This should have posted Thursday. Apparently, I’m still learning WordPress.
Submission cover letters for short fiction are an often covered topic, so I won’t go into too much detail. Instead, two excellent posts by Aeryn Rudel on his Rejectomancy blog are Back to Basics: The Cover Letter and Back to Basics: More Cover Letter Components. As the titles suggest, he addresses the minimum content (and often the maximum content) that should be in a short fiction cover letter and then addresses the few occasions when additional types of information should be included. I won’t rehash those.
I will talk about my on experience. Looking back at my first cover letters, I very much violated these tenets. As one example, I often included a paragraph explaining the inspiration for the story. Like I said, cringe worthy. Luckily, I made such faux pas only the first couple of times. Then I found valuable resources online that pointed me in the right direction, which is the less, the better. Half the submission guidelines I’ve read even say a cover letter is optional. I still include one to make me feel better.
In fact, I’ve written so many I keep a folder of previous cover letters for each market. When I submit a new story, I simply change the story’s name, genre, and word count. This saves me the time otherwise needed to look up that market’s editor (for addressing purposes) and what, if anything, that market specifically asks be included in a cover letter.
In contrast, the sources I’ve read state cover letters to children’s’ book publishers are completely different. Since I’ve written and submitted a couple children’s book manuscripts, I’ve had to pay attention to these entirely different expectations. Maybe the differences have something to do with these publishers still requiring paper submissions. Their slush piles are actual piles of paper, not an electronic inbox of files or a dashboard like Submittable or Moksha.
For children’s book manuscripts, the cover letter not only includes the story’s title but a sentence or two describing the story. The cover letter also should explain why the manuscript is a good fit with that publisher. The guides I’ve read recommend reviewing recently published books by that publisher and relating your manuscript to those. Also, if you have any relevant experience in the field in which the manuscript takes place, or other publication history, that should be stated. It’s almost like a query letter for a novel manuscript. That’s a lot of extra work compared to short fiction.
My first submissions were of children’s book manuscripts, so maybe I can chalk up my short fiction cover letter mistakes to applying different expectations.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve made any cover letter faux pas.
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