A Swift Guide to Cover Letters

The task of writing a cover letter can sometimes feel tougher than writing the actual story. Luckily, guidance is plentiful and having studied that guidance, I’ve put together a quick guide complete with examples.

At this early stage, it’s important to highlight that cover letters differ depending on whether it’s a short story, or a longer piece, such as a novel—submission requirements are more substantial for the latter.

For short stories, the best guidance I’ve encountered comes from Alex Shvartsman, well-respected editor and writer of sci-fi and fantasy. Check out his guidance in full here: https://alexshvartsman.com/2016/05/09/how-to-write-a-proper-short-story-cover-letter/

Here are some of the highlights:

  • If you know the name of the editor, address the cover letter to them. For instance, ‘Dear Mr Gamgee’. If in doubt, just use ‘Dear Editors’.
  • Keep it simple. The editor is about to read your story, you don’t need to tell them the ins and outs of character and plot. Let them discover it themselves. And if you explain it badly, you may put them off reading it altogether.
  • If it’s not relevant, don’t include it. If you’ve got a law degree, nice work, but what has it got to do with the story? If your story is a legal drama, then that’s a different matter.
  • List some of your most notable publishing accomplishments. If you don’t have any, that’s fine! As Shvartsman says: “Every editor I know loves discovering new talent and loves being the first to publish someone, or first to publish someone in a pro venue. No one is going to hold a lack of past credits against you.”

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So, the examples. This is a cover letter I used for a short story called Noodlin’, published by Kzine in May 2019.

_______________

Richie Billing

12 Hobbiton Lane, The Shire, Middle Earth

T: 07458228888

E: email@gmail.com

W: https://richiebilling.com/

 

Dear Editors,

I attach for your consideration ‘Noodlin”, a fantasy story around 2,800 words in length.

My short fiction has featured in Aphelion Webzine, Alien Pub Magazine and Far Horizons, and non-fiction in Authors Publish Magazine.

I appreciate you taking the time to consider my submission.

All the very best,

Richie

_______________

If, for instance, I was sending this story to a few publishers (AKA a simultaneous submission), it’s wise to tell them you’re doing so. An example may look something like this:

_______________

Richie Billing

12 Hobbiton Lane, The Shire, Middle Earth

T: 07458228888

E: email@gmail.com

W: https://richiebilling.com/

 

Dear Editors,

I attach for your consideration ‘Noodlin”, a fantasy story around 2,800 words in length.

My short fiction has featured in Aphelion Webzine, Alien Pub Magazine and Far Horizons, and non-fiction in Authors Publish Magazine.

I have submitted this story to other publishers. Should it be accepted elsewhere I will, of course, inform you without delay.

I appreciate you taking the time to consider my submission.

All the very best,

Richie

_______________

For the avoidance of doubt, the text should not be bold. I’ve merely done so for easier reference.

The address and other details are very much optional provided you include them all on the first page of your manuscript. A true letter would feature this information in such a style, or it could be justified to the right of the page. However, in this modern age your submission email usually comprises the cover letter and with that the format’s a bit different. With emails, I usually put all this info at the very end, after my signature.

So that’s the practice for short stories, what about novels?

Publishers may ask for a short summary of the novel in the cover letter. How short depends on the publisher—they may ask for detail, they may ask for a mere sentence.

A standard accompaniment to the cover letter is a synopsis—what your story is about, i.e. the premise, the point of it; the characters, their emotional journey and the conflicts they face; the intended market, and; where it aligns in that market, for instance, comparing it to Lord of the Rings. The length is generally limited by publishers to one page. Invest a good amount of time in your synopsis. Make every word count. Read it aloud. Refine it until you can’t say it any better. The synopsis helps an editor form their impression of your story so try and make the best one you can.


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