Chloe Seager: The Northbank guide to cover letters
We’re always getting asked for cover letter tips, so we thought we’d write ours out here as a handy guide. We’d just like to add, there are only a few things an author can do that would seriously put us off taking them on as a client, (e.g. ccing in loads of agents to the submission) so an imperfect cover letter doesn’t mean your submission will go straight in the bin. However, as agents are reading hundreds of submissions every week – usually on their own time, it’s not part of our 9-5 – there are a few things you can do to ensure your manuscript has the best possible chance of catching our eye.
To start, use the agent’s name, or at least the agency name e.g. Dear Northbank submissions. So many cover letters come in addressed to ‘Dear Sirs,’ (which means clearly, as half our agents are women, they have no idea who they’re writing to.) As asking someone to represent your work means asking someone to embark on a long, productive working relationship, this instantly doesn’t start off on the right foot. Even better, if you’ve done some research into the agency, or the specific agent, and think there’s a reason they’d be right for you – tell them!
We would suggest going on to say that you’re seeking representation for your work – including the title, genre and approximate word count.
Then we like to see a one-line pitch that tells us roughly what the book is about. This should be more about plot than themes e.g. take a look at these two pitches for The Hunger Games: ‘When Katniss Everdeen’s sister is chosen for the annual Hunger Games, where kids are pitted against each other in a fight to the death, she volunteers herself instead,’ or, ‘this is a story of battle, friendship, family and love triangles.’ The first tells us about the main character and what’s at stake, the second is vague and tells us basically nothing except that it’s like a lot of other YA novels (most include themes of friendship, family and love).
We like to see some information about the author, but no more than a paragraph. What do you do, and is it relevant to your book? (E.g. are you a vet who’s written a story about animals?) If what you do isn’t relevant to your book that’s also totally fine, but it’s good to have some context about who you are. Have you won any writing prizes? Is there anything else relevant to why you’re the best person to write this book?
We would suggest finishing by saying you’ve attached the requested material, according to the guidelines (usually first three chapters and the synopsis). On the synopsis – this should be a synopsis, not a blurb, so please do include spoilers. We want to know everything that happens.
This is just a rough guide, but an ideal cover letter should look something like this:
Dear [Agent’s name],
I’m writing to submit my [age and genre e.g. young adult fantasy manuscript] [title] complete at [approx. word count].
One or two line pitch: introducing the basic plot and main character.
According to your submission guidelines I’ve attached [see submission guidelines].
Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you [or something like this].
All best wishes,
Literary Agent Chloe Seager is responsible for Northbank’s children’s and young adult book business as well as science fiction and fantasy.Chloe is herself a published author of young adult fiction, with her first novel Editing Emma published by HQ in 2017.