Read it in full by clicking on the title of this post. But here's the main points (and I've added a few thoughts of my own).
- address yor letter and manuscript to a named individual in the agency or publishing company - the right individual - remember that directories are out of date as soon as they are published. So check and double check the spelling.
- No coloured paper or flowery founts. Plain. Simple. Professional.
- Paragraph one: what the book is about and how long it is
- Paragraph two: why you wrote it.
- Paragraph three: a thumbnail description
- Paragraph four: experience and background
- Paragraph five: polite goodbye - no ultimatums. No 'if I don't hear from you by the end of the month this manuscript will be in the hand of your rivals...
Don't make outrageous claims '...a work of tortured genius that will grip the imagination of a generation.' Let your manuscript do the boasting for you.
I think it is probably ok to compare your ook to other works - it's handy shorthand. (For example, saying this is Terminator meets Winnie the Pooh paints a complex picture in a few words.) But it has its dangers.
When John Walsh was pitching his London Irish memoir The Falling Angels he told publishers it was a middle class Angela's Ashes.
Take the poverty out of Frank McCourt's best seller and you haven't got a book, they said.
So I guess he tried another track (and I am glad he did - his story of growing up in Battersea and west Ireland is an excellent evocation of a childhood that crosses cultures).