Keys to Writing Successful Cover Letters that Get Ghostwriting Gigs
One commonality across nearly every ghostwriting opportunity you uncover, hear about, or are referred to is that you’ll need to put together a cover letter designed to get the recipient to hire you. Some ghostwriters have more success than others, however, with a few members of the Association of Ghostwriters asking me to explore what separates those who are chosen for projects from those who are not.
So I went to the experts – people who regularly hire ghostwriters to work on client projects – to get their advice. Here are some of the do’s and don’ts that they shared in the hopes of helping you up your success rate.
Leah Nicholson, production and editorial director at Jenkins Group says:
“Don’t ever (and I mean ever) send a form letter as a pitch letter. Just don’t do it. Don’t even send a form letter to indicate your interest in the job. I do understand that many writers apply for many jobs they don’t get. So, it may not be in their economic best interest to spend time crafting something personal for each job. I understand. If you want to send form letters to prospects you get from Craigslist, that’s your choice. Don’t send them to me. It’s an immediate fail in my book and your email goes right into the ‘no’ pile.
“If you’d like to put your best foot forward, you need to actually pitch yourself. Tell me why you are truly the best person for the job. I just received an excellent pitch letter. The writer didn’t have an extensive background with the subject matter, but the way the letter was crafted made me see that this person is a top-notch story teller who would do a great job with the project.
“There are some pitch letters that rise above the rest. Creativity counts. Writers should use every trick they possess to skillfully, artfully craft a pitch letter. You may also consider providing your ideas on the project. If you have a potential marketing idea or a way the book could be organized, share it. It’s a risk, but it’s also a way to draw attention to yourself as someone who has carefully considered the project.”
Carrie Jones, director of production at Greenleaf Book Group wants you to make sure you get right to the point:
“Since I usually only spend less than 10 seconds reading the cover letter, I’d advise making them short and to-the-point. If [you] are applying for a specific project, summarize [your] experience, highlight anything within [your] experience that may apply to that project. Keep it to two paragraphs maximum.”
Kevin Anderson, founder and CEO of Kevin Anderson & Associates offers some specifics about what you should definitely mention:
“When writing a cover letter, you need to show that you know about the client and their project (so do a little research!) and that you care. Don’t go on and on about your own accomplishments, but show your excitement for the project itself and explain why you’re excited about the book and believe in the project. If you’re discussing your expertise, be sure it relates directly to the project at hand and not general boasting (that is important too, but that’s what your résumé is for). You definitely want to share if you’ve done similar projects and showcase your expertise, so I’m not saying to ignore that completely, but I suggest including a cover letter that only mentions that briefly (and only the most important and relevant projects).
“One short intro sentence about your excitement for the project. One-to-two sentences about credentials and experience that showcase you’re the ideal candidate for the subject matter (i.e. bestselling books, notable clients, work experience in the field), the rest of the opening paragraph should show that you understand and care about the client and the book concept. At some point in the cover letter, invite the reader to review the many other accomplishments found in your résumé.”
And as for turn-offs that are likely to relegate your cover letter and résumé to the circular file, Anderson lists five:
“As we’re in the writing business, it’s incredibly easy to see if you’ve copy and pasted the content from a previous cover letter. I know it takes time, but unless your résumé is full of bestsellers, your application will quickly be discarded if it’s clearly just a generic cover letter.
“No published titles (or anything we can review).
“Anything that seems off-topic or irrelevant to the subject matter of the book or the client.
“Grammar mistakes and typos. You’re applying for a job in the writing industry. It always baffles me when cover letters from writers/editors contain typos, even though it happens all the time. You need to put your best foot forward. How can you possibly expect us to trust you with writing or editing if you can’t even take the time to ensure that your application for the job is error-free? Of everything you’ve ever written or edited, the cover letter should be your best.
“Misrepresenting self-published/vanity press books as traditionally published.”
Anderson’s colleague, Alexandra Napolitano, who is managing editor at Kevin Anderson & Associates (KAA), offers some tips specific to landing work at the firm:
“When I pitch a project to writers and request statements of interest (SOIs), I’m looking for a few different things,” she says, “some because of how we utilize the SOIs and others because I want the best person on the project.
“We want the cover letter or SOI addressed to the client, not to KAA management. This is very important because we’ve already hand-selected a few people to pitch the project to based on a variety of factors, so if you’re offered a project you don’t need to sell KAA on assigning you, you need to convince the client that you’re a good fit.
“I want to see genuine interest in the topic. The best SOIs are those that clearly show the writer has spent a few minutes Googling the client or the company (for business/nonfiction/etc.) or in the case of memoir/fiction, that they can relate to the story and connect with what the client wants to share.
“We don’t want too much of someone’s résumé or work history in the SOI. We share a bio with the client, and that should be contained there. I usually ask that people only mention past projects that are exceptional and relevant.
“Because KAA handles all the finance/contract/etc., anytime I see discussion of rates, links to personal websites, or anything similar, it immediately puts me off. When you’re a writer working with KAA, all of those details and discussions should go to us, not to the client, and have no place in an SOI. If a writer was interested in the project but the rate was too low, then that should be noted separately and never in the SOI itself.”
My takeaways from these ghostwriting prospects are to avoid copying and pasting from previous letters, demonstrate I’m familiar with the topic or the author/client, and express interest and enthusiasm for the work to be done. If you can do that, it sounds like your odds of moving on to the next step in the selection process will be much higher.