Dear Editor – What is the difference between a query letter and a cover letter?
—Marissa, the Valley
QUERY LETTER: A query letter is sent when a writer seeking traditional publication queries an agent or publisher. Since many submissions are handled via email, the query letter typically starts out the email, then the manuscript follows below in the body of the email or as an attachment, depending on the agency’s or publisher’s submission guidelines (which should be followed precisely). Longer queries may also require a story synopsis. If the query is via an online form, then the form should be completed accordingly.
While a key element of a query letter is hooking the reader, a bio is expected. This means including a brief recap of relevant information about yourself. Even if you don’t have prior published children’s books, this is where you can list children’s magazine publications, awards for your children’s writing, or other related items. If you’re a children’s librarian or school teacher, include that information. If the book is an #ownvoices story or the content otherwise reflects an aspect of your life that’s underrepresented in children’s books, that is also pertinent. Another fact to include would be if you are a subject-matter expert on the topic of your book (i.e., you’re a geologist and your book is about dinosaur fossils).
The main goal of the query letter is to convince an agent or publisher to read the pages you’ve attached—or, if it’s a board book or picture book, to read the full manuscript. After all those hours you spent writing the book, invest time and thought on how to best pitch this story in a query letter. If you’re part of a critique group (and I hope you are), workshop your query letter with them. It’s that important.
COVER LETTER: A cover letter may accompany a shorter work such as a short story, poetry, an essay, or an article for a magazine.
However, a cover letter may also be sent when an agent or publisher requests the “full” (i.e., full manuscript) after reading your initial submission of the first pages or first chapters, query letter, and synopsis—or whatever combination of these items they required as part of their submissions process.
In general, with a cover letter, the recipient is expecting your submission.
BOTH: Beyond the differences noted above, some content in query and cover letters is similar—and, sometimes, confusingly, the terms are used interchangeably. Either letter should be concise, interesting, free of grammatical errors, and formatted to today’s standards. As with all communications, professionalism and kindness are appreciated.
Log your submissions. Everyone has their own style. Choose whatever works for you and consistently keep track of all communications.
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Answers by Christine Van Zandt, professional freelance editor and owner of Write for Success Editing Services, www.Write-for-Success.com