Where so many hopefuls appear to shoot themselves disastrously in the foot is with the covering letter. As a part of my service, I regularly assess these for clients, a job that is often time-consuming out of all proportion to the letter’s length. It is astonishing how often these sample letters contain careless errors of the most basic kind: mistakes in the spelling of the author’s own name, address or title of his novel; typos, accidental omission of words; sloppy constructions and general evidence of a failure to proofread the letter before printing the final version.
Errors of grammar, spelling and punctuation in a covering letter, especially when all three are present, do not inspire confidence in the author’s ability to write a novel of publishable standard. Neither does extensive use of cliché or the repetition of words, phrases or ideas. For these letters it’s important to use the name of an individual rather than ‘Dear Sir or Madam’. Extreme as it may sound, there are those who would be minded to reject on that alone. The phrase ‘for your perusal’ virtually guarantees rejection. Indulgence in irrelevancies, extended explanations of the plot – pointless when a synopsis is included – and talking up your own book are all bad signs.
Agents and editors don’t want to be told how the novel should be marketed; it’s amazing how often authors fail to credit these people with knowing their own business! Detailed CVs showing your personal history from primary school onwards are not a good idea, especially if they are so lengthy as to suggest a commensurate length of tooth. (Age is not necessarily a disadvantage, but, there’s no need to bring it to the fore at the outset.)