Well, I didn’t exactly intend to turn this tumblr into a ‘how to’, but if people want, then I shall provide. Just like before, let me make it clear: this advice is for small publication and furry publishers. If you’re trying to submit to a larger publishing house, they will have their own (and wildly different) guidelines for cover letters.
Do I need a cover letter?
Yes. And no. No, because you can get away with it sometimes, if your story is good enough, or if you know the editors, etc… Yes, because why the hell would you not include one? It’s common courtesy, and you are automatically at a disadvantage to someone who’s included one before the submission editors have even read your story. So no, sometimes you can get away without including one, but realize you’re shooting yourself in the foot by doing so.
What is a cover letter?
First, if they include criteria in the submission guidelines, follow them. Close this window and pay attention to what they say, rather than what I say. Sometimes they’ll need to know very specific things from you, and if you don’t include those, you might be in trouble. The rest of what I’m going to say here assumes that they haven’t given you instructions on what you should include.
Otherwise, a ‘cover letter’ can be as simple as the text contents of the email you send with the submission. It used to be that you should include another text file with your submission that contained the cover letter, but that’s become less and less a ‘thing’ since editors have started to use google mail boxes to organize their submissions rather than directories or spreadsheets on their local machines.
What should it contain?
I’ll forgive you if you skipped down to this. I put the other stuff up there just to cover my ass and answer the more obvious answers before I dug into the meat of this.
- Introduce yourself. Just assume you aren’t as well known as you think you are. Even if you personally know the editor of the anthology you’re submitting to, remember they might have other people involved that don’t know you, and you really can’t assume the editor is going to write your cover letter for you. Some useful contents here: your real name and the name you publish under, if it’s different. Your publishing experience, including other anthologies you’ve been featured in, solo books you’ve published, awards you’ve won, etc… If you feel uncomfortable boasting, read on. I’ll justify it later.
- Summarize your story. No, don’t ‘tease’ your story. Summarize it. Ruin the plot. Editors don’t need to be ‘caught’ by your clever twist. I know as an author it hurts to blow the secrets, but this is actually really important. Why? Because the editor needs to know what you’re trying to do. The editor needs to know if you’re attempt to pull a Shamalanian twist, or whether that ‘gotcha’ moment was actually unintentional. This can make the difference between an editor accepting or rejecting a flawed but fixable story.
- State why your story is appropriate for inclusion. This is maybe the most important part of the cover letter. Does the anthology have a word count limit? State the word count of your story here. Don’t make the editor look it up. Is there a theme? Make it clear you’re aware of the theme, and that you believe your story fits it. Did you write the story fresh for the anthology? Say so! The other important thing here is to make it clear whether the story is already posted, published, or available elsewhere in any form. This is essential if you’ve posted it online, or submitted it already to another anthology. If you don’t let them know that you’ve posted or submitted it before it’s accepted, there will be drama. Drama is your enemy. Do not invite drama.
- Give your thoughts and feelings about the story, the theme of the anthology, or anything else you feel might be pertinent here. Remember while you’re doing this, though, that you’re selling yourself (and your story). More on this below.
- Thank the editor for the chance to be included in their publication.
Selling VS Modest
A lot of authors aren’t confident with their own work. Actually, from my experience, most aren’t, and the few that are confident aren’t nearly as good as they think they are. Even I am constantly made aware of the failings of my own work, and I’m a smug egotistical asshole.
But remember that through this whole process you are selling yourself and your work to the publisher. This is not the place for insecurities and doubts. The publisher won’t praise you for your modesty. You aren’t being humble. You’re being stupid. In short, put on your red dress and get ready to hit the streets. I know it’s uncomfortable, but you have to sell your story on its merits.
That said, though, there is a benefit to knowing your story’s flaws. Doesn’t that contradict what I just said? No. Not exactly. As an analogy, when you’re in an interview, you can expect to be asked the question ‘What’s your biggest flaw?’ It’s a cliche because it’s true. It does happen. Just the same here, it’s actually useful to know the ways in which your story failed to do what you originally intended it to do, but in the same breath, you need to know how they can be fixed, and engage the editor in that process. Make them aware of a section you’re not quite happy with, then give them the option of different ways you could improve the scene to better fit the tone of the anthology as a whole.
Submitting for publication is all about being a professional, even when you feel like a hack. Don’t cut corners. Don’t rely on friends. Don’t slack off. You’ve spent a lot of effort to create a story in the first place. Would you really want to have wasted all that time and effort because you couldn’t be bothered to act professionally?