Cover Letter vs. Query Letter: What’s the Difference?

In our workshops, we get this question a lot: What’s the difference between a cover letter and a query letter? Here’s the answer.

A cover letter is one page. It is what you attach to your complete book proposal when submitting it to agents or publishers. It is 9994948-old-ribbon-typewriter-machineincluded as a teaser only, introducing the title and concept of your book, who you are, and why you are sending it to this particular agent or editor. (This shows you’ve done your homework and aren’t just blanketing Manhattan with submissions to anyone and everyone.) There is no need to go into extensive detail about your book in the cover letter; your goal is to simply pique enough interest for the reader to flip immediately to your impressive proposal—which you’ve crafted according to our awesome Business of Books plan.

A query letter is more fleshed out, as it stands in place of your proposal. Many agents require a query letter only, and will then request a full proposal if the concept intrigues them. So, in essence, your query is a mini-proposal, sent in advance. Think about distilling each of the key sections of your proposal—including your Intro, Competing Titles, About the Book, About the Author, and Marketing)—into a separate short paragraph. Be sure to close with the fact that you have a full proposal at the ready if (when!) they want to see more. Case in point: One of our former clients sent out three query letters via email to agents, per their guidelines, and two of them responded the next day asking to see more. This clever author had a polished, complete proposal ready to send right away, while the interest was fresh. Soon after, she signed with one of those two agents (and was published within the year).

Both the cover and the query letter should set the tone and voice of the proposal, and also highlight why your idea is strong and why you are the person to write it. Sell it!

For more helpful tips on your proposal, the submission process, and all things publishing, buy our Publishing Toolkit. It’s Jen & Kerry in a binder!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Cover Letter vs. Query Letter: What’s the Difference?

  1. mab6hh

    Having finished my novel and searching for an agent, I haven’t ever found or seen an agent that has requested a cover letter. Is that really common?

    Also, does your site help with deciding on finding particular agents that would take an interest on the specific topics of your completed novel. For example would you be able to find an agent that would take an interest in my fantasy novel. I constantly read how agents take an interest in a person’s novel based on their personal preference more so than whether they think they can sell it. So figuring out how to craft a query for a particular agent is a must have skill. Does this site aim to help cultivate such a skill?

    Thank you for taking the time to read my questions
    -Myron

  2. Pingback: Writing a query letter and synopsis | Jade De-Terville

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