Before You Query, Add A Cover Page To Your Manuscript

If you’re a writer, chances are you plan on submitting your work at some point. In the event that you’re submitting a completed manuscript, I’d like to advise you add a cover page.

Why should I listen to you?

Great question.

For the past six months I’ve been an intern for a literary agent. While I can’t go into specifics, I can talk about generalized topics. My task was to read submitted manuscripts and break down the strengths, and/or the weaknesses of each one. This involved detailed reports on things like voice, characters, plot, dialogue, etc. All in all, I read about twenty different manuscripts and came to the conclusion that a cover page is absolutely necessary.

Cover pages are often an agent’s, or editor’s, first glimpse at the querying writer’s submission. They give an air of professionalism. They say the querying author has done their homework and wants to be taken seriously. To put it plainly, they make the best first impression. Plus, if it’s been a while since the agent/editor requested the material, a cover page can be a good reminder of who you are and what your project is all about.

What is a cover page?

Other than putting my own cover page up, I found a great example from author, William Shunn. You can see his cover page by clicking on this link: http://www.shunn.net/format/novel.html

A great cover page should include several things:

  1. Personal Info. Your name, mailing address, phone number, email address, and any applicable website. If the agent/editor finds something they like, they’re going to want to contact you. This info gives them plenty of choices. This info should all be single spaced and appear in the top, left-hand corner of the document.
  2. The Title of Your Submission. This should be pretty straightforward. The title should be centered and appear somewhere around the middle of the page.
  3. The Author. Again, this should be a no brainer. Skip a line between the title and put your name, or penname. Be sure to center this too.
  4. The Genre. This info serves as a reminder to the agent/editor. Plus, if they have assistants, or interns who read for them, this will give them some kind of clue what they’re about to read. Skip a line after the author’s name and center this info.
  5. The Word Count. Include the word count after the genre by skipping a line and centering this info as well. Again, this serves as a reminder to the requesting agent/editor.

I would suggest not including anything more/less in your cover page. Leave the accolades for the query letter if you can. Let the quality of your submission speak for itself.

Literary agents are notoriously busy people. They may request a submission but not get around to reading it for several months. Many agents employ interns/assistants to help keep their inbox in order. This means that the literary agent may not be the first person reading your submission. I know I wasn’t given the query letter to read before any of the submissions I read. Most of the time all I got was a submission with no additional information. This is why, I believe, a great cover page is a must have for every querying writer.

Along with submitting the standard agency report, I would also include a set of personal notes on each submission. The first thing I did was give my initial thoughts–including whether or not a cover page was included, any formatting issues, and overall appearance of the submission. I definitely noticed when there was, or wasn’t, a cover page.

Will a cover page make or brake your submission?

No. The quality of your submission should always speak for itself. However, the better submissions usually looked professional from a cover page all the way through to the last page. As we talked about earlier, a cover letter shows the submitting author is ready to be taken seriously because they’ve done their homework. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, appearances do count. Showing literary professionals we’ve taken the submission process as seriously as they do is the best possible first impression any querying author can make.

Put your best foot forward. Include a cover page.

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7 comments

  1. I had no idea you should have a cover letter. Have I mentioned lately that you rock?! You’re going to be the all knowledgeable querying ninja now. 😉 Awesome.
    Why isn’t it more common knowledge that we’re supposed to have a cover letter to go along with our query? Just curious…

    1. A cover letter is pretty much the same thing as a query letter, at least in terms of content when it comes to publishing. A cover page is different. It’s intended to be the very first thing readers see when they open your manuscript. Cover letters aren’t necessary, but, especially where interns/assistants are concerned, appreciated because they give vital pieces of info like genre and word count. If you’re confused, don’t worry. I can email you a sample cover page. 😉

  2. That’s interesting. I never thought of that before. And it make senses.
    Cover letters are one thing – gotta have those – but a cover sheet to the MS itself just smacks of good sense.
    *makes note*
    I’ll be doing that going forward. 🙂 Thanks for the tip!

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