It took me several (12!?!) years to find a publisher for Truck Stuck. I got many "good" rejection letters. I resubmitted. Each time I rewrote the cover letter to fit the editor I was submitting to. Here is my first cover letter:
"I have been distilling this picture book for some time. I am sending it to you first because you did such a nice job on Peter's Trucks. Again I envision a picture book for the very young. I think there is lots for an illustrator to work with, especially contrasting the reactions of the children and the adults to the situation."
This first cover letter was sent to an editor with whom I already had a relationship, having published my first book with her. In fact, my contract required that I submit my next manuscript to her. Eventually her publishing house passed on this manuscript, despite strong editorial support.
So I submitted to another editor:
"I read in the Prairie Wind, the publication of the Illinois chapter of SCBWI, that you are looking for picture book manuscripts. Enclosed is my manuscript for Truck Stuck, a picture book for 3 to 6 year olds. I am also enclosing a brief synopsis with some ideas I have for illustrations.
"Trucks get stuck under the viaducts in Oak Park on a regular basis. I have spent several summers looking at (and photographing) all types of trucks which are found on the residential streets here, the kinds of vehicles which could go through the viaducts here without getting stuck. I have tried to pick some of the most interesting vehicles and the occupations they represent....."
I got a really good rejection to this submission--"...love the title and concept of this manuscript, but..."
Quite a few years and many rejections later I wrote what I think is the almost perfect cover letter. A good cover letter will never make up for a weak manuscript, but a good cover letter can prepare the editor to read your manuscript with an open and engaged mind. This is the letter that presented a really strong manuscript:
"Here is a picture book, complete in 135 words, with a diverse cast of characters, which begs for joyful, playful illustration. The many vehicles and busy street scenes will appeal to the youngest toddlers. But the rhythm, rhyme, and dual story lines will hold the interest of older children as well as beginning readers. The short, lively text makes this book an appealing read-aloud. Since the subplot, contrasting the reactions of children to adults, will be told in pictures while the text focuses on the main storyline of a truck that becomes stuck, I have enclosed a synopsis and a dummy...."
This cover letter covers the important points: what I am submitting, who the audience is, and what the story is about, and it states these ideas in strong, unequivocal language. It is clear that I believe in this story. Every word in the letter is true, without making claims that are essentially subjective judgments.
And here is a photo that substantiates my claims for the audience appeal:
This is a friend of my older son, Lou, reading with his first-born.
"The kid looks so serious," commented my husband.
"He was probably trying to decipher the complex rhyming scheme," answered Pete, my younger son.
I think he was engaged in the lively street scenes.