Tuesday, October 13, 2009

5 Avoidable Cover Letter Blunders

We've all sat down to write that one-chance, first-impression letter to someone we admire. Editors, agents, and prospective employers are all recipients of our love mail: The Cover Letter. Let me share some avoidable blunders I've found in my perpetual days of reading.

Top 5 Cover Letter Blunders:

#1: A Disgruntled Voice

The mood you are in while writing the cover letter will shine through. So, write after you've just had the tastiest meal of your life, made by an endearing husband/brother/friend, in a land where dirty dishes disappear and reincarnate as clean ones in your cupboard.

#2: Not Enough Information or Materials

Have a stellar bibliography. Better yet, have an expert in the field read your work for accuracy. Your editor will pee a little bit when some verification has already been done. Verification of facts can be important in fiction, too.

Make it easy for the editor to respond to you! Rachelle Gardner, literary agent, prefers a signature with a first and last name so she knows how to address you. Initials don't convey gender, and that's nervewracking. Mr.? Mrs.? Ms.? Miss? Dr.? Professor? Knight? Queen? Dignitary?!

#3: Annoying Typeface

Ouch! Small type hurts. Your reader might not realize she's squinting, but it will surely affect her concentration and patience.

Use serif fonts. Serifs are the little swoops on the edges of letters. They help our brains recognize the letters faster, making for an easier read. Sans serif fonts (without serifs) are reserved for bold titles and billboards. They provide some contrast.

#4: Sending to the Wrong Publisher

I'm a big fan of submitting until your ears bleed. But if you know the publisher would never print your genre, maybe you should just be friends.

#5: Addressing to a General Reader

Addressing your letter to a "general reader," "submissions coordinator," or the like will add one more step to your manuscript's perilous journey. Addressing it to an editor by name will get it straight into her hands. Just quadruple check the spelling of her name!

For books, send to an imprint first. If the imprint says "no," you still have a chance with the main house or its other imprints.

Further reading:

See Harold Underdown's "Getting Out of the Slush Pile" at http://www.underdown.org/slush.htm

See an interview with Arthur Levine of Scholastic's Arthur A. Levine books at http://www.underdown.org/levine.htm

See Rachelle Gardners's blog at http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/ and follow her on Twitter at @RachelleGardner, http://twitter.com/RachelleGardner


  1. Bethany,
    Thanks so much for posting this helpful information! Hard to believe how much a cover letter can work for you (or against you!). I appreciate the info! Your blog looks good, too : )

  2. Thanks, Margot! I hope the post doesn't create any nervousness. I've just noticed some peculiar things over time.

  3. Bethany, please email me at andrew@storytimeforme.com. Would like to discuss some things about children's literacy and didn't see your email anywhere, thanks. Obviously we will discuss about children's literacy since that's both what we do.