Composing a cover letter | Proper Manuscript Format | William Shunn

Composing a cover letter

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A reader writes to ask:

I am going to FEDEX my short fiction story to [a certain American] magazine, who were the only gracious ones to send me a response to my e-mail query (out of hundreds of e-mail queries sent). Before i do that, i need to enclose a cover letter with it. Would you have a sample i could use?

That's a bit outside the scope of this blog, but since it does have to do with the image of yourself as a professional writer that you present to an editor, I'll judge it a fair question for consideration here.

A cover letter should almost always be short, simple, and to the point. What it contains will be different depending on the circumstances of your submission.

If you were sending a query or an article cold, you would briefly describe the work, explain what qualifies you to write it, and recap your previous credits (if any). For a fiction query or submission, you really only need the recap of your credits. More cover letter hints can be found with a Google search, and good summing-up can be had in the About.com article "Cover Letter Advice."

Your situation is a little different, though, in that you're submitting a story after receiving a positive response to a query. In this case, your cover letter need only thank the editor for responding to your query and point out that the full manuscript in question is enclosed. Here's the text of a cover letter I've used in similar situations:

Thanks for your interest in The Accidental Terrorist, my memoir about my experiences as a Mormon missionary. Enclosed is the full manuscript for your consideration. I'm always available to talk or answer questions, and I look forward to hearing back from you.
Brief, polite, and to the point.

I also want to address your plan to send your story via FedEx: Don't.

The only situation in which you would do that are if 1) they've asked you to get the story to them by a certain date, and 2) FedEx or another express delivery service is the only way to get it there on time. (Possibly also if you're submitting from overseas, but probably not even then.) In most circumstances, your submission will not be anywhere near urgent enough to the market to justify either the expense to you or the need for someone at the publisher's office to receive and sign for the envelope. Just use normal snail mail, and try not to put any annoying burden on the receiver.

2 Comments

"A reader writers to ask:"

I believe "A reader writes to ask:" would be more appropriate. /useless-nitpick

Thanks for this entry, cover letters are still a bit of a mystery to me, though not as deep and dark a puzzlement as query letters.

Thanks for the (useful, actually) nitpick. That's corrected, demonstrating once again that no amount of proofreading will catch every error.

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FLOG is Hugo- and Nebula-nominated author William Shunn's blog on manuscript formatting and preparation for fiction writers. It features formatting questions from real readers and writers like you. Submit your questions to info at format dot ms. Identitying information will remain private. We regret that we can't always respond individually to submissions, and that we can't answer every question we receive.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 11, 2009 1:05 PM.

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