A Cover Letter
is just a brief note telling the publisher what they'll find enclosed in the rest of the package you've sent them - a synopsis, manuscript, etc. It's essentially the same kind of letter you'd send along with a resume of your work history when applying for a job. It states what you want, what's included in the letter (or package) and highlights what might interest them about your 'resume' (or manuscript).
A Query Letter
is a bit different. They're a little longer and have to be written according to whether you're trying to market a fiction novel or non-fiction novel/article. The one Riverstone posted above is a good example of a snippet from a Fiction Query letter. Query Letters are sent off first
to get the publisher or agent interested in your story. If they write or call you back, you then
send the manuscript along with a Cover Letter
stating that the MS (or Sample Chapter[s]) is/are enclosed.
The Fiction Query Letter
is essentially the same thing one will find written in the blurb on the inside of a book cover in a book store - the one you always glance at when you're trying to decide if you're going to buy the book or not. Your Fiction Query Letter IS a blurb and you're trying to get the publisher to buy your book in the same way. It's usually a few paragraphs long and describes the plot in your story very briefly, usually featuring a quickie sketch of your MC and the problems he/she must face in the story, highlighting the plot 'hooks' that you hope will grab the reader's attention. This is much shorter than the Synopsis
, usually 3 or more pages long, that provides the plot of your book, written in (essentially) 'outline' form. Also, in your Query Letter, you will want to include a brief description of your past published items, book genre and the 'Target Audience' you wrote the book for. If you wrote a Romance novel, then state simply that you intend for the book to appeal to Women, ages 16-60. A sword & sorcery fantasy novel would probably target Males, ages 13 - 45, etc.
The Cover Letter and the Synopsis are usually part of an overall package you send along with 3 sample chapters from your manuscript when you are querying for publication. Read the publisher's or agent's submission guidelines carefully - some want only the query letter and 3 sample chapters right off the bat, while others may want the whole enchilada (query letter first) then the cover letter later, along with the complete manuscript. These requirements vary & also change as time goes on, so it helps to have a current edition of 'Writer's Market' to point you in the right direction when submitting. For now, just look at it like this:
1. Write your Query Letter (looks like a book blurb), asking the publisher/agent if they want to see more & to contact you if they do. **Note - Most publishers want the Synopsis sent along with the Query Letter first, then if they like it, they'll ask for the entire MS (manuscript), so in that case, you send only the Cover Letter along with the MS 'as requested' AFTER they've already seen the Query Letter & Synopsis.
2. (If they respond) Write your Cover Letter & include it with your Synopsis & 3 sample chapters (or entire manuscript, if that's what they want to see). Check your publisher's Submission Guidelines for their desired order of things to be mailed in.
3. Make sure your letters and MS are all FORMATTED CORRECTLY. MSS are usually done in Courier, Helvetica or Times font (10 characters per inch or '12' point size), 250 words per page (printed only on one side) and 25 lines per page. Print it out on NICE, heavier paper, not cheapo laser paper. Send the MS itself inside the box you bought your 'good' paper in - it's usually just big enough to hold one entire manuscript. DO NOT USE STAPLES OR PAPER CLIPS, and DO NOT PUNCH HOLES & BIND YOUR MS - It must all be in loose sheets, stacked neatly & cleanly in the box. Publishers are sticklers about format
, so be sure it's right before you send it off. If you want your MS back (which is a good idea, because 'good' paper is rather expensive & you can then send it to another publisher), include a stamped package that they can putyour stuff into and send back to you. If you don't, they will put it in the round file if they don't publish.
The Non-Fiction Query Letter
is different in that it's usually done like a standard 'book proposal' (but much shorter, and more like a book blurb you'd find in the inside cover of a non-fic book you're thinking of buying) in which you describe the subject you've written about, cite the research and sources you've used as well as describe (in a nutshell) what conclusions you've come to and how you've attempted to present these conclusions in the book manuscript. A lot of non-fiction query letters are sent out BEFORE the book has even been written, mainly to get the publisher interested and perhaps give you the 'OK' to go ahead and write the book -- on their dime. An example of this might be that you're in close contact with a celebrity or their family and want to write a 'Tell-All' book about that person (a popular starlet, a singer, a mafia boss, etc), so you would put down in your query letter that you, A., know this person ( or researched them) well enough to write a truthful account of their life; B. HOW you know this - quote sources; C. who would find this book appealing; D., state whether it's an 'Authorized' or 'Unauthorized' Biography and E., if the Publisher is interested in knowing more about this person and the MS you've either written or are GOING to write, to contact you for more details. If you've written other manuscripts or articles that have been published, include those too (your 'Writer's Resume').
Here's a site that describes the differences in Cover Letters and Query Letters:
Hope this helps,