Writing: Cover Letters

I’ve written far more cover letters than I’ve seen, and various publications and/or editors do have their particular whims. Some want no cover letter. Some want them, listing publishing credits and some don’t care either way because they never read them. As an editor, I tend to read the cover letters after I read the story because I don’t want to be influenced by fame or credentials but hope that the story will merit its own attention. This will differ depending on editors.

Still, there are a few rules that hold true for writing a cover letter and for any genre. They’re simple. First, check out the publisher’s guidelines and follow them. There’s no faster way to annoy an editor and not have your piece read than to go against their rules.

Second, get the address and the editor’s name correct. If you don’t know the editor’s name or there are multiple editors, then just say “Dear Editor(s).” No one will get in a tizzy over that.

You want to then tell them what you’re sending. This does not, emphatically does not, mean recapping the whole story. That’s what your story is for. We don’t want you to tell us anything about it except if it’s racy and you’re not sure the magazine accepts erotic elements. I usually put something brief ; I can remove the explicit sexual elements if needed (but it’s rare that I need to specify). Writing, “I’m submitting ‘Hatchet Job,’ a 1400 word piece, for consideration in Real Life Tales” will suffice.

Oh, and you never need to say, “My name is Joe Smith.” After all, you’re signing your cover letter, right? And you’re putting your name on your manuscript, right? So why tell me your name in the beginning? That already will make me think you might have a tendency toward redundancy in your story.

You should include a short paragraph of your most pertinent publications. If you’re submitting to a children’s market, don’t list your published erotic stories. If that’s the only thing you have published, make it less specific as in, “I have published several stories in the Cleis Books anthologies.” That will indicate that you have publishing credits but not emphasize erotic.

You want to put that you have published in, say, “Weird Tales, October Country, and Wild Wombats Unleashed, with new work coming out in New Cthulhu and Snickers From the Timestream. It’s best to put publications related to the genre you’re sending to if you can, and you can mention any recent awards or honorable mentions. You don’t need to list the titles of your stories, nor dates and volume numbers. If an editor really wants to hunt down your work they’ll do so by your name and the magazine you’ve mentioned. Many editors are well aware of other publications and authors already.

Don’t list everything you’ve ever published. Five is usually plenty. You can list if you’re a member of any pertinent associations. For speculative works, SFWA, HWA, SF Canada are a few, as well as workshops attended: Clarion, Odyssey, CSSF, Fairwood…there are many. This may not mean a jot to some editors but if you’re a new writer with no publishing credits, do list them. It shows you’re serious about your craft. I usually just put SFWA on my manuscripts and leave it at that.

You don’t want to demand that the editor read your piece or tell them that they will like it or find it wonderful. They’ll decide that for themselves. You can always say you hope they enjoy it and thank them for their time. Last, let them know if your manuscript is disposable, if you’ve supplied a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) or if you’d like an email response (if their guidelines say they will do this), and sign off.

There are variations on this and some editors are way more touchy about letters than others. Some might tell you that listing three publication credits is enough. Some won’t even care. The best advice: keep it short. Editors receive hundreds of letters and don’t have time to do more than read a short paragraph.

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