What I Think A Query (or Cover Letter) Should Look Like

One of the things that happens when you become a publisher is that you start getting people telling you about their manuscript… and asking you if you want to publish it.  On the Alliteration Ink website, there’s a place where I wrote:

As a general rule, I am not open to novel submissions as a publisher. If you insist, query by e-mail. Do NOT send any of the text.
If you are interested in pitching me a single-author collections, please query by e-mail with two or three samples of your work.

I received an excellent query from one author, Leslie J. Anderson.  It struck me as pitch-perfect (pun intended), and she gave me permission to share it with you.  First, the actual query:

Dear Mr. Saus,

I picked up a copy of See No Evil, Say No Evil, and I was really impressed with both the quality of the production and writing.

I am currently looking for a publisher for my poetry manuscript. The manuscript, entitled An Inheritance of Stone, is mostly speculative poetry. The genre is primarily science fiction, but there are some horror and fantasy pieces.

Poems from the collection are forthcoming or have been published in Asimov’s, Star*Line, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Strange Horizons, and New Myths. I have an MA in Creative Writing from Ohio University.

May I send you a copy of my manuscript for consideration? Thank you for your time.

Best Regards,

Okay, so here’s why I liked it, paragraph by paragraph:

  1. She said clearly why she became interested in me as a publisher.  The work she referenced is comparable to what she’s pitching as well.
  2. Straight to the point.  Clearly describes what she’s offering without going into too much detail.  It’s a elevator pitch, really, and lets me quickly decide if it’s something I’m interested in finding out more about or not.
  3. Relevant publishing credits.  I am familiar with all of those markets except Star*Line.  They’re all quality pro or semi-pro markets.  The MA can be superfluous, but given that we’re talking about poetry, it’s probably more relevant than if she had been pitching space opera or zombies.
  4. Actionable request.  Note that there was no manuscript attached here, which is the way it should be.  Don’t send a manuscript until you’re asked to.

A nice professional close, and we’re done.

While other publishers may have different tastes, I’m fairly certain they’re as busy as me… and probably busier.  It’s like any elevator pitch – you get interest with a hook.

Think of it like describing your kick-ass ninth level paladin.  Even if I’m a tabletop RPG nerd (and I am), going into a lot of detail up front isn’t going to intrigue me.  Who cares what the stats are, or his family tree, or lineage right off the bat?  Tell me “I’m playing a paladin who is starting to think he’s an atheist in a polytheistic fantasy setting,” on the other hand…

Well, I want to hear all about that character.  

Or write them.   Excuse me, I’ve got a story to write….