The Cover Letter
The cover letter can be almost identical to the query letter, except that you are presenting your
work, not asking the agent or editor to request your work. Like the query letter, you will want to describe your novel, give
information about yourself, and mention the next step of action. Make sure to restate what your wrote in your query letter
differently; do not simply resend your query letter as the cover letter.
If you are submitting a package because an agent or editor asked to see it based on your query
letter, use the cover letter mainly as a reminder of what you wrote in your query letter. The agent or editor may still have
the query letter, or he or she may not, but referencing what you wrote in the query letter, although stating it in a different
way, will help tie the two together and may remind the agent or editor why he or she wanted to see your work in the first place.
If you never sent a query--if you interested an agent with a pitch, for example--then your cover
letter needs to state the circumstances in which the agent or editor connected with you and asked to see your sample chapters
or manuscript. Agents and editors are very busy and are meeting people all the time; mention where and when you met and the
fact that what you sent is what was requested. The rest of the letter will be very much like the query letter, except that you
will ask the agent or editor to respond to let you know if he or she is interested in representing you and your work rather than
if he or she would like to see your work.
Sometimes an agent or editor will request a synopsis of your novel. He or she may specify how
many pages to make the synopsis, but if this is not specified, a rule of thumb is one page for roughly 1,000 words. A synopsis
is not what you see on the back or inside flap of a book cover. A synopsis is a complete, but very abbreviated, telling of
Writing a synopsis is different from writing the novel. You must be more succinct yet cover the
entire novel in a short amount of pages. Take care of your writing style in the synopsis. Remember that the agent or editor
is evaluating your style even here. Do not go into the details of the setting and the characters, but explain enough for the
person reading to get a sense of the place and people. Do not be concerned with the details of the subplots but stick to the
main plot. The idea is to give the reader a sense of where the story is going, not to show how it is fully developed. And
yes, you do need to include the ending. A synopsis shows how the story ends, too, not leaving the agent or editor hanging.
Writers may feel frustration at having to put together a synopsis after finishing a novel, but
as this may be called upon, it is important to have this available. In fact, it will be helpful for you to have several lengths
ready to go. I have a one-page, a six-page, and a twelve-page synopsis for both A Fate Worse
and A Simple Prejudice
I will likely not use the twelve-page synopses, but I have sent out the one-page synopses already. I would include these
synopses on this site, but they contain spoilers to my novels.
The Sample Chapters
If an agent or editor requests to see sample chapters, this usually means the first three chapters.
I did have an agent request five chapters, and another request the entire manuscript, so requesting three chapters is not the
only possibility, but it is the most frequent. If, by chance, the agent or editor does not specify how many to send, just send
the first three. Make sure to send the first three, not what you think are the best three, or a random three. He or she is
trying to determine if the beginning of your novel will catch the reader's attention enough to read on to what you might
consider better chapters.
Even though you may have your novel copyrighted, do not put the copyright symbol in your sample
chapters. Agents and editors are professionals and may be insulted that you think they may steal your work. In this age of
saving documents on computers, it is easy enough to simply print out a copy of what you have written each time, keeping your
intellectual property stored on your computer. Follow whatever guidelines the agent or editor may have (see the Do The Research!
link), and type your novel in a manuscript format (see the Manuscript Form link). Pray for the best.
remember to include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) with your submission package.
If you simply want a yes or no response, and do not intend to have your manuscript returned, send a standard (#10) sized business
envelope, folded into thirds. If you would like your manuscript returned, include an envelope large enough to hold your
manuscript and include enough postage for the agent or editor to mail it back with a response. Professionally, you should always
include an envelope large enough to have your manuscript sent back--this shows that you have an interest in your property.
(Consider that historically a writer was sending his or her only copy to an agent or editor.) These days, however, with your
novel stored electronically, it is becoming more acceptable to simply allow the agent or editor to hold on to or to throw away the
manuscript you sent, whichever way his or her decision leans.
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