A cover letter! Eep!

Normally I would keep this to myself. I’d let my computer eat it, and it would sit in its belly. It would be regurgitated now and then, to be examined and tweaked, but ultimately it would be left there.

Did I just make my cover letters sound like vomit?

Why yes, yes I did.

My problem with cover letters is that I could write five different ones, telling *gasp!* showing different things, and I’d think they were all relevant.

How do you know what to include and what to leave out?

There are many ways to cut your way down to the best stuff. Here’s what I did.

I had a poke around this blog. http://queryshark.blogspot.com/It’s by a New York Literary Agent, and it’s where queries (cover letters) are sent to die and be reborn as better and brighter versions of their past selves.

I forgot about my book. Forgot that it is, in fact, over 100k words. Forgot the ins and outs, the secondary characters, the back-stories and the sub-plots. What’s left, the core that never fades from your mind, the fundamental part that you CAN’T forget, that’s what goes in the letter.

I focused on my main character. She is the point of my book. Every time I’m asked what it’s about, I’m tempted to say ‘It’s about Ara’.

I left out as many names as possible. The name of the country, the name of the main city, the name of the sanctuary, gone gone gone. Three names feature in the letter; the main character, the source of the conflict, and the ‘enemy’-the person ‘what’s at stake’ is tied to.

I thought ‘what am I trying to say’ and then I said it.

I wrote the letter the way I wrote the book; being bold and starting sentences with ‘but’ or ‘and’, single-word sentences, single-line paragraphs…It’s a taster of your writing; it should be polished, but not shined up so much that it doesn’t sound like you.

Does it do my book, my story, my main character justice? No idea.

Here it is…

Dear Agent

In a rebel sanctuary, hidden among thousands of creaking trees, Ara spearheads the fight against Kry Maladin; the country’s ruler.

The sanctuary is filled with people she snatched out of Kry’s crushing hands; people he wanted to work for him, people he’d make do what he wanted. Now those people watch her with frosty eyes and whisper about her when she shouldn’t be able to hear them. Ara isn’t like them, and even though she hides it, they know she’s different. Dangerous.

What they don’t know is that she’s the reason they were rescued; that she pitted her speed and strength against Kry’s defences so they could be saved. And no one in the sanctuary knows that she does it because, years ago, Kry’s crushing hands snatched her, and held on tight until she escaped.

On the two-year anniversary of her escape, Risk, Kry’s son, is brought to the sanctuary. And Risk, whose voice grips her heart, whose eyes arrest her breath and send phantom pains sweeping through her, came willingly.

He wants to join their fight. The council that runs the sanctuary, and resents Ara’s power, is eager to accept him.

A few words about the part he played in her past could keep him out forever. But Ara won’t speak about it. She won’t even think about it. And so he is allowed to stay.

When Risk discovers that Ara carries out rescue missions almost entirely alone, he is adamant that she have help. He doesn’t know the extent of her abilities; she didn’t have them before. He only knows what his father would do to her if he caught her again.

Ara knows too.

But help would be a hindrance; no one can keep up with her. Help could mean her return to the past. Still, she says nothing to stop it.

The council jump on the chance to dilute her control and she is forced to accept a team of rebels; a team which includes Risk.

When a rescue mission she wanted to do alone goes wrong, Ara stays back to hold off Kry’s soldiers so the team can escape. She’s hit with darts of a paralysing drug made just for her, and falls back into Kry’s hands.

ARA is the first book in a science-fiction series, and is complete at 108k words.

Thank you for your consideration.

Roisin Anna Murphy


2 thoughts on “A cover letter! Eep!

  1. I think it sounds excellent it’s very gripping, and not over whelming or confusing. I don’t have any experience of writing cover letters, so can’t really comment on that hun.

  2. Nice tone! I’ve done a whole bunch of covering letters though, and I have some bits of advice that you might or might not find useful!

    First up, when looking for advice you might want to check UK sources first – our styles of cover letter differ quite a bit from the Yanks – much as our tv sitcoms do (vis a vis canned laughter, obvious humour etc.). As far as I’ve found out, American agents favour a letter style which is almost like the blurb from the book jacket, whereas English agents expect a much more concise summary of the plot – a maximum of three short paragraphs is recommended. Some sources even recommend that as the maximum length for the whole query letter – either way, most advice I’ve seen is that the letter should be short – never longer than a page unless absolutely unavoidable. Think like the agent getting the letter – he’s got thirty to read that morning, before he starts his ‘proper’ job. If some are brief, with lots of white space on the page, he’ll skim those first to see if they sound interesting. The three-page epic might never even get read – it will certainly be left till ‘later’ if he’s in a can’t-be-arsed type mood.

    Out of all my rounds of sendings, the last was most successful in that I received no form letters or emails, only personal rejections. The letter I used then was what I considered to be the best I’d done, with all the advice and some clever tactics distilled into one short piece.

    I started by introducing myself and asking if they would kindly consider my book for representation. I compared it to a similar title they had already represented, showing that a) I’d done my research about them, and wasn’t just sending a mass-mailing to everyone in the Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook, and that b) I know and like their (authors’) work. It also puts them in mind of a positive publishing experience they’ve had, which is a psychological tactic, and creates a positive association between your work and the other writer’s – just steer clear of sounding like you’re bragging! Avoid ‘I write like Bill Bryson, only funnier’ – stick with – my novel XXX, very much in the style of Terry Pratchett…

    And then condense the story synopsis into three (max) paragraphs that put emphasis on the struggle between key characters and how this develops. This is where the ‘shock and awe’ tactic so popular in the US can be used – try to wow them from the start, so instead of a ‘In the world of xx, lurks a…’ type opening, go for maximum drama here – ‘Ara is not human. Nothing human could kill so well, so quickly, so silently – and yet have compassion. But compassion is what defines Ara; ever since her escape from the torture chambers of Kry So-and-so, she’s been fighting to rescue her fellow citizens from his grasp. If only they knew… maybe then they would trust her.’

    DRAMA – and then sum the rest of the plot up in 2 more paras, one about Risk and all the conflict he brings into her world, then one para about ho the story moves to it’s conclusion or climactic battle. Easy!

    Then one final para, telling them the book is complete, long enough (100,000 words, not too much more or less – lie if need be, I did!) and mention anything you think they should know – any fan base you’ve built up, relevant qualifications, writing courses attended etc – if none of that applies, say nothing – less is definately more to the bored agent who just wants to get through the morning’s slush pile reading as quickly as possible!

    Wow, sorry, that was LONG! Shoulda done it in an email perhaps… Ah well. Feel free to message me if you wanna chat more about this stuff!! I spent the better part of two years researching it!


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