For instance, all of these things are good, solid writing accomplishments that you should be proud of:
- being accepted to and/or graduating from an MFA program
- placing in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition
- placing short stories with prestigious journals
- being nominated for a Pushcart
- self-publishing and receiving praise from strangers
Congrats! Very well done. But none of these things, at least for me, are going to result in a partial request on their own, and I wouldn’t make these accomplishments the focal point of a query.
Gregg Rosenblum, Former Managing Editor Ploughshares
Don’t spend too much time worrying about cover letters. No need to pull too much hair out; it should only take a couple cups of coffee or a few cigarettes (whatever your vice) to get a perfectly efficient cover letter. Technically, you don’t have to use a cover letter, but if you’re going to use one to send with your manuscript or submission (which, I think is a good idea) then please, do it right. Magazines, reviews, community college journals, large publications all ask:
Please include a brief cover letter with your submission….Simultaneous submissions to other journals are fine as long as you indicate so in your cover letter and inform us immediately if your work is accepted elsewhere. — http://www.ohio.edu/nor/
Please submit no more than one short story or nonfiction manuscript at a time. Be sure to include phone and (if possible) e-mail contact information. — http://www.theparisreview.org
How to prepare your manuscript:
Send a manuscript of up to 25 pages of fiction or essay, or 3-5 poems. Include a cover letter. — http://www.crazyhorsejournal.org/
The cover letter gives poetry/fiction/non-fiction editors and managing editors a slim grasp of what to expect with your submission. It’s strictly informational. The more interpersonal, “outside the box” or “creative” your cover letter looks the more laughs, eye rolls and groans it’s going to receive. In fact, if it’s crazy enough, it might end up tacked or taped to office doors or walls so it can be laughed at by every perennially shifting grad-student reader or last entire tenures of faculty members.
Now, it’s alright to have a conversational tone. I mean, maybe you know an editor personally or just can’t help the urge to be “different”, but generally the best cover letters are straight to the point, no bullshit.
Fact: Students can pass classes by bullshitting their way through. And there’s enough bullshit in creative writing workshops that could fertilize all 30 Major League Baseball Stadiums with some left over for the NFL to borrow. People aren’t even afraid to bullshit about movies or books they’ve never seen or read.
We bullshit enough as it is. So, enough fluff, more concrete. Here are some ways to keep your cover letter bullshit free:
- Avoid talking about your children or spouse — OK Great! You’re a family man/woman, good for you! So, what does this have to to with your writing? It’s great to show love for family, but a cover letter is a poor place to do this. It can’t hurt, right? But, I’m sorry, it’s not going to help you get published.
- Hobbies — Skydiving, hiking, Oh, Joe Schmo you’re so exciting! I can definitely tell you’re going to be a good writer because you’ve got an interest in baseball cards. No. Please, no. A cover letter is not a dating website. But, it’s good to know that you’ve got some kind of backup plan when this writing thing doesn’t work out.
- Small-time name dropping — Betsy Gringle suggested that you send something here, huh? Let me roll out the red carpet and accept you, writer, who knows the Community College Professor/$700 One-Time Workshop Lady! I’m glad you’ve gotten the experience from (insert no-name here), but unless Robert Frost is your father it’s not going to help your chances of impressing anyone.
- Fancy cover letter paper — Shit, this is almost glossy card stock quality! I can’t get over it, damn, this here is some nice paper, only “real”, professional, high art writers know the difference between an eggshell 8 by 11 and a rich creamy 100% cotton slice. Stop. Spare the cotton for your t-shirts. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just spent $15 at OfficeMax for this stuff, it’s superficial and unnecessary.