Run For Cover

I’m back to writing cover letters. But have no fear, my manuscript Certainty hasn’t been shot down in flames (yet) – it’s just that the reasonable length of time I held off from submitting to more literary agents is at an end. Rather than sitting around twiddling my thumbs I thought I’d dip my toes into the water again, buoyed both by the confidence of being asked for the full manuscript in my very limited first round of queries, and my additional thoughts about what does and doesn’t work in the submission process. In the interim period I’ve compiled a list of agents that I think could well suit the novel. I’ll be tailoring personalised letters for each of them.

Back in the day, standard practice was to only submit to one agent at a time, but then a bright spark must have worked out that with the average response times for both the initial submission and then the full manuscript, you could be pushing up the daisies before you even got through the first page of people who might be interested. In a bit of a noob mistake after interest was shown during my previous round of submissions (I blame being flabbergasted), I said that I was happy to let the agent concerned have a period of exclusivity. I’ve therefore warned him in advance that I’ll now be submitting to others too. However, I’m still more than interested in the prospect of him representing me, and I’ve made it clear that I’m happy for him to take as much time as he needs to consider the full manuscript.

Cover letters, of course, are like stamping through a field of unexploded ordinance while wearing tennis rackets for shoes; a high wire act where the wire’s as thick as the furthest right guitar string in that level on the original Super Monkey Ball for the Gamecube. Insert your own “oh, you could fail badly at any point” analogy or metaphor here.

How confident is too confident? How enthusiastic is too enthusiastic? How dry and professional is too dry and professional? These are the kinds of questions that cause me to agonise over individual words in case they conspire to wreck my chances. Yes, it’s silly to think that one bad word or sentence in a cover letter could put someone off the sample chapters of a novel if they’re really good (emphasis on “if”), but even so, it’s all part of a proposal package that should be a unified whole of amaze. Any rubbish in the cover letter will inevitably colour the agent’s initial view of the supplementary material you’re enclosing. With the benefit of hindsight, even the one I wrote that worked, now seems… well… mostly shit.

That’s probably a good sign, though the glass-half-empty part of me is eagerly anticipating a slew of rejections in order to prove the theory that my earlier success was a fluke. Luckily, the published authors I’ve talked to tend to agree that no matter how much research you do to try to even the odds, the whole submissions process can still resemble a crapshoot at times. Luckily I know how to play craps. Though knowing doesn’t always mean winning, as the dollars I’ve lost in Las Vegas to this addictive but very brutal game will testify. And so the analogy continues.

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