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Mistakes You’re Making in Your Cover Letter

As a literary agent, it’s no surprise that I read a cover letter the same way I read a query. I’m looking for something (or someone) great to jump out at me. In this case, it’s not a book, but a qualified candidate.

In the many cover letters and resumes I receive each week I’m surprised, no shocked, at how little job seekers know about writing cover letters. Sometimes I don’t even get the cover letter at all.

The Most Important Piece

The cover letter is the most important piece of your job submission package and yet, the most overlooked. Your cover letter shows what makes you special, and why I should even want to read your resume.

It also gives the tiny details about you and your personality that don’t appear in the resume. How carefully did you read the job description? Did you remember to put the word “donut” in the subject? What three books have you read most recently? Why BookEnds? Why this job? Did you spell my name right? Do you also have a dog named Olive?

Every resume looks the same. It’s your education (often very similar to everyone else’s), it’s job experience and, let’s face it, it’s boring. Your cover letter is what allows your personality to shine. Let it shine. Please, let it shine.

The Mistakes

The top mistakes I see people make in a cover letter are very closely aligned with the top mistakes I see in query letters.

  1. It’s boring. I don’t want a rehash of your resume. I want your personality. This job, BookEnds, is a fun place. Let your fun come out. In our job listing for an executive assistant, we mention our love of puns. In the 100+ resumes, we received only one mentioned puns. Do you know who we would have loved immediately? Someone who opened with a great pun.
  2. You miss the details. Details matter and it’s amazing how many cover letters use the wrong name, misspell the name, or don’t include those things asked for on the website. A lot of employers are listing little things in job postings to see if people pay attention. Noting that you forgot to include the last three books you read makes it easy to pass you over. It shows me you aren’t detail-oriented enough or this job. It’s also why I ask for the cover letter in the body of the email and, maybe, a few other things. It’s not trickery, it’s a sneak peek at who I also need in this job.
  3. It’s too long. If I’m scrolling through hundreds of cover letters I want it short and to the point. Like a query I want you to give me an opening (why you want this job, where you saw it, what makes you the best candidate). Paragraph two should be the blurb of you. Tell me who you are and what makes you special. Tell me a story of why you’d fit in or be perfect to work with. And end with a short bio that shows me some things that either expand on your resume or are different.
  4. You sound like everyone else. Do NOT, when seeking a publishing job, talk about how you’ve been a reader since you were a child. I was a builder of forts. It does not make me qualified to be an architect. What I want to know is what you will bring to me and the agency. Not who you were growing up. Also, let’s be honest, everyone in this business has loved books since they were small. It doesn’t make you special.
  5. Do your research. Knowing who the company is can make a big difference in how well you stand out. Check out their social media and show them how you’ll fit with what they’ve created.
  6. Have fun with it. Publishing is a fun place to be. Show that in your resume. Overly serious is not BookEnds, although it might very well be someone else.

Category: Blog

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One comment

  1. So true in the opposite direction, too. Back when I wrote Other People’s Stuff for a living, I wrote many, many cover letters (since I worked on a contractor basis.) After a few years, I got pretty good at it. So when I started writing queries, I thought of them very much as cover letters, only with a slightly different format. I thought of the book I was pitching as the position I was applying for.

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