Writing A Cover Letter For Short Story Submission

When writing an effective cover letter to submit a short story there are some tips to follow and pitfalls to avoid.

What happens when you finish that masterpiece of a short story and you are ready to send it off into the world to be published? You need a cover letter. A good cover letter will not get you published, but a bad cover letter will hinder your already slim chances of an editor choosing your story to see print. The first few steps listed here are needed in order to prepare for writing a cover letter, and the later tips show you how to avoid common pitfalls when submitting a short story for publication.

1. Write a well-crafted story. Remember first and foremost you have to have engaging fiction. Without a solid short story, you should not bother sending anything to an editor.

2. Know your market. After you have a polished story, you need a place to send that story. Learn what magazines publish the type of fiction you write. Is it a genre story: horror, science fiction/fantasy, romance, mystery? Is it a literary story? Look at the magazines in book stores, libraries, and on the Internet. For literary magazines, check the ones listed in the back of The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Award anthologies. Actually read the magazine to see what they publish and how it compares to your own story.

3. Read the magazine's guidelines. You can receive guidelines by sending an SASE (Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope) to the magazine with a request, or more conveniently, you can now find many magazines' guidelines on their web-sites. Guidelines give you another good sense of what the magazine will publish, how much they will pay, how fast they respond, and when they read. It is especially important to find out the reading period of literary magazines because they most often do not read during the summer and will send your story back.

4. Use the magazine's current address and a current editor's name. You can find this information on the inside cover of the magazine, the magazine's web-site, or their guidelines. I would suggest looking in these places over Writer's Digest because you can more easily find the current editor's name. Always send to a particular person (the fiction editor if possible). Nothing sends a story to the slush pile faster than addressing it to the generic: "Dear Fiction Editor."

5. Be succinct. This is a business and calls for business writing, not creative writing. Say what you need to say in the shortest time possible. Remember that editors are busy and appreciate concise cover letters (some suggest sending no cover letter at all, but I advise against this because it suggests you have no experience as a writer).

6. State intention. In one clear sentence, preferably at the beginning or near the beginning, tell the editor what you want. Example, "I would like to submit my story "╦ťShort Story Title' to the LUCKY REVIEW." Of course, you would substitute the short story title with your own and the magazine title with the one you are submitting to.

7. Give credentials. Be careful here. Too many beginning writers try to over load editors with every writing credit they can imagine: "I wrote for my middle school newspaper and then for my high school newspaper and now for my Sunday School newsletter and I've had a letter to the editor published in the Hobbock Chronicle and my cousin Larry hung one of my stories up his garage's waiting room." You want to give any genuine writing experience you have in a concise way: "Most recently, my short stories have appeared in The Big River Review, Apple Pie Tonight, and How About That." List only your publication record as a general rule. If you have not published anything yet, give the impression that you are serious about being a writer: "I am a working writer living in New Orleans." Again, be brief and let your record and story stand for themselves.

8. Offer cooperation. By way of ending the body of your letter, have a sentence that lets the editor know that you can reformat your story for the magazine's purposes. Example: "This story is available on disk upon request."

9. Follow the right form. Make sure that the rest of the letter follows standard business form. At the top have your contact information, then the current editor's name and the mailing address of the magazine, followed by the salutation, "Dear Mr./Ms. editor's last name." And again do not be creative with the close; stick to "Thank you," or "Sincerely."

Remember a good cover letter's form is invisible to the reader. All you want the letter to do is to tell the editor you have submitted a story for the magazine's consideration, give a brief overview of your writing background, and show your willingness to accommodate the technical needs of the magazine.

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