The Cover Letter
The cover letter is very important to your submission packet. The cover letter is what the editor will read first and can determine whether the editor actually reads the manuscript or simply returns it with a polite rejection letter. Like the manuscript, your cover letter should have a clean and professional appearance. Keep in mind that you must make a good first impression.
Be sure to watch your spelling and grammar in the cover letter. This is the editor's first introduction to you. The last thing you want to convey is that you are a poor writer. Proofread it yourself and then have someone else proofread it for you.
Elements of a Cover Letter
The cover letter should be formatted and typed like a standard business letter. If you have letterhead, use it. If not, start the letter with your name and address, followed by the date and the publisher's name and address. Beneath this should be your salutation and then the body of the letter. Finally, add the closing, leaving room to write your signature above your typed name. Some also add an “Enclosures:” note at the bottom telling what is enclosed.
The body of the letter is very important. You want to keep it brief and to the point. Do not go beyond three paragraphs. State that you are enclosing your manuscript and give the working title. Give a brief description of your book without going into much detail. You want to entice the editor to read the book, not give a full summary.
Include relevant background information about yourself such as any published works, credentials, or expertise on the topic you have written about. If you have none of these, certainly do not announce it or apologize for it. Instead, you may choose to include a personal experience or reason why you wrote the book.
Do not include a resume or any cutesy gimmicks with your manuscript. Resist the temptation to include your life history, sad stories that stir sympathy, or “joking” threats (“Publish my book or you'll be sorry!”).
You may also include a statement regarding how your book would fit in well with the publisher's list. It is always a good idea to include something that shows you have done your homework and are familiar with the company's book list.
You should never state that your family and friends — or neighbor, mail carrier, hair stylist — thought that this was the best book ever written. Stay away from judging your own book. Obviously you believe it is quality stuff or you wouldn't have sent it. Allow the editor to make up her own mind.
What's in a Name?
If, during the course of your research, you have located the name of a specific editor, and you have double checked that she still holds the same title, then go ahead and address your query letter to her. This shows that you have put special care into researching the company, and are not sending blanket query letters to all publishing houses. However, writing to a specific editor is certainly not required. So if you don't have a name, don't sweat it.
It is quite acceptable to address the package to “Editorial Department” or “Submissions Editor.” Often the submission guidelines given by publishing companies will ask you to mail your submission to a generic title or simply a department.