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Cover letter basics

I happened upon the Publishers Marketplace page for Al Zuckerman (agent for Ken Follett and Michael Lewis, among many others), and noticed what he wants in a cover letter:

"If you think I would be interested in your work, please write me a one page letter. First paragraph should tell what about your book is wonderful and exciting, the second should recount the essence of its content, and the third should tell why you’re the best person to be writing it."

I don't think I've read a more succinct summary of what a cover letter should have. I especially like the order: what's wonderful about it, what's it about, what's wonderful about you. The challenge, of course, is making the first good without the reader knowing the second yet, but if you can't write about what transcends what a book's about then it doesn't matter what the book's about.


This is a pretty good post.

Any way to expand or add to that advice in a bit more detail?
I could expand only by example. Fortunately, Al just sent me a project whose cover letter roughly follows his own template:

The first paragraph discusses how a market segment has grown in the last three years.
The second discusses how the book will cover this business and what readers can learn from it.
The third discusses why the writer is the right person for the book.

In practice for fiction, this might be like this great cover letter or book description I read once, something like: "Books, like games, often follow heroes into some horribly castle or dungeon and show them defeating a great evil. But you know how in games there's always some nameless guy just outside the big boss room selling healing potions and what not? This book is about him."