You’ve come this far: you’ve written your manuscript and polished it as much as you can, and now you’re ready to share your work with literary agents. But before you share your work, you need to write a submission cover letter. So, what is a submission cover letter? And how can you write one that will make your work stand out from the rest? As an agency that receives hundreds of submissions each week, our agents have shared their tips on how to write the perfect cover letter, and make sure that yours is a cut above the rest.
What is a cover letter?
In short, a cover letter is something which introduces you and your novel to an agent. It’s the first point of contact between you and the agent, so it needs to be short, convincing and to the point. Your cover letter should entice the agent and make them want to pick up and read your manuscript.
How should I structure my letter, and what do I include in it?
Firstly, make sure you address the specific agent you are submitting to.
Include an enticing pitch in the body of your email. This should include a one-line hook outlining the central premise of your book; a short, back-of-the-book type blurb; three comparable books in the market today; a short bio; and any other information relevant to your work, such as any courses you have taken, or any prizes you have been shortlisted for, or won.
When thinking of your three comparable books, try and make the comparisons as precise as possible. For example, ‘this story blends the charm of Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine with the Agatha Christie-esque mystery of a Ruth Ware novel.’ This will give us a clear sense of where it might sit in the market.
What are your agents looking for in a cover letter?
Madeleine Milburn, CEO and Literary Agent: I look for a clear, concise covering letter with a professional yet conversational tone that gets to the heart of the story quickly. Imagine you are pitching your favourite book…how would you get a reader excited? Look at the blurbs on the backs of books and see how they entice someone to start reading. I also love a title that stands out, and resonates in some way, before even opening the manuscript or knowing anything about the story.
Hayley Steed, Senior Literary Agent: Personally, I love a strong concept – a one line pitch that makes me stop and catch my breath, an idea that feels new and exciting whilst having a clear audience and pitch, a book that feels like it’s doing something different within a familiar genre. I’m always reassured by convincing comparison titles too – I know that a novel is going to deliver if the writer knows exactly who they’re targeting and where it would sit in the market.
Olivia Maidment, Literary Agent: I am always really impressed by a cover letter that shows that an author has really thought about and grappled with their key themes and central ideas, and how to navigate those ideas in their writing, their style, and the stories they tell. I want to work with authors who have something to say and really put the time into working out how to say it, and I love to see those elements coming together in their pitch.
Emma Bal, Literary Agent: For non-fiction what I am looking for in a cover letter is an author’s mission statement – why they want to write this particular book and why they should be the one to write it. If an author can establish how their ideas fit into the wider discourse, and what is original about those ideas, even better.
Hannah Todd, Literary Agent: The thing I’m always impressed by in a covering letter is accurate comparison authors or titles. It takes some market awareness to be an author, and this shows that you know what is out there and where your book would sit on the shelf. It also shows us that there is already a market out there for your book! There are LOADS of great resources out there on this (most recently this twitter thread) and maybe we’ll do our own post on it in future!
Rachel Yeoh, Associate Agent: In upmarket and literary fiction, I really want to get a strong sense of the themes that that author is writing about – why are these themes important? How are you tackling them in fresh, distinctive ways that will make readers pause for thought?
We know how daunting the querying process can be, but we hope that with these tips you can polish up that cover letter and feel confident whenever you decide to share your work with agents. Good luck!