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Cover Letters

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Jul. 10th, 2007 | 06:10 pm

Question of the...OK, we'll just call it Summer '07

Uh, like, I've written the greatest story evar, and need to send it into all the big pro markets, but I need, like, a cover letter. Not a query letter because those R 4 novels, right? So, what do I, like, put in my cover letter? Should I tell them about the poetry I have posted on my blog? Perhaps a link to my MySpace page? What about all my credits? I had a story in my high school folio, too, The Quirky Monkey. That's the book, not my story. My story is, like, about a unicorn and three girls who meet him at a RenFaire. They go down to the river, and the girls get wet and…oops, I don't want to give away the ending, but the unicorn isn't what he seems, if you get my drift. ;o) It's a really cool story. Oh, yeah, so what do I do in a cover letter? I don't want to have the editors miss out on my story, just because I left out my IM address or something…

Thanks 4 UR Help,
An Avid Reader and Future Famous Authoress.


Dear Dinn... er... Reader,

A cover letter should be brief and to the point. Don't try to wow the editor with your expertise or accomplishments. The cover letter is the wrapping for your story. Just like a shiney suit of armor, it's lovely to look at but impossible to digest. You want the editor to get right to the juicy knight -- I mean story -- inside. If an editor asks for a full list of credits, send them. If an editor asks for a bio, send it. Otherwise,

"Dear Mr. Editor,
Enclosed (or, in the case of email, 'attached' or 'below') please find my story (poem, or whatnot) The Greatest Story Ever Written. I hope it finds you well.

That's really all there is to it. If you have some particularly impressive sales, you can list them if you chose. It's unlikely, however, to move you up in the slushpile. (Unless those credits are along the lines of, "My story, The Second Greatest Story Ever Written, appeared in the April 2020 issue of Analog, and was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula.") While I like a shiny suit of armor as much as the next dragon, it's the yummy knight inside that matters. In short, the cover letter identifies you and your story. It should not contain your _life_ story. It should not explain your story. If your story needs to be explained, then it's not ready to send out yet. Let the story speak for itself, and both you and the editor will be happier.


Dear FFA,

As you know, the story has to stand on its own. No cover letter can make up for a lackluster plot, insipid characters, or poor grammar. There are only a few things that you need in the cover letter. A greeting, a list of enclosed or attached items, and possibly a mention of a few of your publications.

It's easier to say what NOT to do:
1) Do not lie in your cover letter. They WILL find out.
2) Do not give a synopsis of your story.
3) Do not list anything as "published" if it's on your web-site or blog, on a friend's web-site, or in a forum. Editors don't consider these publications.
4) Do not tell them why they won't like your story, or why it doesn't really fit their market.
5) Do not tell them that it's the greatest story evar. Just don't.

That's about all I've got to say about the topic. My note here is longer than a good cover letter should be. Keep it simple.


Dear Uncovered One:

Thank you so kindly for taking the time to deposit your missive outside our lair. I hope you’ll find my answer satisfactory, as I’ve labored over it for hours, composing each turn of phrase while dismembering my latest meal, an especially plump, succulent specimen of…

There. That’s what you DON’T do. Don’t waste your time, or the editor’s, by singing his praises, or those of your work. Don’t delineate every inspiring thought you had while writing it. Keep it short and to the point. For example, if you were trying to catch MY interest, you might write:

“Dear B&G:

Outside your lair, please find my latest catch, a Horned Swampwallower weighing 95 lbs.

(A BRIEF description of your offering goes here.)

I have caught Swampwallowers before, and offered them to Dark Muses like Black Annis and Poe’s raven.

I have included a basket for the inedible bits. Thank you for taking the time to consider eating it instead of me.”

Of course, you’ll need to make certain substitutions, such as genre for species and word count for weight. The principle is the same, though. Identify your offering, give the editor a chance to taste for himself (but don’t force-feed him!), state your hunting credits and thank him for his time.

And now, I’m off to find a Swampwallower. 


Dear Fledgling,

Cover letters are optional.  They keep getting stuck in my teeth.  If you don't have anything to say, why say anything?
The work should speak louder than any introduction.  Make it swift and to the point.  The most important piece of advice I've heard, though, is not to tell the editors how to react.  If you've ever had anybody tell you that you'll "absolutely love" something, you'll know what I mean.  


Dear Fledgling,

Whatever you do, don't do what I do. Don't chase your cover letter around in circles, never getting it out the door. If you're aiming for perfection, stop. Part of it is nervous energy. Let it out in a healthy way. Go fly around the castle a few times instead.

Quiet your thoughts, yes, all those ones telling you to nervously write a three page introduction.

Keep that cover letter sweet and short, only pertinent stuff, and get it out the door.


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