Publishing Cover Letter

You have decided it is time for a new job.
You have done your research, as Stephanie suggested, and have focused on a specific sector and type of job (which may, or may not be in editorial).
You have written a good cv.
You are ready to submit your application and wait to be asked to that all important interview. Right?

Um, no. You are missing one all important step – the cover letter. I have said it before, and I am sure I will say it again, but if you want a job in Publishing, a simple “I am applying for this job, see my CV, thank you” will not get you very far. Your cover letter and CV work together, and a well written cover letter helps you stand out from the pile of 100 other cover letters a manager has to read.

Now, by “stand out”, I do not mean pink paper, or flashing font, or jokes. (You’d be surprised at what I’ve seen…) I am looking for a letter that does the following:

  1. Clearly lays out how you have the skills I (the manager) need you to have
  2. Shows a little bit of who you are as a person
  3. Shows you have taken the time to read the application and made some effort to tailor your application

Some don’ts:

  1. Use a crazy font – just… don’t. If I can’t read it, if I have to fight font options in Word, that takes time and makes me grumpy. You won’t like me grumpy.
  2. Say “I am applying for X job at Y company” when you are really applying for B job at C company. You’d be surprised at how often this simple mistake is made and is a direct effect of using a generic letter. TAILOR IT PEOPLE!
  3. Go over one page – exactly as a CV shouldn’t be more than 2 pages, ideally a cover letter shouldn’t be more than 1. The purpose of the letter is to grab attention. Leave something to talk about at the interview!
  4. Get creative with punctuation, grammar, or spelling. We aren’t all editors, but we can all use spell check. And text-speak, slang, and abbreviations are a big no-no. Keep it professional.

So how do I actually write this thing? Tell me the formula!
Ah. That’s the tricky question. Cover letter writing is much more an art than a science. I know a good letter when I read it, the same way I know a bad one. All cover letters, however, tend to follow a similar pattern.

Paragraph 1: a positive, formal introduction. “I am writing to apply for the role of Publishing Assistant as advertised by Atwood Tate.
Paragraph 2: why should an employer be interested in hiring you? Outline why you are interested in the role and why the company attracts you. Use this to demonstrate your research and how the opportunity fits into your career plans.
Paragraph 3: summarise your strengths and how they might be an advantage to the company. Make sure you relate your skills to the competencies required in the job.
Paragraph 4 (if necessary): emphasise what you can do for the company, not vice versa. Outline a relevant career goal, for example if you are applying for Sales positions do not say that you are training to be an airline pilot.
Paragraph 5: thank the employer and say you look forward to hearing from them soon.

Keep these things in mind:

  • Don’t rewrite your CV – the cover letter should provide edited, juicy highlights from your CV. Distil the key themes into one place.
  • Use your own words not formal long-winded clichés. There are some statements that are used all the time such as ‘I have excellent interpersonal skills’ and we have read them so many times they no longer have meaning.
  • Answer the question “Why should I see you?”
  • Do your research on the company and into the role to which you are applying.
  • Try to avoid using ‘I’ too much. A page of I did this and I did that is not appealing – it says to the employer that you haven’t thought about them.
    Do not use abbreviations.
  • Check and then recheck your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Get someone else to read it through also.

My final tip (because I am forever getting it wrong!) – If you start with a name (e.g. “Dear Ms Smith”) you should end with “Yours sincerely”. If you start with “Dear Sir or Madam” you should end with “Yours faithfully”.

Resume Tips for the Entry-Level Publishing Candidate


Insider info from one of our recruiters at HarperCollins Publishers:

I’ve been hiring folks into publishing jobs from internships through executive positions for several years now, and in that time I’ve read a lot of really bad resumes and a lot of good ones too! One of the most frequent questions I am asked is: “How do I get an entry-level job in publishing?” I’ll admit, the publishing industry is very competitive. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to say I receive 1,000 resumes for one editorial assistant position if I leave it posted for a week. So how can your resume stand above the others? 

The format of your resume should look good. Perhaps that’s a “duh” for you, or maybe it’s a “huh?“

  • Your resume should be formatted properly, and it should be easy to read.
  • As an entry-level candidate, your resume should be no more than one page.
  • The fonts of all your job titles should match, and the fonts of all the company names, etc.
  • Each of your responsibilities should start with a verb.
  • If you are no longer working at a particular job, that description should be in past tense.

If your resume is a jumble of fonts, or is inconsistent in format, I’m more likely to gloss over it.

Remember: Your resume is a reflection of you, and oftentimes it is the one shot you have to make an impression; make sure it is professional.

Submit a cover letter along with your resume — and I’m not talking about one of those generic “My experience coupled with my professionalism makes me a great match for your firm” ones. When it comes to entry-level jobs, a lot of you are on the same playing field in terms of relevant experience.The cover letter is where you can show your passion for book publishing.I don’t want to see “I am a great fit for [insert publishing company name here]” (which, by the way, I can’t tell you how many times I have received a cover letter with the wrong publisher listed!). I want to know the “why.” It’s great that you want to work at HarperCollins, but why? Why does the imprint (brand of book) the job is in appeal to you? Why are you interested in editorial, sales, publicity? Do we publish one of your favorite authors? Let us know! Have you read a book from HarperCollins so many times the pages are ripping? We want to know that too! If you are applying for an Editorial Assistant position with Harper Voyager, our sci-fi/fantasy imprint, for example, I want to know that you will be happy reading those types of manuscripts ALL THE TIME.

If you don’t submit a cover letter at all, there is a chance a recruiter may make the assumption that you don’t necessarily want this job but a job, and there are plenty of others who genuinely want this one! Plus, writing is a big part of almost all roles in publishing, so reading a cover letter helps us evaluate your writing skills.

And on that note…

There should be no spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors. We’re a publishing company; words are important to us. Have friends or family read it over. Walk away and come back to it.  Make it count!

What kind of experience should you put on your resume? Publishing internship experience is ideal, of course, but I do know that’s not attainable for all. While in school, participate in extracurricular activities relating to publishing like your school newspaper or literary magazine—that looks great on a resume. If you are able to take courses on copyediting or anything digital—go for it! Also, one of the most valuable experiences you can have is to work at a bookstore.

These are just a few tips based on what I personally look for as a recruiter in the publishing industry. Best of luck to you in your job search, and perhaps I’ll see you in an interview…

—Carolyn Zimatore, Talent Acquisition Manager, HarperCollins Publishers

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5 years ago

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