Editors see mounds of bad cover letters. A lot of new writers submit short stories with little or no guidance and end up submitting cover letters that are either overenthusiastic or lacking the necessary information.
What you must know is that cover letters for different genres follow different sets of rules and etiquette. For example, an editor doesn’t expect you to write a cover letter for short fiction in the same format you would craft a query letter for a novel submission.
A cover letter is not a platform for you to brag about yourself or your writing accolades. There’s nothing that annoys an editor more than a cocky newbie.
Your cover letter is, most often than not, the first thing an editor sees and you have to be on point to create a strong first impression. Some editors that I have interacted with said that they read the cover letter after reading your short stories, and they admit that some cover letters convince them to go back to the story and reevaluate it.
Luckily for you, I have compiled tips on just how to go about crafting a good cover letter that can make a ‘strong first impression’ and influence the editor’s aftertaste after savoring your stories.
Research and… Research
In all the posts that I have made on cover letters, I have emphasized the importance of finding out the publisher’s/organizer’s guidelines.
Every organizer/publisher has a specific set of rules for short story cover letters, and knowledge and application of these guidelines raises the chances of your submission getting accepted.
You should research the publisher’s inclinations. Some publishers, or should I say most, won’t accept adult stories. They may not disclose these attitudes in their Ts and Cs, but an exploratory look at their published works can reveal what kind of genre they love to publish.
Tips on Creating a Perfect Cover Letter for a Short Story Submission
A good cover letter for a short story submission should be:
Short and Simple
Cover letters for short fiction always have to have the conciseness element. It should be short and simple but compelling enough; it has to signal to the editor that you’re at least a refined writer.
Courteous and Direct
It is unprofessional to send a cover letter that is copied and pasted from previous submissions. The cover letter should address the editor or publishers and must contain information relevant to that particular submission.
Although a good cover letter is supposed to be courteous, it doesn’t have to get too personal. The editor doesn’t really care if you know their name (although it’s okay to address them by their name if they suggested so), but the contents of the cover letter must remain professional.
How to Address a Cover Letter
It is advisable to leave niceties and go straight to business. I have read a couple of blogs by real editors, and they all agree on one thing: go straight to business.
If you’re going to make multiple submissions to different recipients, you have to make sure you don’t put too much effort into ‘playing the nice newbie’ and just focus on making the cover letter a contextually right letter.
What should be in a cover letter?
I didn’t want to ramble on about something I didn’t know anything about, so I decided to give you a list of things that Neil Clarke (a real-life editor from Clarkesworld Magazine) wants to see in your cover letter for short stories:
- State whether you are previously published or not.
- If you’re submitting work that you did not author (maybe you’re the author’s agent or something), you have to state it in the cover letter. You have to explain the working arrangement with the author or if you’re translating.
- And if you state that you are submitting a translation, you should say whether the story was originally published and where, in what language, and whether the original author or whoever holds the rights on the original has given you the permission to translate and publish.
- If you are submitting a reprint, the cover letter should state this and any restrictions placed on the reprint.
- If your short story doesn’t fit in one of the categories that the publisher has listed, the cover letter must explain what type of genre it is.
The cover letter also needs to contain a short bio, the story’s word count, title, and a brief description of the short story (not summary), among other things.
Publishers and editors have unique preferences, so you’ll find what ‘unique’ things they want in your cover letter.
Don’t Put These in Your Cover Letter
Going back to Neil Clarke’s preferences (most of which are shared by most editors), these things shouldn’t be in a cover letter:
- Bank or PayPal details.
- Mailing address or phone number (This might not be the case for all editors/publishers). In Clarke’s case, the mailing addressing should be on the first page of the story.
- A summary of your short story.
But I said in the previous section, every editor and publisher has their own preferences.
Don’t Say These in Your Short Story Cover letter
Cover letters rarely influence editors’ opinions of a story, but some things can annoy an editor. Although they’re likely not going to reject the story because of some ‘little things’ in your short story’s cover letter, it’s wise to stay on the safe side.
Confidence is good, but you don’t have to be arrogant. For instance, you don’t have to say “I’m the modern-day Charles Dickens.”
And… you know it’s so ‘amateur hour’ when you say, “This is the best story you’ll ever read.” Trust me, it’s not. Editors have read thousands of stories and it’s better to let them ‘choose’ which is the best they’ve ever read.
Even though it’s bad to sound cocky in your cover letter, it’s equally damning to show low self-esteem. So, in your cover letter, you have to avoid writing things like ‘how desperate you’re’ or ‘how many times your story has been rejected.’ Those won’t help your case at all!
Formats and Submission Guidelines
If you haven’t found this out already, some publications put so much emphasis on the format of short story submissions. Some publications will give you specifications for font size, line spacing, margins, etcetera. It’s either you format everything the way they tell you to, or it’s an instant REJECTION for you!
However, some publications don’t go that far, but most of them let you know that If you don’t follow their pocket-size guidelines, you might as well just keep your story to yourself.
Outside the typing window, there are other formatting issues that you have to be aware of. Things like file type (e.g., PDF, RTF, Word Doc, etcetera.) and the means of submitting (e.g., email, or through the publication’s website). A few old guards still require writers to submit stories in print—yes, inconveniently, through the postal service.
The submission guidelines may extend to the manner of attaching documents (and the number of those attachments). Hopefully, the publications you’re submitting to allow you to submit attachments (which is the most likely nowadays).
Sample Cover Letter for a Short Story Submission
There are more than a thousand ways you can write your cover letter for a short story submission. In case you don’t have the littlest idea of how to go about it, I have written a very brief cover letter.
Note: This is a sample and cannot be used as a blueprint for any short fiction submission. Well, you could use it if you think it’s okay; I mean, it’s not bad.
Dear Maggie (if you don’t know their name, just put their professional title like Editor),
Please consider this 2000-word story, “Dying Good,” for publication in the Sun Dance Magazine. I believe this short fiction piece is exactly the type of story that the Sun Dance typically publishes.
“Dying Good” is a tale of betrayal, anger, and—ultimately—redemption. It follows a man on his journey from the gallows of degeneracy to salvation.
Thank you for your consideration.
This cover letter is exactly 67 words (without that bracketed explanation) and even if you were to add some details, which is a likely thing, it wouldn’t be anywhere near 150 words. In such a short piece, you can put all the required information and still avoid taking much of the editor’s time.
Final Words on Cover Letters for a Short Story Submission
You shouldn’t have to worry about writing an out-of-this-world cover letter when submitting your short story. That will only make the process seem like a very challenging task—but, in all honesty, it isn’t. I believe that I covered all the ‘life-saving’ tips that you can use to make your story submission a seamless task.
I’m not an editor (well, not by profession), but I did my research and contacted some ‘editor friends’ of mine before I got down to write this post.
As long as you do your research, keep your cover letters for short stories short, and always stick to the point, omit anything else, your short story is ready for submission!