Cover Letters 101

Or…”Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot Before You’ve Even Gotten Started”

So I have a small confession to make:  we here at FFO have a Wall of Shame.  Yep.  Sure do.  And on it are the cover letters  (names redacted… we’re not *that* heartless) that make us weep, pull our hair out, or basically snort coffee through our noses in disbelief.

How do you know if you’re on our Wall of Shame?  Chances are, you’re not.  At this point in our collective careers, we’ve seen and heard a lot of craziness so it takes a doozie to make the wall.  But statistically speaking, someone reading this now… well.. yeah, you in the yellow shirt… ahem… we need to make a few things clear.

1.  What a professional cover letter should be:

It’s a quick, clean note attached to your manuscript that basically lists your publication credits (if any).  For example:

Dear Ms Vincent,

Please consider my previously unpublished, 600 word story “The Best Thing You’ve Ever Read” for publication in Flash Fiction Online. 

My short fiction has appeared in This Magazine and That Magazine.  I attended a Very Fancy Writing Workshop.


I am currently unpublished.

Thank you for your time.


An Aspiring Writer

See how easy that was?

2.  A cover letter should fit the submission guidelines for the magazine you’re sending it to.

We don’t want any of the following:  your entire life history, everything you’ve published since you were six (ie. technical or medical journal publication credits much less your stint on the high school newspaper), a synopis of your story, photographs, a link to your blog or an invitation to check out your latest self-pubbed novel.

3.  A cover letter is not a place to schmooze.

We know we rock.  Thanks.

4.  A cover letter is not the place to tell us how awesome you are and how your story is going to revolutionize fiction.  Nor should you have to explain the premise of your story or give any background to make your story comprehensible.

Let the story speak for itself.  We’re going to read it.  Promise.  If it’s that good, we’ll notice.

If your 1000 word story needs 1000 words of contextual background crammed into a cover letter so we can understand the super cool alien tech going on in your plot, there’s something wrong with your story.

But usually, if you have to *tell* us it’s that good?  Well, you know… this is awkward…but it’s not usually all that and a bag of chips.

5.  A cover letter is not the place to tell us how awful you are as a writer.

Yep.  If you say you suck as a writer, we tend to agree.

6.  And it definitely is not the place to solicit the editorial staff for submissions to your own magazine, try to sell us something, ask if we have back copies of a story you submitted to us eons ago, or ask if troglodytes really live in caves.

Basically, stick to the point.  Otherwise, don’t put it in the cover letter.

Otherwise, you’ll end up on the Wall of Shame.  And who wants that?

So keep submitting.  But write a clean, professional cover letter.  For all of our sakes.  And sanity.

Much love,

Publisher, FFO