Query Letter vs. Cover Letter, Wouldn’t you Love to Know the Difference?

Quick answer:

The query letter is a tool to gain permission to send your manuscript.

The cover letter accompanies the requested manuscript.

Better answer:

The query letter is a sales pitch.

The cover letter reconnects the agent/editor with the reason they requested the manuscript.

Every agent has his little quirks about how he prefers his query letter written. Some like comparisons, as in, “It’s Harry Potter meets The Duff.” Most would figuratively burn a query with a line like that.

You can’t please everybody.


Basically, a query goes like this:

  • First paragraph—The hook. Then the pitch.

  • Second paragraph (if needed)— Finishes the brief synopsis

  • Third paragraph—Why you targeted this agent/editor

  • Fourth paragraph—Your bio

Easy Peasy.

I want to live in a world where limes and lemons can squeezy together.

A cover letter does not take nearly as much sweat:

  • First paragraph–Reminder the editor that she requested the manuscript, with the name, genre, word count and date requested

  • Second paragraph–Elevator pitch

  • Third paragraph–Thank you for your consideration

Even Easier Peasier.

Look. I know it feels like your whole life is riding on that “send” button, but it’s not. Some people will love your writing, some will hate it.


So what. Some people even hate J.K. Rowling, and she’s doing just fine.


9 thoughts on “Query Letter vs. Cover Letter, Wouldn’t you Love to Know the Difference?

Add yours

  1. Great post. I’m wondering what it’s called if you’re submitting a picture book manuscript? Most say to include the text with the query … so is that still a query, or is it a cover letter?


    1. I basically think of it this way, a cover letter is telling what you are sending. A query letter is asking for permission to send. So, if you are sending the letter along with the manuscript it is a cover letter.


  2. Really it’s the same thing for picture books, mostly. Not sure about agents, so I’m talking editors/publishers here (probably quite similar – if not, the same). For publishers that allow unsolicited submissions, send a cover letter b/c you’re sending the whole ms. For the ones that don’t allow unsolicited submissions, you can still send a query letter to see if they’ll ask for the ms. Even still, with PBs being as short as they are, I find that my query and cover letters are usually very similar. I try to use more of a hook early on for the query and try to make the cover letters a sentence or two shorter. Either way, if it’s your voice, I think it will be fine.


    1. I agree Christie, for picture books anyway the letters are often the same although with some of my queries I add more detail or sometimes even a quote from the manuscript to help the reader get a feel for what I am asking to send.


  3. Great post! I like how easily you explained the difference between the two. I am writing a series on When We Write Letters, and I write about cover letters to potential employers and literary magazines. Query letter makes so many writers nervous. You provide a great post for encouragement and information!


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