Query Letters, Cover Letters, & Resumes
I was quite surprised at the amount of overlap between query letters and cover letters (for a resume). After thinking about it though, a query letter is a cover letter for your book (which is essentially your writing resume). As I read tips from the top experts, I’m reminded over and over again about the things I see during The Lost Hours. Many of the agent’s frustrations mirror my own, when I’m screening potential applicants. Sadly, the bulk of mistakes come down to sheer laziness – not something you want from a potential employee or author.
Somewhere out there exists a book or blog post with advice suggesting that cover letters begin with the following: “I am writing to apply for the position I saw on ______” – I see this over and over again – which would be fine, except for the fact that it’s written exactly as I just typed it. They never fill in the “blank space” the sentence just ends with “on .”
This is your first impression – and it’s a bad one. I often won’t read past that point, because if you’ve made a mistake in your first sentence I know the rest of it is going to be full of mistakes as well. The other common mistake I see is in the objective: “Seeking a position as a medical assistant” – I don’t work in the medical field so receiving a resume with that objective tells me that you don’t actually want the job you just applied for; if you did, you wouldn’t have an objective stating you want to work in another field.
It’s frustrating to see this over and over again and I can imagine how much more frustrating it is for an agent or publishing house, when you consider the volume of submissions they receive each year. Thus, a few tips that you can apply to both your cover letters and your query letters:
1) Read everything you write out loud. It is common to think that you’ve written something down, only to discover you missed several words. (Avoid #blankspace syndrome).
2) If you are applying for a job as a teacher, don’t list your objective as “Seeking a position as a dental hygienist”. This seems pretty self-explanatory but obviously it needs to be said. This applies to your query letters – don’t submit your unicorn themed children’s story to a non-fiction agent. Research who you are submitting to, generic cover/query letters are going to hurt, not help you.
3) Don’t try to be cute. Submitting a letter that is a rainbow of colors is distracting and unprofessional. If you are trying to prove you are not design challenged (applying for a graphic design job or book illustrator) allow your actual work to showcase your talents, not your cover letter. Colors are gimmicky.
4) Don’t waste your time – or theirs. If you are applying for a job that requires a Bachelor’s degree or a minimum of 10 years experience in real estate – don’t think you can skate in with three years of customer service and a high school diploma.
5) Follow directions. If the editor asks for 3-5 pages, only submit 3-5 pages. If the job application asks for a cover letter, then write a cover letter. This is the easy part. If you can’t take the time to do what’s being asked of you, how serious are you about what you are trying to accomplish? And how serious do you expect them to take you?
Advice from the pro’s:
Writer’s Digest Successful Queries
and a book every aspiring author should pick up:
77 Reasons why your book was rejected (Mike Nappa).
Your homework: Whatever you are working on now, whether it’s a short story, poem, or novel – make your next round of edits an audible one. Read the entire thing out loud to yourself, focus on each individual word (read them, don’t remember them).
Saturday: The Spark will update tomorrow. Come back next Friday for a new post!
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