How to Write Cover Letters That Will Charm Editors
4th Jun 2018 in Writing
Cover letters are important, but a great cover letter does not guarantee publication – if your story is unsuitable for the magazine, it’ll still be rejected. That said, if the editor likes how you come across in your cover letter they’re much more likely to send you an encouraging rejection, and they will read your next submission with more interest and enthusiasm than if you had annoyed or insulted them.
Depending on how you submit your story, a cover letter is either the body of an email or an extra printed sheet attached to the front of your story. It must include information about you (name, address, email) and about your story: title, word count, and whether it’s previously published – if so, make sure that the magazine or anthology accepts reprints, and that you hold the appropriate rights. As long as you’ve included those things, you have some space to show your personality. Mention no more than three of your most relevant and prestigious credentials (don’t worry if you don’t have any yet – just don’t mention it), and then, if you like, drop in an interesting fact about your life. If possible, make the fact relevant to your story (I sometimes mention that I have a semicolon tattooed on my toe!). A cover letter should only be a few hundred words, so be succinct.
Always give the editor exactly what they’ve asked for. If they want you to include the story in the body of the email, do not attach it as a file – they will simply delete it without reading. If they want a 100-word bio, don’t write 300 words. However, if there are no specific guidelines, then feel free to adapt this sample cover letter as necessary:
Dear EDITOR’S FULL NAME (Ms. or Mr. is too formal, and only use Dear Editor if the editor’s name is not on the website or masthead),
Please find attached/enclosed/below my story, ‘Zombie Chefs’ (2,500 words) for your consideration. It was previously published in What Big Teeth You Have and I hold all rights.
My work has been published in Best Time-Travel Vampire Stories, Hack Quarterly and Tales for Scary Girls and Boys. I live in a small seaside town with my wife, who is a chef but not a zombie – yet.
Your time and attention are appreciated, and I look forward to hearing from you.
NAME & CONTACT INFO
The tone of your cover letter depends on two things: what the magazine is like, and how you want to be perceived as a writer. If you’re submitting to a venerable publication like the Paris Review or Granta, keep it formal and professional (ie. don’t make zombie jokes). If it’s a small local magazine, you can be more informal and personal.
With small magazines in particular, it’s okay to be friendly. Most editors work long hours for no pay and very little glory, so let them know that you appreciate their efforts. If you liked a story they’ve published, mention that –often writers don’t read the publications they submit to, and it’s good to show that you have a genuine interest in the magazine. Happy submitting!