It wasn't so long ago that I first started sending out short story submissions that I don't remember the conundrum that was writing a cover letter. What do I put in the damned thing? A list of credits? I have no credits (or rather, had none then). What can I do to construct an interesting and compelling cover letter that will catch an editor's eye and compel her or him to read my story with an open mind and a generous spirit?
The answer, sadly, is nothing.
Not even if I inscribed it in blood with a gold-tipped fountain pen across the front of an original Andy Warhol Marilyn print.
Unlike a job application, a cover letter for a story submission is not a showcase to demonstrate that you're not just what's in the resume. A resume is a document in a standard format designed to impart information quickly and efficiently; the cover letter is the opportunity to stand out as being interesting and exceptional among a sea of nearly identical resumes.
In the case of a story submission, the cover letter is the means of communicating certain specific information that the editor wants to see, and to give enough additional information that if a story is interesting, the editor can find out more. It is the story that has to stand out as interesting and exceptional. The roles are reversed.
I ended up settling for a fairly generic template, polite and to the point. Early on, while I was still getting my brain around what worked and what didn't in storytelling, I included a sentence that hinted that I was not adverse to receiving feedback. A number of editors who have publicly stated that they don't give feedback were kind enough to to make an exception to their policies, and it really was valuable.
Now, editing the Journal of Unlikely Entomology, I can restate the earlier proposition with a bit more authority. There is very little you can do in a cover letter to help your story get accepted. The story will stand (or fall) on its own, based on many factors, including writing quality, proper fit for the market (and that's a post all of its own, right there), strength of the story, and the personal taste of the editors.
There is, however, quite a bit you can do to shoot yourself in the foot.
( Let me count the ways.Collapse )