A few days ago Anna posted a blog about Cover Letters 101. So if you haven’t read that go there now…
Okay. Now I guess we’ll have to call this one Cover Letters 102. It’s basically a rant, but a good intentioned rant I assure you.
I’ll start by treading on some familiar ground. A good cover letter is like a calm bus ride home… utterly forgettable. It is only a way to convey information like we discussed in the previous post and make a polite impression. It is nearly impossible to do otherwise and succeed.
Don’t try to be clever. Don’t EVER use puns. If an editor has been reading for hours and then they get to your pun filled laugh riot of a cover letter it will only make them scowl. Not a good way to start.
The only exception would be an anthology or a call for a specific type of story: circus clowns in a prison riot for example. Then you can delve into your background as a prison guard and throw in some jokes about your life as a standup comic. But in that case you know your audience. For a general cover letter I would advise on the short and forgettable side. Try for the IKEA of cover letters.
A lot of people list every magazine they’ve ever sold to (or even read in some cases). We touched on this in 101, but it’s so prevalent that we all need a review. If you have any credits then by all means list up to five. Did you hear that? FIVE. All too often though I see paragraphs of credits listing magazines I’ve never heard of. Do they exist? Probably. But I’m not going to waste time finding out. And listing more than five is like too much frosting on a birthday cake, it sort of ruins the experience and makes it appear as if you’re trying to cover something up (bad presents I’m guessing).
Don’t say you wrote this in a writing class either. This one comes in cycles and is usually followed with, “My professor MADE me do this.” Nothing is worse than reading a story somebody had to submit because somebody else made them do it. I know this is a way to prepare yourself for the inevitable rejection that you think is coming, but who knows? You might get a sale. Just don’t tell us that you’re doing this against your will.
Never mention your pets or children even if they are featured in your submission. I’m sure they are lovely. I’m sure you have a great family life and they inspire you to be the best you can be. I bet your cat likes to eat the dog food, right? But you wouldn’t bring them to a job interview. So lets leave them out of this and put our professional hats on.
And never give the magazine ultimatums or try for pity. Don’t tell the editors that you will stop writing if we don’t accept your story. Don’t tell us you’re dying and your lifelong dream is to become an author. On a human level, I’m sorry you don’t have the grit, and I’m sorry that you’re dying. But no publication would sacrifice their integrity because of pity.
But take a deep breath because most of you are doing fine. This is part of the reason the bad ones stick out so much. It’s like a drive down the interstate and suddenly hitting a speed bump, amazement followed closely by annoyance as the misguided cover letter makes us swerve to the shoulder.
Good luck and happy writing!
Chris Phillips is the Managing Editor of Flash Fiction Online and a slush reading machine. He was born in Danville, Kentucky, but being the son of a traveling preacher, he grew up across the country from the Midwest to the Deep South, devouring a buffet of American culture. In 2007 he earned an English degree from Ohio State, and now he lives in Newark, Ohio. You can find him at chrisphillipsauthor.com.