This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
For the purposes of this series, I'm focusing on the submission package usually requested by publishers and agents in the UK. In other words, a covering letter, synopsis and first three chapters. It's worth noting, however, that US agents often ask for a query letter in the first instance (after which, they may request the synopsis and chapters). In that case, it's better to include a lengthier description of the book in your query.
So, onto a UK-style covering letter.
First off, in the words of Douglas Adams, 'Don't Panic!' Really, don't. This is no more than an introductory business note. Agents are not going to judge you on the sparkling wit of your letter, the quality of your paper, or the penmanship of your signature. In my opinion, the only thing your covering letter has to do is to provide the relevant information in a professional manner.
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That gives you your opening sentence, for example: Dear Dream Agent, I am seeking representation for my novel The Next Big Thing. It's a psychological thriller and complete at 97,000 words.
Next, if you have a personal connection or a particular reason for choosing the agent, you can mention it here.
The next paragraph should contain a line or two about your book. Think of this as a very short blurb or a 'hook line'. It's just to give a flavour of the story and to make the reader keen to turn to your pages/full-length synopsis.
These are hard to write well, but you can get in the swing by reading lots of blurbs from the backs of published books. Pay attention to the way books are described in adverts and in magazine articles and try to frame your book in the same kind of way. It's worth taking your time and doing your very best with this part of the letter, but don't feel it'll make or break your chances. Most agents will read (at least the beginning) of your sample chapters before they make a decision as it's the only way to know if they like the 'voice' of your book.
Next, you can include a little bit about yourself. Keep it short, interesting and relevant. If you've written a novel set in the circus and you're a trained trapeze artist, that's something to mention. If you've had short stories published in magazines or won a prize or completed a masters in creative writing, that's relevant, too. Don't, under any circumstances, use this paragraph to describe yourself as the 'next J.K. Rowling' or to boast that your mother adored your novel or to explain that you've been rejected by every agent and publisher in Britain, but that you have a 'good feeling' about this one. In other words, use common sense.
Read the agency guidelines carefully and check to make sure you've included everything. Then, use the ending of your letter to clarify any practical matters. For example: 'I have included my email address for your response, as per your guidelines.'
If the agent asks for exclusive submissions, then make sure you mention that you are following this request. Do, however, put a time limit on the exclusivity, otherwise your submission process could be stalled for quite some time.
Finally, check over your letter more than once for spelling and typos, paying particular attention to the name of the agent.
You're finished! Well done. Have a biscuit!