On Submissions Cover Letters

I am a submissions editor for Apex Magazine. I see about sixty short stories a month, each with a cover letter.

I try very, very hard to not read the cover letters.

This may come as a surprise to some of you. This may alarm or offend some of you, who have worked very hard on your cover letters. The problem, from my point of view, is that cover letters too often give me more information than you want me to have.

A cover letter should say the following things:

Enclosed please find My Story. I have been published Here and There. Here is the additional information your publication specifically requested I include in my cover letter.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Author

If you say anything more than this – anything – you are giving me prejudicial information. If you give me prejudicial information and I accidentally read it, it may inform my judgment of your work.

Now, of course, obviously, I try to not let this happen. But you, Dear Author, have absofreakinglutely no idea what makes me chuckle, what makes me scowl, what institutions I have a low opinion of, what speech mannerisms I judge like a mad judging thing. If you say how much you are looking forward to being a part of Apex, will I take that as confidence or arrogance? What if I like arrogance? What if I don’t? If you say you wish you’d tried a bit harder on your story, will I take that as hyperbolic humility or will I reject the story without reading it because you told me it sucks? If you say you are a lawyer or a short-order cook or a doctoral candidate, what do I think of those professions? You don’t know. You have no way of knowing.

And if you read my blog and you follow me on Twitter and you know me in person and you are confident that you can write a great cover letter for me, don’t. Don’t do it. I am one of a dozen or so slush readers at Apex. I will never see your letter, and the carefully crafted note you wrote will fall, wrongly, on someone else’s ears.

So I try very hard to not look at the cover letters. I scroll, quickly, down to the attachment and I open it and I read, ideally without having noticed so much as the NAME of the author. And when I have an opinion of the work I read the cover letter in order to reply.

If you are an author submitting stories, please, I beg of you, write the plainest, most bare-bones cover letters you can manage. Include only what you must. Leave pleading, justification, and self-aggrandizement in the drafts folder on your hard drive. Give me only what I require to judge your story.

It’s the story you want judged, not you.

For another, comprehensive, look at cover letters, I highly recommend Helena Bell’s post, The Occult Wisdom of Cover Letters. She says it all, more clearly than I.

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One Response

  1. AHH! I completely forgot about the “I look forward to being a part of [your magazine]” lines. Seriously, what’s the deal with that? Even the far more bland/part of ordinary cover letters with resumes line “I look forward to hearing from you soon” sounds a bit passive aggressive (well, maybe only if you’re submitting to Tor… to most of the electronic magazines, at least it’s pretty accurate).

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