Five Terms Related to Submitting a Manuscript

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A reader asks about some terms:

I’m confused: What’s the difference between Submissions and Query Letters and Cover Letters and Biographies and Resumés?

As these terms are often used interchangeably on writing sites, the reader’s confusion is understandable. Perhaps the following explanations can help.

1. Query Letter
A query letter is a one-page letter intended to interest an editor in something a writer has written or intends to write. It should address the editor by name (spelled correctly) and begin with a hook: a strong statement that piques the editor’s interest.

If the query is about a magazine article, the hook might be the first paragraph of the article. The query should give the editor an idea of the structure and content of the piece being offered. If the offered work is a novel, the letter should include a description of the main theme and story line, including conflict and resolution (how it ends).

A query letter should tell why the author is qualified to write the article or book and end with a direct request for the desired magazine assignment or for permission to send a manuscript.

2. Cover Letter
When the editor asks to see a manuscript or sample pages, the writer includes a cover letter with the submission: a brief letter to accompany the manuscript or sample. Editors receive hundreds of queries. The cover letter is a practical and courteous way to remind the editor of the particulars of your initial query. Keep it short and don’t try to do any additional selling. It’s enough to say something like this: “Here’s the short story I queried you about on March 20, 2016. I look forward to hearing from you.”

3. Author’s Bio
The shortening bio for biography is the norm in the context of marketing written material. The bio focuses on the writer’s credentials. Publishers want to know if the writer has published before and is qualified to write about the material being offered. They do not want to know about the writer’s dogs, cats, children, hobbies, or any other irrelevancies.

4. Resumé
A resumé is a brief account of one’s education and professional experience. Some of the same information that belongs in a resumé can also have a place in an author’s bio, but a resumé will be more comprehensive regarding past employment. A writer who is applying for a job as an editor or a blogger will certainly offer a resumé to the potential employer.

Note: Although the French original is spelled with two accent marks (ré·su·mé) American spelling recognizes both resume and resumé. I favor a single accent for two reasons: the first accent is meaningless to most English speakers, but the final accent mark distinguishes the noun and its pronunciation from the verb resume.  For example: “I started writing my resumé today, but was interrupted. I’ll resume work on it in the morning.”

5. Submission
When an editor asks to see a partial or completed manuscript, the writer prepares a submission that includes a manuscript (partial or complete) and whatever additional material has been requested by an editor or publisher.

Before preparing a submission, the writer will consult the publisher’s guidelines to see how the manuscript should be formatted, how it should be sent (by mail or electronically), and what additional enclosures are wanted. The manuscript included in a submission should be as complete and as correct as the writer can make it.

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4 thoughts on “Five Terms Related to Submitting a Manuscript”

  1. “Here’s the short story I queried you about on March 20, 2016″
    I have always thought you are a step ahead of us, Maeve. 🙂

  2. I’m with you on your reasons for using an accent on the final e in “resumé,” but Webster’s New World Fifth Edition has it with two. “The New York Times” uses two. My hometown newspaper, “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” uses one. If I were writing a letter to a publisher using the word, I’d go with two.

  3. Shouldn’t both the Es in resume– or neither– have acute accent diacritics? The French word has 2, and English does not use them at all. Putting just one on there seem incorrect on both counts. Just wondering.

  4. Amen on spelling it “resumé”! Finally, I’m not alone on this. It’s good to know that some dictionaries are waking up and applying common sense to the usage. If you’re speaking French, it’s “résumé.” If you’re in the U.S. and not saying the word “resume,” it should be “resumé.” Hard to argue with that logic.

    Another related example and pet peeve is the American use of “premier,” pronounced “premiere.” Not sure why it has to be written as “premier”—all it does is make me want to pronounce it the French way.

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