Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Creating a Cover Letter That Creates Interest: A Back to Basics Post

Good morning, Seekerville! Ruthy here. I initiated this post, but read it through because at the end I've got additional ideas from several other Seekers.... and these are women who get the job done. Every aspect of writing is important. Sure.... your manuscript is clutch. But that's only the first step, my friends. So here's another "bead" in the intricately woven necklace of publishing.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is your letter of introduction to the editor/agent/publisher you're approaching, a missive whose purpose is to capture enough of their interest that they pause to read your manuscript.

When I began writing, everything was done by snail mail. EVERYTHING. And editors would have months of big envelopes in their offices, piled high, waiting for their turn in the queue.  And am I the only person on the planet that sees this wretched word "queue" and wonders first:

Whose idea was it to invent a word like this???? (Britain)

And why isn't it pronounced "quay" like so many French words because it looks French, right? Parquet? Croquet? 

But that's a different day's convo. Today we're talking cover letters and I'll enjoy having other Seekers and authors offer their opinions.

Assuming you've done your homework and researched who is looking for what... and honestly on Facebook and Twitter they're often having Looking For The Next Big Thing-type parties to see who "hearts" this and that... So that gives you an idea.  Assuming that, now you want your letter to reflect the professional's needs/desires/wishes.... if she or he wants thriller fiction and you send them sweet romance, you are dead in the water, so let's make this first part a checklist:

1. The publisher publishes things similar to what you write
2. The editor doesn't hate you
3. The editor works with authors you really like
4. The agent is accepting new clients or avidly looking
5. The agent actually works for the clients, not simply lip service
6. You've actually worked & re-worked and edited and done your best on your manuscript.
7. You've checked the website for guidelines and followed them

Okay, now you're ready to move on to your cover letter via email, snail mail, etc.

Here's how I wrote killer cover letters, and I'm not bragging to say that nearly 60 books later, I'm not afraid to grab an editor's/agent's/publisher's attention because I want that foot in the door.

Ms. Senior Editor
My Most Wanted Publisher
Nashville, TN  37207

Dear Ms. Editor,  (Romantic suspense version)

He spent a decade fighting for a truth that turned out to be a lie, a lie so deeply entrenched that he may never see daylight again, a lie that not only means his life-- but hers.

(Notice I didn't introduce myself.... if she loves this/me/the concept, she'll find out the rest later. It will matter then. It's of little consequence right now)

Dear Ms. Editor,  (Romance version)

He'd promised her father he'd die for her and that might be exactly what happens, so why did he have to fall in love with her first?

Dear Ms. Editor,  (Young Adult/Futuristic/Must Kill the World Version)

His actions didn't just send a message. They catapulted a realm of destruction into being, a destruction so final that he couldn't possibly save his life... but he was determined to save hers.

Opening with a killer/wonderful/gripping tagline is a great way to gain attention.

Then your job is to keep it.

If your agent/editor/publisher has a certain way they like cover letters and says so, then follow their lead... but most don't do that anymore. I think. It's not like I'm out there looking, guys, so it's always good to check their blogs, posts, etc.

But aside from that, here's what I'd go with.

1. Tagline and make it count. Practice by writing taglines for hit movies/books. Then if you can't write one for your story, it might mean the story lacks depth, so you should address that first.

2. Brief synopsis, back-cover blurb style.  If you have two versions (I usually do) use the shorter one. You want this to be a one page wonder, resist the urge to drone on about how he really was misunderstood as a child and wanted to help his mother (Michael Westen, Burn Notice) because that backstory will come out in a well-written book & synopsis. (Link to Writing a synopsis, read blog & very useful comments)

3. Appreciation for author/agent/publisher (keep it specific to the person you're approaching) showing why you're approaching them, why you're impressed by them, why it's a good fit. Here's an example:

"As a woman who was originally inspired by Catherine Marshall's "Christy", I was drawn to your recent release of Jan Drexler's "Roll of the Drums" and Mary Connealy's "Aiming for Love". Set in 1874 Nebraska, "Risking Her Heart" pits a spinster school teacher against rugged conditions as she keeps six orphaned children alive through a season of raging blizzards. When a drunken hero wanders along, Marie can either shoot him or help him, and that's only one of a series of tough decisions she's going to make that season."

4. Who is your competition for shelf space in bookstores, Walmart, or on mass market paperback shelves? You don't want to compete with the publisher's authors or eat into their market share, so pick authors from other publishers to show where your story will harvest likely readers. Editors and marketing want to visualize how your work is going to gain ground for the publisher's sales figures. Don't fool yourself that heart outranks numbers. That's generally an industry fiction. Publishers need to make money. So do you. Show them why your story will stand its ground vs. other publishers' historical offerings.

5. Close with a brief author bio.  "MIT graduate Aspiring Author abandons the geekiness of her "Big Bang Theory" real life to immerse herself in her first love, historical fiction, as often as she can. Her work has won or finaled in multiple romance contests including (list wins/finals here), she has an interactive blog with over a thousand followers and a Facebook presence with over two thousand friends, offering her a great launch spot for her beautiful Western fiction series."

I'm going to leave this here and invite other authors to add whatever advice they'd like to in the comments.

Remember that you often get ONE PARAGRAPH (according to an agent panel at a major conference) to catch the target's interest.

Make it count.

And here are some thoughts from bestselling Bethany House author Mary Connealy:

Cover letter advice.

If at all possible, find out the name of the acquiring editor and target that person specifically. Better to say, "Dear Dave Long," Than Dear Bethany House Acquiring editor.

This is a whole lot easier now than it was before the internet when I started. Oh, there was internet, I just didn't have it. 
I started writing BEFORE GOOGLE.

Targeted cover letters: This also applies to sending the letter to the right publisher.  Market research can be done online, find the right publisher for YOUR BOOK. No matter how great your book, Love Inspired is not going to publish your 100,000 word cozy mystery. You can also do this by going to a book store, finding similar books and finding out who published those books.

Sound familiar? And here are Erica Vetsch's thoughts on cover letters:

I think of them as a four paragraph essay. 

1. Opening greeting that says what you are doing: My name is ______ and I am the author of ____________ that I am submitting for your consideration.

2. Describe the project. __________ is a ___________ word novel that tells the story of _______ who wants ________ but __________ is preventing her from getting it.

3. Your bona fides. Tell why you're qualified to write this story. List writing credentials, professional organizations, awards, etc. I am a ______ Best selling author of _________ books, a member of ________ and winner of ___________. Or, if you don't have any books published yet, I am an active member of __________ writing organization, and have finished _________ manuscripts.

4. The wrap up that tells your expectations. I hope you enjoy ______________, and I look forward to hearing from you. The full manuscript of ___________ is available upon request.

Then thank them again and sign off. :) 

And there you have it, authors. Once you have an agent, or a group of editors, you don't have to write many of these.... maybe none. But you'll always have to have the chutzpah to put yourself out there via your synopsis and/or bio so writing this letter, presenting yourself is huge.

And a momentary but wonderful commercial announcement!!!!

The first book of my North Country Romance series releases as an indie on Friday! Preorder is available, this whole series will be released this summer for $1.99 each and I'm so excited to give them this new exposure! PREORDER LINK HERE!!!!

Multi-published, USA Today bestselling author Ruth Logan Herne has nearly sixty published novels and novellas and admittedly loves to write about as much as she loves coffee and chocolate. Her unforgettable characters touch hearts and souls because Ruthy loves to write real people... the kind you live near, the kind you pass on the street or sit next to in church (when you're not socially distant, of course!!), people that embrace the race that knows Joseph. Email Ruthy at, visit her website or friend her on Facebook where she loves to talk to readers and writers. You can also see the other side of Ruthy and four other Seekers at the Yankee Belle Cafe where five delightful authors share their time, homes, thoughts, ideas and recipes with readers weekly!


  1. I have honestly been looking for something like this for years. Thank you for laying it out in such an easy, practical way, Ruthy. This is a post to keep bookmarked! (Is it normal to feel giggly about writing your next tagline?)

    1. Rachel, good morning! :) Taglines can be insanely easy or rigorously tough for me... Love Inspired (Either Melissa or Dina) came up with an amazing one for my October book, I love it to pieces:

      "She’s the last living relative these girls have…

      But he’s the only family they’ve ever known."

      It's the perfect summation!

      Glad you stopped by!

    2. Now that is intriguing! Remind me the title of this October book you speak of, please!

  2. I'm loving these Back to Basics posts. I still have never sent anything to an agent or editor and having these posts to refer to will be so great when I do! Thanks!

    1. Glynis, I can't remember whose brainchild this was, Erica's maybe? Or Jan's? But we all realized that it's clutch to think about what drew us to become better writers, stronger authors, and it was basics... to never forget the basics. And (don't tell anyone I've said this!!!!) I've watched authors fade when they forget that. Big authors and medium authors, sometimes they fall in love with their own voice and don't know when to hit "pause" and finish the book and move on.

      Now that might be personal opinion.... because we know I have no shortage of that!

      But it's always good to look at the basics of a story and working with so many wonderful editors over the years, they've taught me that from every angle.

      When I was new I thought I was writing sub-plots.


      Page fillers! EEEK! :)

      So we live and learn!

  3. This is good stuff, Ruthy. I hope to do some querying over the summer and will take these points to heart.
    Kathy Bailey

    1. Kathy, good! Back in the day my letters weren't good initially and I learned to grab that interest, develop a strong professional background (even if it was prepublished stuff) and then to grow with that. I figured when someone did give me that open door, I wanted to be ready to launch. That strong base and confidence have never steered me wrong.

  4. Ruthy, great post! These back to basics posts are so helpful!

    1. Sally, wasn't it a great idea??? And it's clutch for all of us, the newbies and those of us who've been taking up shelf space for a while. Polishing the basics keeps us fresh.

  5. I am so happy you're doing this series. There are some really great tips that I am bookmarking for future reference. Thanks Ruthy!

    1. Lee-Ann, awesome! Happy to help in any way we can.

  6. Hi Ruth:

    You wrote:

    "And am I the only person on the planet that sees this wretched word "queue" and wonders first:

    Whose idea was it to invent a word like this???? (Britain)

    And why isn't it pronounced "quay" like so many French words because it looks French, right? Parquet? Croquet?"

    That's because the French usually don't pronounce the last letter in a word. This was highly encouraged by the early day printers who charged by each letter they typeset. (They got paid for letters that were not really needed. The loved the letter 'h'.)

    The real question is why isn't 'Parquet' pronounced Par-ket? Well when the French want to say 'ket' they write 'ette' like in coquette. In fact, I'd like to see 'coquette' used a little more in romances. :)

    BTW: do you have any coquettes in your pantheon of heroines?


    1. None.

      Vince, that's a Lessman thing. :) I'd slap 'em, LOL!

      You know, the whole Scarlet O'Hara thing?

      Oh mylanta, sir, that's not my style, and if I did put them in, they'd be simpering and foolish. And the Melanies and Kates and Marys would dominate!

    2. Oh, how right you are!

      If it were not for Julie I might not be able to find any romance in modern romances! Women today even have to take classes on how to flirt!!! (Literally!)

      Where once we loved
      our sweet coquette
      we now look back
      with wilted flowers
      and sad regret.

      Oh Charity,
      you were a butterfly,
      forever flirting
      with the wind,
      just breaking hearts
      with each sweet breeze,
      and your scent
      of My Sin.

  7. Ruthy, what a great primer on writing cover letters! Lots of helpful advice from all of you.

    I died laughing at Mary saying she was writing before Google. But we did do that!! Crazy to think of it now. :)

    1. Right? There was no Google or iPhone and barely internet.... I had dial up AOL when I got my first used computer and that was only 20 years ago.

      Think of what's changed in 20 years?????


  8. Thank you for this, Ruthy. I need to go back and refresh the one I started working on the other day to see if I can make it just a bit more gripping. Gotta keep my forward momentum, right?

    1. Amy, yes and yes.... Once I realized that editors were beginning to like my work, and I was pesky and didn't go away and did not quit, I wanted them to like me... so I added in a bit of humor and snark because they might as well get the full impression.

      And so far it is working! :)

  9. As always, Ruthy, wonderful post! Loads of great advice.

    1. Mindy, thank you! It's always as educational for me as it is for our villagers when I look back and re-examine how we began and got to where we are.

      It's kind of amazing, isn't it?

  10. I love these Back to Basics posts, too. I always need a refresher course!

    My favorite part of this post was: "Tagline and make it count. Practice by writing taglines for hit movies/books. Then if you can't write one for your story, it might mean the story lacks depth, so you should address that first."

    What great advice! I try to write that tagline early on in the plotting process. It really does help point out the weak spots in the story.

    Thanks, Ruthy!

    1. Jan, good morning! I remember hearing someone, an agent or author tell us to do that a while back and I thought "What a great idea!" because if you can't tagline your story in one sentence, there's something amiss... And I think the first time I heard this was when NYT bestselling author Madeline Hunter came to address the RWA chapter I was in a long, long time ago... And she gave the same advice, but I was too new to understand how important it was then... but it niggled!

  11. Ruthy, this is so helpful! Cover letters are a bit intimidating. As I read your components and your examples, I was reminded that I need to up my game on some of these things, like taglines. :)

    Loved this post!

    1. Jeanne, I hear you! I think the more you practice, the easier it comes, and then once you're agented, you don't have to do this part anymore.... so then I beef up the opening of my synopsis to draw attention to my work and my work ethic.

      Most publishers like to know that you're going to keep working.... and while it's hard to sell ourselves (most of us hate that, I know!) we learn to be our own best advocate.

      And that's a good thing, especially for us women!

  12. Hi Ruth:

    The cover letter is a little like a resume for getting your story hired. I've had to read many resumes for hiring ad people for the new stores we were opening around the country. Here's what we wanted to know about an applicant: what can they actually do, will they fit in our organization, and what are their work habits.

    If it is not carrying this analogy too far, I'd like to suggest putting something like the below in an author's bio:

    "Ruth is a worker bee who writes 1000 words a day. She has never missed a deadline and editors say she is a pleasure to work with especially on difficult edits."

    (Of course, you should write the above in your own words to your own level of humility.)

    I would also mention in the cover letter that while the story makes a strong stand-alone work, it will be so written, with strong secondary characters, so that it could be seamlessly expanded into a trilogy in rather short order.

    Information like the above would really get my attention when hiring.


    1. Vince, you're absolutely right, and I've used very similar lines.... I probably should have added that in, because you only get one page to make that impression, and the worker bee part could be part of the author bio.

      And you're also right that when I pitch, I pitch a series of stand-alone books... but not everyone is able to do that, or wants to... some authors are intimidated by multiple books. So in my cover letter, (now my agent's letter) they know that I have 3 or 4 books in mind and what my goals are.

      You are wise, my friend!

  13. I love, love, love these Back to Basics posts! I've bookmarked all of them. Thank you for continuing to educate those of us who're following the Seekers footsteps. And taglines are fun to write when you've got a good grasp of your story - you're right about that!

    1. Laurie, hi! And yes, I think the tagline test is clutch! If you can't summarize the story in a sentence or two, then what is it really about?

      Good to see you!

  14. Hi Ruth:

    Are the below books the ones you will have coming out from your North Country Series? I don't have these titles in Kindle and I can't enjoyably read the small print in the print copies I do have.

    Winter's End
    Waiting Out the Storm
    Made to Order Family

    There is so much 'new-writer' energy in these early books that I'd love to read them again and capture all the excitement with ten years of retrospective insight.

    1. Vince, yes! We are releasing them in the right order... they were originally purchased out of order, so we're shifting that and we changed the title on Made to Order Family to Season of Hope, so it's Waiting Out the Storm, Season of Hope, then Winter's End.... they changed how they were titling the stories between Waiting Out the Storm and Season of Hope, so Made to Order Family never sat right with me.

      And I priced them so everyone can afford them, and they'll be on Kindle Unlimited, too.

      I think authors are so blessed to have this option now!

  15. Great post, Ruthy. I also enjoy these back-to-basics posts. They are all useful!

  16. Great info, Ruthy! Cover letters are fun to write, IMHO, and you've nailed the info that should be included. Also, if you don't mind me adding my two cents, include any credentials you have that make you knowledgeable about the subject matter of your story, such as a nurse who writes medical suspense or a lawyer who features a court trail in her manuscript. In other words let the editor or agent know you're an expert (or semi-expert) in the field about which you're writing.

    1. Debby, that's a great point. And it doesn't have to prattle on, it can be as simple as this "As a nurse who loves to write medical mysteries," or "I use my engineering degree to set up the technical aspects of the thriller, dragging the reader on a gripping ride through imminent world destruction."


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