an antique oil lamp off eBay she accidentally releases a muscular, bare-chested, sinfully sexy djinn (MARID) from his long, celibate captivity. Ferociously attracted to his curvy, sweet new mistress, the djinn insists on granting her sensual whims – even ones she wasn’t aware she had before falling into his strong hands. But when Marid captures her into the world of his lamp where their roles are reversed with he the master and she his slave girl, her every erotic wish is finally fulfilled...

For a bit of background on myself, I'm an RWA member. One of my other romantica novellas recently took first place in the {contest name} erotica/romantica category judged by EC's very own Raelene Gorlinsky. I also finaled recently in {another contest name} that is still in progress and under review by a panel of experts that also includes Ms.Gorlinsky (she's everywhere!).

In other writing, I'm a published children's author {title} and I'm a previous winner of The Walt Disney Fellowship in Screenwriting. Also, my original American Film Institute short film that I wrote and directed starred {name} ({film title} is available at iTunes).

I look forward to your thoughts on {Title} and I sincerely thank you for your time.

Best regards,
{Real Name} writing as {Pen Name}

So, advice from editors:

~ Mackenzie: This cover letter is very chatty and friendly without being too casual. Author gives a good listing of genuinely impressive resume blips that relate to writing. The excerpt and summary are short and just enough to grab my attention and intrigue me without giving a point by point plot. The letter as a whole is short, but packs enough in there that it doesn’t seem lacking. I’d definitely say this is a successful cover letter.

~ Nick: I’d advise against starting a cover letter with an excerpt. Aside from that, this particular one was borderline purple not very attention-grabby — if you must include an excerpt, make it count. (Still, as an editor I’d be more interested in knowing the story’s genre and other critical information right away). Nevertheless, the synopsis was fairly concise while being straightforward and informative.

I have no objection to listing awards the author has won, especially since in this case there are quite a few. Listing publishing history is also good — although the author might want to consider their relevance to the specific submission. For instance, she is published as a children’s author and is submitting an erotic romance, so the success of one wouldn’t necessarily reflect on the other. (I’d say the same if the author was a multipublished cookbook author, or had published several volumes of poetry.) Nevertheless, I was impressed by her mention of the short film she wrote and directed that starred {actor}. It’s unique and distinctive enough to make the author’s work sound interesting. Again, it doesn’t really relate to erotic romance, but one’s mileage may vary. (For instance, sometimes name-dropping works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s all in how it’s done.)

Lastly, it’s a small point, but I always appreciate when an author thanks me for my time.

~ Mary: For the most part, this was a very strong letter. You’re personable without being chatty and you let us know most of the basic information. A few points to consider:

1) I tend to vacillate over whether or not I like book quotes in cover letters. You certainly chose a good one — it encapsulates the basic idea of the book and has a sense of romance. In this case, it works for me. In most cases, it doesn’t. Authors should be careful when opening letters this way, only choosing to quote from the book if the (very short!) section is punchy, interesting and relevant to the main hook.
2) Ferociously attracted earned a laugh. I’d recommend something a touch less over-the-top. Sexy impact words are good, but there’s a fine line there.
3) “Captures her into the world of his lamp” is awkward and stilted. Try rewording.
4) “For a bit of background on myself” is just awkward filler. Start by saying that you’re an RWA member and for how long you’ve been active — we’ll know that you’re talking about yourself. I loved the industry experience, though. It’s unique and yet relevant.
5) I like the personal touch of “(she’s everywhere!)”. It’s tricky, being personable in cover letters without coming across as too chatty, but you managed to effortlessly slip in a bit of personality. That’s how it should be done.

~ Raelene: Overall I liked the letter - it was suitably short, but told me quite a bit. You state that your story is a novella, but I'd like to know the actual word length. But Romantica(r) is a registered trademark of Ellora's Cave Publishing Inc. - you didn't make a good impression by misusing it as a generic term for erotic romance.

Mentioning the contests is appropriate in this case because you reference that an editor at the publisher you're submitting to was a judge. So your submission would be routed to that editor - or, in this case, whichever editor gets it would take note that their boss had liked this story. And you made the reference in an entertaining manner, rather than seeming to be kissing up.

Letter the Second:

I would appreciate the opportunity to submit {title} for consideration for representation. {Title} is women's fiction with elements of suspense.
The theme – betrayal. The journey – a search for home and heart where trust ties friends and family in southern tradition and home is a safe place dreams can come true.

Jill Clemmons makes the trip back to Adams Grove, the small Virginia town she hasn't set foot in since she and Ken Malloy split up and she ran away to Savannah. She wouldn't be back now either if it weren't to bury her grandmother, Pearl, who raised her in the small town.

Even after they split, Pearl never gave up her dream of Jill and Ken marrying someday. In a final matchmaking attempt, Pearl leaves her estate to them jointly. They must stay in the house together for thirty consecutive days to own it jointly or the property goes to auction.

But someone else is interested in that estate too, and is willing to stop at nothing in search of a treasure of precious pearls supposedly hidden there years ago. Can Jill and Ken put the past behind them as they fight for their lives to uncover who is behind the danger and why?

I am a PRO member of RWA, and member of Sisters in Crime. In my “day job”, I am a {job title} with {company} and received the Award of Excellence. I share that achievement because it highlights my reputation for executing on goals – not only the what, but the how. I believe these attributes will be a plus on my journey to become a multi-published author. But wait, before you picture an uptight banker in a blue suit, let me share that I now live in a small log cabin on an 80 acre goat farm in southern Virginia and telecommute. So think of me as business savvy, with a relaxed southern attitude.

This will be my debut novel and I have other works in progress to fast follow. I've included sample chapters of my work and the short synopsis of {title}, and I hope it leaves you wanting to read the rest of my novel.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Editor Comments:

~ Mackenzie: That first line is…whoa. It’s so stiff and clunky that my knee jerk reaction is to wonder how strong her writing is going to be. Story summary is a little long. The plot itself is a little cliché, so she should definitely jazz up the summary because nothing here is exciting me. She states an impressive accomplishment which has little to do with the publishing world. To her credit, she realizes the problem and attempts to explain why she’s including it, but I’m not entirely sure what ‘executing on goals’ even means. The personal info she includes is also unnecessary. All in all, this letter sounds more appropriate for someone applying for a position rather than as a cover letter for a book submission. Whether you are business savvy is not our concern—we just want to know you can write. I’d say this isn’t a terrible CL, but it’s not more than mediocre.

~ Nick: The opening didn’t grab me. It started out with a blurb—already not my preference—and not a particularly well-written one at that. The idea of a blurb is to sell the book to the readers. The idea of a cover letter is to interest the publisher in reading something they might or might not offer a contract for, and that’s a bit more involved than purchasing a single copy of a book after reading the blurb. Hence, I did not feel the information provided was enough to make me want to read the submission.

The personal information listed at the end was charming, personable and well-written. However, the author’s day job and the goat farm she lives on have little to do with the book itself. They don’t speak to her previous writing experience. Also, although it’s not strictly forbidden, I don’t see the benefits of an author stating that this is her debut novel. If the author is not listing her publishing history, it’s self-explanatory. It also comes off as a bit pretentious—it’s not a debut novel until it’s published. In order to sound professional, the author needs to strike a balance. Don’t be so modest or humble that you sound like you’re groveling or being self-deprecating (it’s a turn-off), but it’s yet another example of showing rather than telling. Present your achievements, rather than just telling us you’re good.

~ Mary: In your cover letter, you made the mistake of saying too much. We need to know the basics: title, genre, word count, story and any relevant experience. Anything beyond that is filler.

1) “I would appreciate the opportunity to submit {title} for consideration for representation.” You don’t need to say that. If you’re sending this to an agent, he or she can deduce that you’d like to be considered for representation.
2) “The theme” and “the journey” is confusing and a bit hokey. Why the dramatic sentence structure? You don’t need to wave flags to get the agent’s attention. The story is enough to either capture his/her fancy or not.
3) I’m not a huge fan of blurbs in cover letters, but I’m not strongly against them either. Tighten up the blurb, however, as the wording is a bit awkward. Also, this isn’t exactly a criticism, but: blurbs ending with a question are fairly old school. They’re still around, but they’re tired. Try changing it up a little.
4) None of the personal information is really relevant beyond the membership to RWA and Sisters in Crime. Editors and agents really don’t care what you do as a day job—what matters is whether or not you tell a good story. Additionally, make sure you don’t highlight inexperience. We don’t hold it against you, but it is never a point in your favor. Delete the reference to PRO and the fact that this is your debut novel.

This letter—and the blurb—needs some tightening. The important thing to remember is that you’re not selling yourself. You’re selling your book. Focus on that and leave personal details out unless they’re writing-related or specific to your book.

~ Raelene: I concur on leaving out the irrelevant personal information. If I were chatting with you at a social event, this would all be very interesting and I'd love to hear about the goats. But none of it means anything when I'm considering whether I want to bother reading your submission.

I want a brief blurb in a submission cover letter, but this one needs work. What's with the bit about theme and journey? You're sounding too pretentious. This blurb does tell me something important about the story - that it is a set of cliched plot devices that can be found in a zillion other books. You as an author should recognize how common and derivative some of your story elements are - so make your blurb focus on what is different about your book, tell me about the unique twist. Maybe mention what group of readers this story would appeal to.

General comment from Nick: Both letters 1 and 2 were well-proofed and conveyed a significant amount of information without being overly long. They were also fairly polite—not, for the most part, overly presumptuous, and neither used any “pressure speech” by implying they expected to hear from us “soon” or talking about “when the book is published”.

Okay, we hope our comments were helpful to all of you submitting stories to publishers. Please let us know. What else would you have liked us to discuss, do you have any questions about the style of these letters? Are you writing a letter right now and have a specific question?


Aimlesswriter said...

The query letter is the hardest thing to write. I have one page to make you love me. Its like trying to catch the attention of the most popular boy in high school and I'm the ugly duckling! lol Too much information, too little information-where do I find the balance?
Thanks so much for doing these critiques.

Marie said...

It’s obviously so beneficial to have four editors' insights on how to make one’s query stronger and pitfalls to avoid! I laughed, too, when I re-read “ferociously” through your eyes. Now my big problem is deciding on my prize. So many tempting titles. Ah, well, it’s a happy dilemma.

My thanks to you all,

Md Mahbubu Hasan said...

Cover letter writing is important and complementary to your resume. Every time you send out your resume, you should also enclose a cover letter. This gives the employer a favorable and lasting impression about you. When your potential employer reads it first, it must convince them that your resume is really worth reading. Otherwise, your resume might get ignored. visit

Unknown said...

If you are given liberty of deciding upon a matter and you really don't have any concept about it then the finest way of carrying out it is to brainstorm and study some trending and paper help superior topic strategies. A prevalent oversight when creating a reflective essay is to pick out a subject that is way too broad or as well narrow.