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Cover Letter Pointers for Freelance Writers

cover letterCover letters are used for responding to job ads, introducing yourself to prospective clients, when sending over-the-transom articles on spec and for proposing a book to a publisher or agent.

Sometimes the cover letter stands alone, but more often is part of a proposal package.

It’s a sales document, designed to get the attention of the person who can buy your book or article, or become a client, etc.

Usually the cover letter is the first thing that appears in your proposal package, it’s often the last thing you’ll write. (Or it would be if we sent printed copies of proposals anymore. Although I appreciate the paper savings I wonder what really happens in the office or the recipient.)

Writing a cover letter after you’ve written the rest of the material puts you in a position of really knowing what the highlights are. The highlights are your selling points.

Who are you addressing the cover letter to?

If at all possible find out the name of the person the cover letter should go to. This is rarely possible when responding to job ads, so in that case don’t worry about it. In most other instances, checking a publisher’s, magazine’s, company’s or agent’s website will at least give you a phone number to call and ask. It’s worth the call; the person who answers the phone will normally be quite happy to give you a name and the proper spelling. We all love it when someone knows our name.

Finding the right name is a subtle signal that you do your research well. And, if the publishing house or agency or company is small, there may be no gatekeeper. Even if there is, the mailroom might slip up and deliver your proposal right where you want it without the initial barriers. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s worth getting the name.

The cover letter introduces the proposal

Of course, to land the gig or sell the article, get an agent, etc.,  the real key is the quality of  your proposal. The cover letter is your introduction to the proposal. Properly done it let’s whoever is reading know what’s in the proposal and gets them interested, even excited enough to read more or pass it to the right person.

You want to sum up and sell your key or main idea in a way that demonstrates your best writing. You also want to say who the readers are or why the readers would benefit from what you’re proposing. And you want to say why you’re the best person to write what you’re proposing and describe in brief why this is all marketable.

One page is best, but surely no more than two. And be sure your own name, address, phone and email are included as well as your signature. Like any business letter, your cover letter should be short, to the point and single-spaced. Remember in both the cover letter and the proposal, use the active voice whenever possible.

A sample cover letter

Here is the letter I might have written about an updated book I’m about to relaunch if I had been going to a trade publisher:

(My contact info)

(Ms Firstname Lastname), (Title)
(Company name)
(City, ST Zip)

Dear Ms. (Lastname)

It’s been my experience that almost everyone wants to write a book, or thinks they do. How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal That Sells comes from my experience selling nine books to trade publishers from proposals.

The book is short and to the point, with explanations of both the elements necessary for a successful proposal – eight – and the process a publishing house uses to evaluate one. Specific examples and checklists are used, making it ideal for the literally millions of would-be non-fiction authors.

The enclosed proposal outlines the project in detail; my complete writing credits are available at (professional website).

Thank you for your time and interest. I look forward to your response.



Everything a good cover letter needs is here:

  • The first line hints at the size of the market.
  • The second describes the project and demonstrates my expertise.
  • The next paragraph gives the kinds of details a book publisher or agent wants to know.
  • The third paragraph tells them what the proposal contains.
  • The final one is a polite  way to acknowledge the reader while asking for a reply.

This pattern can be used for any kind of cover letter.

Yes, How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal That Sells is being relaunched soon with updated information and over 200 publishers of non-fiction books linked for your convenience. If you’d like to be notified when the book becomes available, just fill out this form and you’re all set.

Write well and often,


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