Kaitlin Martin, “And They Got Away.” Grade 12, Age 18. Portfolio Silver Medal with Distinction, Digital Art.

In this month’s Ask Ned, Ned explains the difference between a cover letter and query letter to Courtney, who has completed a manuscript and wants to know about her next steps.

Courtney Asked:
Hi! I recently finished a picture book manuscript, I have the latest copy of the writer’s market by my side and when I see that agents or publishers want the complete manuscript of the picture book being submitted which is fine but do they also expect a cover letter/query?  Thanks!

Ned Answered:
Courtney, congrats on finishing your MS! You’ve clearly done your homework on the business side. Agents and publishers who want a complete manuscript expect a cover letter but not a query letter. What’s the difference? Here goes.

A query letter’s purpose is to get someone (a magazine editor, an agent, an editor) interested in your writing. Query letters are a page long and consist of three paragraphs: a hook that gets the recipient interested in your idea, a synopsis that expands on your hook, and a bio that says who you are as a writer. Whether you are asking your local paper if you can write about the new water tower or seeing if William Morris Endeavor will represent your novel, that’s how the query letter should be structured. More details are available at AgentQuery.

A cover letter’s purpose is to provide your contact information and be sweet. If your manuscript just shows up at an agent or publisher’s office, they might be a little insulted — you’ve got to butter them up! A cover letter is half a page long and consists of two paragraphs: a summary that explains what you’re submitting and contact info for the recipient to be in touch. You don’t have to summarize your material in a cover letter because the material is being submitted and will speak for itself.

Both types of letters need a great big thank-you at the end!

And one more thing: don’t start your query or cover letter with “My name is Courtney.” Your name and address should be on the letter. You’re only allowed to start with “My name is…” if your name is “Slim Shady.”


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Have questions about writing, or the business of publishing? Ask a real writer! Ned Vizzini Vizzini is the author of three acclaimed young adult books: It’s Kind of a Funny Story(now a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah…. Ned has spoken at over 200 schools, universities, and libraries around the world about writing and mental health. E-mail your questions to askned@artandwriting.org.

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