Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cover letters are no big deal

Every once in a while I run across a blog post on some writer or editor's site that has to do with writing cover letters. It seems a lot of writers, especially beginners, get caught up trying to write the perfect cover letter when submitting a story or novel for publication.

Here is my best advice: Keep it short.

Editors are busy people. They have a lot of stories to read. Most of them also have a day job and family and friends and a thousand other things that keep them busy. They don't have a lot of time to flounder through some lengthy cover letter.

My cover letters usually have two or three paragraphs.

The first paragraph tells the title and word length of the item I am sending the editor. I will usually also try to work in the genre, but sometimes I won't if the editor is only accepting one particular genre (why waste time telling them something they're going to expect me to know already?).

My second paragraph usually is an extremely brief bio of myself, but only stuff pertaining to writing. I let them know of my last published piece, maybe how long I've been writing, current writing projects, and I'll usually throw in the fact I've got nearly 20 years of experience as a newspaper editor. That last part isn't really all that important, and I don't always throw it in, but it at least lets the editor know I can spell and know my punctuation and grammar (but yes, I still make mistakes ... just look at the mess that is my blog, but in my defense I rarely go back to edit this blog).

The third and final paragraph, if there is one, is usually just to give a brief thanks. I might throw in a little more bio here if the submission guidelines requested more, or I might mention something that was particular to the guidelines, but that's it.

I sign off giving my thanks, then type in my name.

That's it. If it's more than 100 words, I would be surprised.

And you know what, I have never, ever, had an editor send me a note saying "Hey, that was a lousy cover letter," or "Hey, that was way too brief a cover letter."

For the most part, editor's are more interested in the story you are sending them than they are in your cover letter. Don't tell about your stories plot or characters in the letter (unless the guidelines said to). Don't ramble on about your life. Don't suck up, telling the editor how much you love his magazine or that you've read all of his books. All that does is take up space and wastes the editor's time.

To you budding writers, don't fret over your cover letter. Keep them short.

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