How to Write a Cover Letter

Yeah, basically everyone who works in publishing has made fun of cover letter writing at one point or another. So what, punk? Do you feel lucky?

I didn’t think so.

You can’t spell “novel” without 80% of the letters necessary to spell “hovel.”

Hi kids! Here’s my fail-proof guide on the art of writing a charming cover letter that will not only catch your editor’s attention, but keep it trained, like a well-oiled AK-47, right on you.


“Dear Editor,” will not suffice. Do you want to sound like a cud-chewing bovine, mindlessly following the literati herd? Find out your editor’s name, and then garble it. Your editor will be thankful for the chance to see their identity in a new light, and impressed at your dexterity with character names. For example, “John Smith” morphs into the eye-catching “Jo Smithereens.” Cute!

Bonus tip: Is your editor a man? Refer to him as “Mrs.” You’ll have him instantly alert.


This is the single most important line of your cover letter. You gotta grab ’em, hook, line, and sinker.

Consider a meta approach: “This is the single most important line of my cover letter”; a knowledgeable approach: “As my internet research tells me, you–Harvard class of ’79, tattoo of a small chinchilla on your instep, currently residing at 9347 E. Woodlawn–are the perfect editor for this novel”; a humorous approach: “Whoa, what’s that on your shirt? HAHA, just flicked you in the nose! That’s the kind of effect my story is gonna have on you!”; a sensual approach: “Imagine my novel slowly loosening your tie…”; a melancholic approach: “As I stared into the abyss with the noose around my neck, what should arise from its gloomy depths but the idea for this novel, fully-formed in all its dark, flawed glory”; a troubled approach: “I wrote this in prison. Still there. Killed a man.”; or a foodie approach: “You’re biting into the perfect grilled cheese. The Gruyere, melted to perfection, brings tears of joy into your eyes as you masticate. This is the kind of vivid, sensory experience that awaits you in my novel.”


It’s time to break out the big guns. Summarize your novel in the most concise, gripping terms you can manage. Good: Using one-liners that look like they should appear on the cover of a movie.

“He’s got a plan that will change the world.”
“It’s the moments that make us or break us.”
“With every great love comes a great story.”

Better: Writing about your novel in third-person, as though it’s already been published.

“Tori’s novel shows a striking maturity of plot and a masterful command of language. As she weaves a spell of magic around her characters, you’ll find yourself drawn into the darkly lyrical world she has created. A particular triumph of the novel is the narrative voice, which Tori executes with a skill reminiscent of Chekhov or Kafka. The ending is absolutely heart-rending. I cannot recommend enough that you read it.”

Best: Pretend that you are a robot.

“Information feed: ON. Novel computing. Excellent stuff. Story of man struggling with own identity, guilt. Love interest helps change spirit into stronger iron.” (It’s OK if it comes out a little distorted–that’s what robots do.)


Consider this your knockout punch. You’ve been beating the editor senseless with your ceaseless wit, your endearing one-liners, and the thick syrupy genius that practically oozes off your page. Now it’s time to make sure they don’t wake up for 4-6 hours, and when they do, their head is throbbing like a speaker at a Strokes concert and they have cauliflower ear.

I find it best to model your sign-off after the Seven Deadly Sins of the Catholic church. After all, everybody loves a good illicit thrill.

Wrath: “I can tell you’re thinking of rejecting me, you useless sonofabitch. You thought my metaphors were sharp? Meet my KNIFE.”
Greed: “Call me soon to discuss my advance. $$. I like nice cars.”
Sloth: “PS…I haven’t written Chapter 20 yet…maybe you could…”
Pride: “I’m the next best thing in fiction. Can your puny little publishing house keep up?”
Lust: “I can’t wait to get my hands on your edited version.”
Envy: “That “Twilight” thing you put out was no better than my novel. My vampires are just as hot. My main character is a soulless unappealing bit of angst. Whatever, I don’t care, I just think it was stupid that you picked her.”
Gluttony: “If you liked this book, you’ll love my next: Clogged Artery: Recipes from the Heart.”


You are truly great.

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