Tag Archives: cover letters

Writing: Taking it Personally

This could just be called Writing and Ego for any time a writer submits a piece of work to an editor, ego does get involved. We write because of ego, because we think we have something to say, because we think we’re good enough, because we want to be rich or famous. But to write means also to be able to disengage the ego some.

The other night I was talking with someone who has a friend trying to be a writer. Great. Everyone should try to pursue their dreams. But writing, for 99% of us, takes work. A lot of work. It takes honing your craft. It takes knowledge. It takes a certain skill and perception that is ephemeral, that could be called ideas but is also your unique way of stringing them together. It takes perseverance. And yes, it takes luck.

The first part, learning your craft, is where everyone must start and stay to a degree. It is always a judgment call as to when you think your piece is ready. Once it’s been written, reworked, critiqued, rewritten and edited, it is then ready to send out, maybe. But sometimes you must take a leap of faith and submit the story or poem. Every writer can benefit from workshops, classes and writers’ groups. If I could afford to do it more, I’d take more workshops. Until I’m selling my pieces 100% of the time I still have something I can learn. To think otherwise would again be ego. A workshop might just be a new way to work or come up with ideas or just the camaraderie of other writers, because, as any writer knows, writing is a fairly solitary process.

Selling your writing takes the knowledge not just of how to write, but of the submission process. Sometimes people have an idea, their cherished baby, and they write it and then send it out. If you haven’t learned much about writing or even had your story read by knowledgeable people (editors, not friends unless those friends are writers/editors) then you jeopardize your chances at publication. Such basics as grammar can stop an editor from reading an otherwise great story. Editors read so much every day that they have no patience for people who cannot follow basic grammar, spelling and guidelines.

No one can teach a person ideas, but there are workshops that look at how to take those rough ideas and chisel them into the best and most clear idea, compelling, interesting and filled with tension. But the beginning idea must be interesting in and of itself and unique, not done before. There are many stories, even within a genre, that follow certain motifs. Each one that is published must present something new.

Next, and how we get back to the person trying to be a writer, is perseverance. He had sent his work out to a publisher or two and when it was rejected, he took it personally. They (those faceless editors) hate him. Really, the editor or publisher doesn’t know most beginning writers from Adam. The writers too, are faceless. There is rarely anything personal unless you take to insulting the editor in your cover letters.

It may not even be that your story sucks. Here are just a few reasons that an editor/publisher may not have accepted your story/novel, which has nothing particular to do with your work:

  • doesn’t fit their theme
  • they’ve just spent two years publishing books on this topic and the market is glutted
  • budget cuts
  • there are limited slots and even some of the good stories must go
  • you wrote on a topic that the editor personally hates
  • the slushpile has grown so big that there is some wholesale rejecting to get them caught up (not as frequent but it can happen)
  • they’re changing their focus
  • they’re folding (I’ve sold too many pieces to magazines/anthologies, which were then never published because they closed down–I call it the kiss of death)
  • the structure of the magazine/anthology has changed (I sold one story to an anthology which then went to a different publisher and then was halved–although I received a kill-fee the story was never published.)
  • the editor has changed

Those are a few reasons that has nothing whatsoever to do with the writer. Grammar, typos, conflict, tension, characterization, plot, theme, structure and flow have to do with the written piece. Editors also reject on those reasons, if the other reasons haven’t come into play first. Again, this is rarely personal. They don’t know you. They base their thoughts on the manuscript before them.

This is why perseverance is the mainstay for most writers. It is a very tiny percentage of us who can send out our work and sell it on the first go. My ego had to accept that I wasn’t the greatest writer since sliced bread. Otherwise I would sell everything or mostly everything. I’m still a small pea in a big pod. Even the best writers, the award winners, don’t sell some pieces. You and me and most other writers have to keep writing and submitting. If I’d quit after my first year, I would have only sold a couple of poems. I keep going, getting better the more I write (and read), the more workshops I take, the more I discuss my ongoing projects before submitting.

If you want to be a writer, you’ll need to disengage your ego enough to get through the rejections. At one time I could paper my bathroom in acceptances and my house in rejections. Now I might be able to paper a house in acceptances…and several houses in rejections. So it goes. If you take it personally, if you want to be an overnight sensation, if you get overly depressed or angry at a rejection, then you better not be a writer.

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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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