Covering letters / query letters / submission letters
For anyone approaching writing a submission letter for an agent or publisher, here is some basic advice, in advance of my forthcoming book, Dear Agent (scheduled for August 10th and published by the one and only Crabbit Publishing - me).
Many of you have heard this advice over and over again, so I apologise, but you wouldn't believe how many writers are still pitching in eye-rolling ways to agents and publishers, still clearly never having bothered to discover this very available and consistent advice.
Your covering letter with your submission to agent/publisher SHOULD:
- Be individual – written specifically for this agent or publisher.
- Think of recipient – he/she has little time, expects worst but hopes for best.
- Be properly laid out – and include various contact info for you. ("Properly" not because agents care about precise layout rules but because they just want to see all the info clearly and not be confused.)
- Make your book have “must-read” factor – apt for the genre.
- Avoid common mistakes. (See further down the page.)
- Have the following basic (but adaptable) structure:
1. Para 1 – genre, title, length, age if not adult. If fiction, indicate complete and give length to nearest 1000 words. If n-fic, need not be complete – est length?Things NOT to put in your covering letter
2. Paras 2 (& 3 if req’d) – pitch/hook. Start with core sentence which sums book. Then expand to give clear idea of MC & his goal/problem. Include only most compelling aspects. Indicate MC’s “journey”. Like back-cover blurb (but without gushing praise!)
If non-fiction – pitch clearly, concisely, compellingly, indicating what makes it different from competition. Again, imagine writing back-cover copy.
3. Para 4 – bit about you; relevant publishing credits; what you do if relevant; your “platform” if you have one. Show passion for genre – but please avoid word “passion”…
If non-fiction – this para MUST say something about credentials for writing your book; definitely mention platform. (Without it, probably won’t be published.)
4. Final para – rounding off. Keep it plain. Mention if sending to others at same time. Sound v professional and amenable. Could also be where you reveal passion for the genre – again without using that word!
- Typos or crossings-out – not even one.
- Boasting or value statements about your book’s brilliance (or yours) – eg “beautifully-written” “lyrical” “highly original”.
- Gushing – “I know you’re going to love this”; “We’re going to be rich together”.
- Claims that your book has film potential.
- Claims that anyone other than an objective expert has enjoyed it – ESPECIALLY your family and writers’ group.
- Comments about how much you love writing/how long you’ve wanted to be a writer.
- Instruction that the recipient visit your blog or website to read samples of your work.
- Tacky email address – eg email@example.com.
- “Wee extras” – gifts, photos, confetti, toffees…
- Abbreviations such as LOL. (You’d be surprised what people do…)
- Exclamation marks unless grammatically necessary.
- CAPITAL LETTERS FOR EMPHASIS. (Caps are correct for your book title, though.)
- Pointless details such as what sort of printer you used.
- Irrelevant detail about yourself - such as that you sing in a Welsh choir, unless your book is about Welsh choirs
- The phrase “fiction novel”, unless you've discovered another sort.
- Moronic comparisons – “…a kind of Clockwork Orange meets Bridget Jones’s Diary”.
The title to this post makes it sound like I’m going to have similes breaking chairs across metaphors’ backs. Maybe metaphors will pin similes. As if.
Similes and metaphors both have their uses in poetry. I don’t want to say that one is always better than the other, because they are both devices of communication that serve poets (and other writers) well. Just in case you don’t know the difference, here’s what they mean:
metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase takes on the meaning of another word or phrase to suggest a likeness between the two.
Here’s a metaphor in action: My heart is a train pounding down the tracks.
simile: a figure of speech comparing two unlike things as if they are alike, usually while using the words like or as.
Here’s a simile in action: My heart is like a train pounding down the tracks.
Here’s another simile: My heart pounds as if it were a train on the tracks.
In poetry, I generally prefer metaphors unless I have a good reason to use a simile. Here are a few reasons why I prefer metaphors:
- Economy of language. Removing the word like (or as) equals one less word that detracts from the meaning of the poem.
- Stronger language.My heart is a train is a stronger statement than my heart is like a train.
- More authoritative. Metaphors are what they are. Similes are kind of like what they are. There’s room for the reader to question, how is my heart like a train? Unless that’s the purpose of the poem, it distracts the reader for no good reason. Unintentional distractions weaken poems.
Similes also beg to have more follow up. That is, poets usually feel the need to follow up a line like My heart is like a train pounding down the tracks with another few lines that explain why the poet feels this way. Poets who use the metaphor have the description option available to them, but they’re more than likely rushing on to their next point in the poem (like trains pounding down the tracks–sorry I had to throw that in there).
So why use similes at all?
Similes are very useful in communication. Not every this is a that. Sometimes a this needs to be like a that, whether we’re talking hearts and trains or mouths and moons.
Another reason: Similes can help a poet hit a certain syllable count. It’s not the best reason to use a simile instead of a metaphor, but there you go.
Bring out the prompts!
I thought it might be fun to break out some writing prompts, in which you can come up with your own inventive metaphors and/or similes. I’ll supply the first half of the statement; you can do the second half. I encourage you to incorporate any new or unusual metaphors or similes into your poems.
Her smile is…
Just before evening, the sun…
My mouth is…
Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer
Learn more writing tips and tricks with The Little Red Writing Book, by Brandon Royal.
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