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Cover Letter Format Manuscript Submission Cover

When I wrote my article on Writing a Synopsis, I mentioned that it was one of the most challenging tasks for authors. The cover letter (otherwise known as a Query Letter), by comparison, should actually be pretty simple.

The main aim of your cover letter is to give the agent/publisher more detail about your manuscript and you, the author. Things like:

  • manuscript title;
  • genre;
  • word count;
  • manuscript blurb;
  • market placement;
  • target audience;
  • author background;
  • ‘call to action’; and
  • contact information (don’t forget this one!!!).

 

Most of these seem pretty obvious, however when you are caught up writing this letter, it can be easy to forget to include important details (I can’t tell you how many authors fail to include the genre and word count).

As well as offering information, it is also acting as a ‘call to action’. It is an invitation for the agent/publisher to read your manuscript, with the view to acquiring it. It is part business letter (informational), part sales copy.

The agent or publisher should be able to read your cover letter (along with the synopsis) and get a sense – ‘at a glance’ – of whether your manuscript is worth their time.

NOTE: It is important to remember that the below advice is based on general recommendations, you should always read and adhere to the guidelines that each publishing house and literary agent sets out.

So, what is a cover letter and why is it important?

Part informational and part sales pitch, the cover letter should provide necessary details to the agent/publisher as well as entice (sell) the reader to read more of your work (ie the synopsis or the full manuscript). This document should provide the agent/publisher all the details they need to decide whether it is a good fit for their audience, and therefore whether to consider acquiring it.

When you submit your manuscript to an agent, editor or publisher the first thing they will read is your cover letter and synopsis – which is why you want to get it right, it’s the first step to getting published!

Writing your cover letter

You will be happy to hear that cover letters aren’t actually too complicated to write. The cover letter should be no longer than two A4 pages (preferably one) and made up of a few brief paragraphs, see below for the breakdown of what should be in the cover letter (and can appear in any logical order you choose).

The letter itself, is just that: a letter. And it needs to be formatted accordingly with your contact details, a proper address to the editor/publisher/agent (using their name and title or the name of their organisation at the very least!) a signature, and body content. I would also consider using 1.5 spacing for clarity.

Even if you are submitting via email, your cover letter should follow the standard formatting for a letter. In fact, I would usually include the cover letter and the synopsis as an attachment to your email – always refer to the website guidelines for each agent/publisher to guide you on this.

So what do you need to include?

  • Initial paragraph is the ‘fact’s dump’ where you want to provide the manuscript’s title, word count, genre… Remember, the person you are addressing knows nothing about your manuscript so you need to give them a snapshot of it.
  • Follow this up with a brief blurb (teaser) of your work, this should read like the back cover copy you read on books. It should outline the central characters, the conflicts, the themes…
  • Then comes the market pitch where you need to outline the target audience, competing titles, similar authors…explain why the manuscript would be of interest to the publisher/agents readers.
  • And now you, the author, should figure in the form of an author bio. Keep this brief and succinct, your manuscript should do the real talking. Only include relevant information about you, like:

    – What prompted you to write this particular novel?

    – What relevant studies have you completed?

    – If you have been published, tell us what and where. (Don’t include self-publishing credits unless you had unbelievable sales or were reviewed by a reputable industry reviewer.)

    – If there are things about your personal or professional life that are relevant to the manuscript, let us know – if you’re a cattle farmer and you have written a rural romance set on a cattle farm, that’s relevant to mention.

    – Only include writing awards if they are from well-known and respected organisations.

  • Finish with a ‘call to action’. Invite the editor to contact you if they have questions, let them know the manuscript is ready to be sent on their request, ask for them to consider you as a future client. Whatever you are wanting from them, spell it out here.
  • And don’t forget to sign off with a thank you for your consideration’ and your name.

 

Sample Cover Letter

Dear Agent/Publisher,

Please find attached a synopsis and three chapters of my[genre] novel, [MS TITLE], which is approximately 80,000 words in length.

[MS TITLE] is the story of Josie, an eccentric child, growing up on a remote cattle farm in Outback Queensland at the turn of the century, from her humble beginnings to her rise to become one of the most well-respected medical professionals in the Commonwealth.

The target audience for this novel is most likely to be women in the age range of 30 and up who enjoy the work of authors such as Kate Grenville and Thomas Kenneally[or other relevant writers or books].

I am a Brisbane-based writer of historical fiction[or whichever genre you write in]. My previous publishing credits include short stories inIsland Magazine, The Lifted Brow andOverland Journal– a full list of my publications is attached. I also spent my formative years on a property in central Queensland during the 1950s.

I undertook the writing of this book after discovering stumbling across a newspaper article on Josie in the Sydney Morning Herald. I chose to research her journey and write a fictionalised account of her life. I began writing this manuscript while enrolled in my post-graduate degree in writing, which I completed with distinction in 2010.

Many thanks for considering my work for publication, if you would like a full copy of my manuscript please notify me and I will happily send a copy through to you. I look forward to hearing from you in this regard.

Yours sincerely.

A Writer

[Phone number]

[Email]

[Address]

A few more tips…

Here are a couple more things that I find helpful when reading a cover letter. I read quite a few and I want the information to be quick and easy to consume, and these are the things that help me:

  • I rather like headings; ‘story summary’, ‘selling points’, ‘author bio’, ‘market position’, ‘competition overview’ just to name a few. This helps me read the information that is most important to me first, and stops me skipping other information while I look for the ‘good bits’.
  • I also like the use of bold and underlined It helps me grab for the important bits quickly. I am usually looking for genre and word count information in the first instance, and this really helps me to grab this information quickly.

Things that annoy me (just a little)…

  • Typos and misspellings, wrong word usage, incorrect punctuation – I know this all seems petty, but these are things that writers really should get right in their cover letter. It shows that they care about the words that they are putting on the page, and that they’re not lazy. No one likes a lazy author.
  • Letters that use it as a platform for a diatribe of rubbish that is irrelevant to the manuscript, but seeks to prove their intelligence. PLEASE let your manuscript speak for itself, keep the cover letter simple. All I want to know is what your MS is about, whether it fits my list and whether you have any relevant experience. Here is an example of the above pet peeve:

    I was reading information written by ‘experts’ who said ancient man was so stupid that he wouldn’t come out of the rain. When I read Thomas Hobbe’s, famous quote that life for ancient man was ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. Well I bristled…blah blah blah. What has all this to do with my novel? Well, nothing actually, but it is how I commenced writing…

  • On this note, please don’t tell me what your novel was intended to be when you started writing it!!!! Tell me about what it is now. Here is another example of a letter I received:

    It was originally meant to be a thriller for ‘a male on a plane trip’ reader, but has been softened and lengthened with the addition of two strong female characters, who made it as much about people as action situations.

And a few general items…

  • Research relevant publishers for your work. The ‘bible’ for writers of articles and books is Writer’s Marketplace, which lists publishers’ contact information and the type of manuscripts they seek. Read the listings carefully and selectively make your choices instead of mass mailing your manuscript to every publisher under a certain category. Also, make sure you check the publisher or agent’s website to make sure what they are and are not currently accepting..
  • Know your genre and the market competition.
  • Expect to wait between six to eight weeks (or longer) for a response to your query – assuming you get one at all!

Finally…

I hope the above information has helped you to formulate a draft of your own cover letter, or edit an existing one. If you are still having troubles with your cover letter and synopsis there are plenty of services (like The Manuscript Agency) who offer this service, professionals who will sit down and help you write your cover letter. Please contact me via email – kit@manuscriptagency.com.au – if you would like more information on the fees and processes related to this service.

 

 

About Kit Carstairs

Kit Carstairs has background in book and magazine publishing, academic research, marketing and broadcasting. She has almost a decade of experience working with a wide variety of content including: fiction (adult and children’s), general non-fiction (craft, gardening, home improvement, general DIY, food titles, natural history, general reference, photography) as well as working with corporate (marketing and sales material, business reviews and papers) and academic content (research publications and thesis). Having worked both as a freelance editor and as an in-house editor and project manager in publishing, Kit has a comprehensive understanding of the importance of content development and the need for authors to be proactive in developing manuscripts that represent their full potential. As well as providing manuscript assessments Kit is also able to offer her editing and proofing services (POA) as well as fast and accurate transcribing services (POA). Contact Kit to discuss these services in more detail. Kit lives and works in the inspirational surroundings of the Blue Mountains, in Australia's New South Wales.

View all posts by Kit Carstairs

If you’re looking for solid advice on how to write a strong journal submission cover letter that will convince editors to review your research paper, then look no further! We know that cover letters can impact an editor’s decision to consider your research paper further. As such, this guide aims to explain (1) why you should care about writing a powerful cover letter, (2) what you should include in it, and (3) how you should structure it. The last segment will include a free downloadable template submission cover letter with detailed how-to explanations and some useful phrases.

Sadly, we must admit that part of the decision-making process of whether to accept a manuscript is based on a business model. Editors must select articles that will interest their readers. In other words, your paper, if published, must make them money. When it’s not quite clear how your research paper might generate interest based on its title and content alone (for example, if your paper is too technical for most editors to appreciate), your cover letter is the one opportunity you will get to convince the editors that your work is worth further review.

In addition to economic factors, many editors use the cover letter to screen whether authors can follow basic instructions. For example, if a journal’s guide for authors states that you must include disclosures, potential reviewers, and statements regarding ethical practices, failure to include these items might lead to the automatic rejection of your article, even if your research is the most progressive project on the planet! By failing to follow directions, you raise a red flag that you may be careless, and if you’re not attentive to the details of a cover letter, editors might wonder about the quality and thoroughness of your research. This is not the impression you want to give editors!

We can’t stress this enough: Follow your target journal’s guide for authors! No matter what other advice you read in the vast webosphere, make sure you prioritize the information requested by the editors. As we explained above, failure to include required statements will lead to automatic rejection.

With that said, below is a list of the most common elements you must include and what information you should NOT include:

You should use formal language in your cover letter. Since most submissions are delivered electronically, the template below is in a modified e-mail format. However, if you send your cover letter on letterhead (PDF or hard copy by mail), move your contact information to the upper-left corner of the page unless you use pre-printed letterhead, in which case your contact information should be centered at the top of the letter.

TIP: It’s customary to include any graduate degrees in the addressee’s name.

Dear Dr./Mr./Ms. [Editor's last name]:

TIP: Where the editor’s name is not known, use the relevant title employed by the journal, such as “Dear Managing Editor:” or “Dear Editor-in-Chief:”. Using a person’s name is best, however. Also, websites may be outdated, so call the journal to confirm to whom you should address your cover letter when in doubt.

TIP: Use “Ms.” and never “Mrs.” or “Miss” in formal business letters.

TIP: Never use “Dear Sirs:” or any similar expression. Many editors will find this insulting, especially given that many of them are female!

[Para.1: 2–3 sentences] I am writing to submit our manuscript entitled, ["Title"] for consideration as a [Journal Name][Article Type]. [One to two sentence "pitch" that summarizes the study design, where applicable, your research question, your major findings, and the conclusion.]

e.g., I am writing to submit our manuscript entitled, “X Marks the Spot” for consideration as an Awesome Science Journal research article. We examined the efficacy of using X factors as indicators for depression in Y subjects in Z regions through a 12-month prospective cohort study and can confirm that monitoring the levels of X is critical to identifying the onset of depression, regardless of geographical influences.

TIP: Useful phrases to discuss your findings and conclusion include:

  • Our findings confirm that…
  • We have determined that…
  • Our results suggest…
  • We found that…
  • We illustrate…
  • Our findings reveal…
  • Our study clarifies…
  • Our research corroborates…
  • Our results establish…
  • Our work substantiates…

[Para. 2: 2–5 sentences] Given that [context that prompted your research], we believe that the findings presented in our paper will appeal to the [Reader Profile] who subscribe to [Journal Name]. Our findings will allow your readers to [identify the aspects of the journal's Aim and Scope that align with your paper].

TIP: Identify the journal’s typical audience and how those people can utilize your research to expand their understanding of a topic. For example, if many of your target journal’s readers are interested in the public policy implications of various research studies, you may wish to discuss how your conclusions can help your peers to develop stronger policies that more effectively address public concerns.

TIP: Include context about why this research question had to be addressed.

e.g., “Given the struggle policymakers have had to define proper criteria to diagnose the onset of depression in teenagers, we felt compelled to identify a cost-effective and universal methodology that local school administrators can use to screen students.”

TIP: If your paper was prompted by prior research, state this. For example, “After initially researching X, Y approached us to conduct a follow-up study that examined Z. While pursuing this project, we discovered [some new understanding that made you decide the information needed to be shared with your peers via publication.]“

e.g., Given the alarming increase in depression rates among teenagers and the lack of any uniform practical tests for screening students, we believe that the findings presented in our paper will appeal to education policymakers who subscribe to The Journal of Education. Although prior research has identified a few methods that could be used in depression screening, such as X and Y, the applications developed from those findings have been cost-prohibitive and difficult to administer on a national level. Thus, our findings will allow your readers to understand the factors involved in identifying the onset of depression in teenagers better and develop more cost-effective screening procedures that can be employed nationally. In so doing, we hope that our research advances the toolset needed to combat the concerns preoccupying the minds of many school administrators.

[Para 3: Similar works]“This manuscript expands on the prior research conducted and published by [Authors] in [Journal Name]” or “This paper [examines a different aspect of]/ [takes a different approach to] the issues explored in the following papers also published by [Journal Name].”

  1. Article 1
  2. Article 2
  3. Article 3

TIP: You should mention similar studies recently published by your target journal, if any, but list no more than five. If you only want to mention one article, replace the preceding sentence with “This paper [examines a different aspect of]/ [takes a different approach to] the issues explored by [Authors] in [Article Title], also published by [Journal Name] on 16.02.2018.”

[Para. 4: Additional statements often required] Each of the authors confirms that this manuscript has not been previously published and is not currently under consideration by any other journal. Additionally, all of the authors have approved the contents of this paper and have agreed to the [Journal Name]‘s submission policies.

TIP: If you have previously publicly shared some form or part of your research elsewhere, state so. For example, you can say, “We have presented a subset of our findings [at Event]/ [as a Type of Publication Medium] in [Location] in [Year].”

e.g., We have since expanded the scope of our research to contemplate international feasibility and acquired additional data that has helped us to develop a new understanding of geographical influences.

[Para. 5: Potential Reviewers] Should you select our manuscript for peer review, we would like to suggest the following potential reviewers/referees because they would have the requisite background to evaluate our findings and interpretation objectively.

  • [Name, institution, email, expertise]
  • [Name, institution, email, expertise]
  • [Name, institution, email, expertise]

To the best of our knowledge, none of the above-suggested persons have any conflict of interest, financial or otherwise.

TIP: Include 3–5 reviewers since it is likely that the journal will use at least one of your suggestions.

TIP: Use whichever term (“reviewer” or “referee”) your target journal uses. Paying close attention to a journal’s terminology is a sign that you have properly researched the journal and have prepared!

[Para. 6: Frequently requested additional information] Each named author has substantially contributed to conducting the underlying research and drafting this manuscript. Additionally, to the best of our knowledge, the named authors have no conflict of interest, financial or otherwise.

Sincerely,

 

[Your Name]

Corresponding Author
Institution Title
Institution/Affiliation Name
[Institution Address]
[Your e-mail address]
[Tel: (include relevant country/area code)]
[Fax: (include relevant country/area code)]

Additional Contact [should the corresponding author not be available]
Institution Title
Institution/Affiliation Name
[Institution Address]
[Your e-mail address]
[Tel: (include relevant country/area code)]
[Fax: (include relevant country/area code)]

Quick checklist before submitting your cover letter

  1. Set the font to Arial or Times New Roman, size 12 point.
  2. Single-space all text.
  3. Use one line space between body paragraphs.
  4. Do not indent paragraphs.
  5. Keep all text left justified.
  6. Use spelling and grammar check software. If needed, use professional proofreading and editing services such as Wordvice to review your letter for clarity and concision.
  7. Double-check the editor’s name. Call the journal to confirm if necessary.

Additional resources to learn more about cover letters

  1. http://blogs.nature.com/methagora/2013/09/how-to-write-a-cover-letter.html
  2. https://www.springer.com/gp/authors-editors/authorandreviewertutorials/submitting-to-a-journal-and-peer-review/cover-letters/10285574
  3. http://www.biosciencewriters.com/Writing-Cover-Letters-for-Scientific-Manuscripts.aspx
  4. jgimed.org/authors/JGIM-cover-letter-templates.doc
  5. http://www.nature.com/ni/journal/v9/n2/full/ni0208-107.html

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