Tips to show you how to write your best cover letter and get a piece accepted!
So you have written a piece–maybe a book or a short story–and you’re ready to submit. But wait! You noticed on many submission guidelines that they request a cover letter. Just when you thought you were done writing, you have to write MORE. What is this?
Don’t panic. (Seriously, don’t. This is not a big deal.)
This is just another part of the business. So slip on your writing shoes and let’s tackle how to write your best cover letter.
What is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter accompanies a submission, whether it is a book submission to a publisher or a short submission to a magazine. It gives a taste of your piece, a little bit about you, the author, and (hopefully) convinces the editor to keep reading. It is short—no more than a page—and helps you introduce yourself and your work to the editor.
What a Cover Letter is NOT
A cover letter is not a query letter. It is also not twelve pages long or a resume. It is not your biography or the place to explain how everyone will just love your book/piece.
What Do You Include in a Cover Letter?
Depending on to whom you are submitting, this can vary. For publishing houses, find the editor’s name if you can and address the letter to him or her. Be sure to spell it correctly.
If you can’t find that information, or if you are submitting to a magazine, feel free to keep it simple. I’ve used “Hello” or “Greetings” in most of my cover letters. Editors switch around a lot and you don’t always know who will be reading your work. Keeping it simple can avoid any awkwardness, and it’s much better than “Dear Editor.” (Don’t do that.)
I like to keep this brief. I usually say something like: “please consider my story [Title} for publication in [magazine name]. It is a contemporary story with a magical twist and is complete at [work count].” Keep it short and to the point.
Story Summary/Selling Point
This might be the most intimidating part: you need to summarize your story in a sentence or two, but try and intrigue the editor/first reader to want to know more. You want to sell this story. How is your story perfect for their audience? How will it benefit their magazine? What needs can your story meet that the magazine or publisher is currently looking for? These are all things to keep in mind as you “sell” your story.
I want to add one thing here: I keep saying “sell your story” because that’s exactly what it is. You have to look at this like a business because–while writing is not a business–publishing is. And in business, you have to meet a customer’s need in some way or you are out of business. So look at your story as the product you are selling (gross, I know.) and explain how your product meets their needs. (Quickly, of course.)
Brief Bio and Relevant Info
Give a quick bio: who are you and what do you do? Include any publishing credits, organizations you are a member of, or relevant information that makes you an expert. For example, if you wrote a piece on black holes and you’re an astrophysicist, that would be relevant information to share!
Closing and Contact Information
Be sure to thank them for their time/consideration, and close with a professional “Sincerely” with your name. Include contact information: phone number, email, and website address if you have one. (Note: for pieces submitted through Submittable, I do not include contact information. Just my website.)
How Long Should it Be?
I personally think a cover letter should be as short as a query—roughly 250 words. Editors are busy. They don’t have time to read your extensive bio or publication list. So keep the letter short.
Mistakes to Avoid
Grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes should all be caught and corrected. Triple check the name of the editor and publishing house or magazine.
For example: Boys’ Life magazine often gets written as “Boy’s Life” which is incorrect. It’s sloppy and disrespectful to misspell something that important! (Update: “Boys’ Life” magazine is now “Scout Life” magazine, but the rule still applies.)
After a while, (and many attempts) you will find that writing a cover letter gets easier and easier. You will gain confidence and experience the more you put your work out there. The first ever cover letter I wrote was terrifying and difficult, but after ten years, hundreds of pieces written, and even selling a few of them, writing cover letters is now much easier.
Let me know what you think! Is there anything you would add to my list? Tell me in the comments below. Be sure to pin the post to refer back to the next time you need to write a cover letter, or download my sample below!