One of the biggest hurdles on the way to becoming a commercially successful writer is getting your first book published. This requires convincing total strangers to take a chance on you, and that means you have to present yourself to total strangers in the best possible light. The first light flashing along the runway to stardom is the cover letter the agent or editor will read. It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if the cover letter isn’t perfect (as long as it’s clean), but it is likely the first bit of your writing your potential business partner will see.
Publishing is a name-dominated industry. When you have never had a novel published before, you are at a disadvantage. It is much safer for a publisher to go with a writer who writes complete crap, but crap that sells. The cover letter, therefore, is all about getting an agent or editor excited about your story — excited enough to eventually risk thousands of dollars (for an editor) or hundreds of hours (for an agent). For that reason, the cover letter is all about the story, the thing the reader of the letter will eventually have to sell.
As I sit and continue to hone the letter, I feel that perhaps for me the cover should be more like the ballyhooed End User License Agreement for Jer’s Novel Writer. More about me and the way I do business than about the actual issue at hand. And so I give you the cover I would like to write.
I am a writer. I’m not some guy who scribbles in his spare time, I write all the time. Sometimes I forget to eat. Man, did that ever piss off my ex-wife when I would get dizzy when I stood up from my computer and she’d ask “when did you eat last?” (only she didn’t speak so formally) and I’d think for a moment and try to remember if I ate yesterday and generally I’m pretty sure I did or I’d really be a mess now so I’d say “yesterday…?” and she’d roll her eyes and say something like “How can you even do that?” and I’d say, “well, I was in a groove” but she never appreciated that kind of stuff.
We’re still friends, by the way. She’s remarried, couple of kids, everything’s cool.
So, eating turns out to be pretty important, not just for marital tranquility, but for health as well (remember the dizzy part?), and that is why I am writing to you, dear Editor/Agent. I can happily spend every waking moment torturing myself for just the right word, but sooner or later I have to go to the grocery store, and they always want money. While I would write for free (in fact I have been for some time), I cannot eat for free.
I know, I know, it makes no sense to me, either. Accepting that, the obvious solution is to sell my writing, which is something you could do far better than I.
As a concrete example of the stuff I’d like you to help me sell, enclosed are the first few pages of The Monster Within. It’s about a mercenary named Hunter, and let me tell you, Hunter is messed up. You read the first part, and you say, “Dang, that guy’s messed up.” Then you read the next part, and you say, “Dang, that guy’s really messed up.” Then you read the part after that and you say, “Holy Crap!” but right after that is “Ooooooh.” That’s when you flip back to the other parts and say “But I thought… dang! Now I get it! Hunter is monumentally messed up, and wicked dangerous.” You gotta love heros like that. There’s sex, too, and it’s not even gratuitous.
Monster weighs in at an all-muscle 140,000 words; it’s a powerful beast that will grab you by the throat and drag you from cover to cover.
Unless you don’t like that kind of thing, of course. If you’re shy, the beast will simply hold your hand. Enclosed is an envelope plastered with stamps worth damn near a buck of my food money, just so you can get back to me. (Note that although my mailing address is foreign, my not-in-the-US-ness is not formally recognized by any government. You can pass me my grocery money just as easily as you could to any other US citizen.)
I have another work in progress, The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy, which is exactly like almost every other fantasy novel except it has evil talking squirrels and a hot stepmother.
There are a couple of reasons not to use this cover letter. First, it makes me seem psychotic. It’s important that people don’t realize you’re psychotic until after you ink your first book deal. After that it’s marketing gold. Second, the tone of the cover letter is light and flippant, and the tone of the novel isn’t. This would set up false expectations. One could argue that Editor/Agent would appreciate both cover letter and novel for their unparalleled (adjective carefully chosen, just beating out orthogonal) use of the English language, and would forgive the difference in tone, but Editor/Agent seems to be easily distracted.
On the other hand, the query does use “wicked dangerous”, and ends with “hot stepmother”. I bet Editor/Agent doesn’t get many queries like that!