Cover Letters and Tracking
Think of a submission like a job interview. The cover letter is a little like your resume.
The story itself is the interview. There are tons of qualified candidates.
You want to show them that you know their company (magazine), and that you’d be a great fit.
You want to show that you are respectful, detail-oriented, and easy to work with.
But how do you do all of this in a submission?
Getting Your Piece Ready to Go
-Read the guidelines. Be sure your MS adheres to word length, font size, page numbers, whether your name should be on the piece or
if editors desire to read the work blindly, contact information, file format, etc.
-If you don't have one already, create a Submittable account (or, for a few remaining University journals, you have to make a new
account for their submissions queue).
-Read your piece aloud to an empty room. This is the best way I’ve found to pick up any typos or clunky sentence issues. You can tell
fairly quickly if you are stumbling over the words that there may be a little snag in that spot. And sometimes it’s easier to hear a problem
than to recognize it on the page.
It doesn't matter if you do everything perfectly and follow all the rules if the writing is not ready or has not been proofread.
The Cover Letter
A cover letter for a submission is a little like a cover letter for a job: it's meant to be a brief introduction, it's a formality, it's awkward to write. From an Editor's standpoint, a cover letter is typically not a make-or-break document. Although it can give an impression of what kind of person/writer you are before someone is reading your work. So you probably want that to be a favorable impression.
The basic parts of a cover letter are an introduction to your work and then a bio. Very simple.
By introduction, I do NOT mean a story summary. Editors do not want you to tell us what your work is about. Simply let them know what you are
submitting (flash fiction, essay, etc.), the title/s, and maybe how many words it is (not for poetry). That's it.
I also like to thank the Editor for their time/energy.
It's TOTALLY OKAY if you don't have prior publications to list in a Bio. Just make a little note about yourself, where you're from, etc. If the magazine is on the quirkier side, you can make it quirky. If it's not, keep it simple.
Other things you might include:
If you know the specific editor's name (most magazines have their masthead available), use that for your greeting. Of course, be sure you're spelling their name correctly.
If you genuinely LOVED something in their magazine, and that is what brought you to them to submit, by all means, let them know. It won't get you published, but it's a really cool thing to do. DON'T LIE if you haven't actually done this.
If you've gotten a rejection from the magazine in the past that was more personal or asked you to submit again, this is something you can also mention,
though it's by no means necessary, and it won't help your odds of being accepted.
And finally: PROOFREAD. If a cover letter is full of errors (or mentions the wrong journal or editor name), I may be less likely to give the work my full
attention because I will assume the writer doesn't pay attention to detail--which is an essential skill for good writing.
SAMPLE COVER LETTER #1:
Dear Stephanie Meyer,
Please consider my short story, "That Vampire who Stopped Glittering," for the next issue of Twilight Fanfic Weekly. It is just under 3000 words.
I read your magazine daily and would be thrilled to find a home for my story with you.
Thank you for reading,
BIO: Amanda Miska lives and writes in and around Philadelphia. She is Team Edward all the way.
SAMPLE COVER LETTER #2:**
Dear Jensen, Ben, and Elizabeth (HOBART fiction editors)-
Please consider my piece of flash, "Incompatible with Life," for publication at Hobart. I received an encouraging rejection in the past, so I am trying with
Thanks so much for reading--
BIO: Amanda Miska lives and writes in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where she also runs Split Lip Magazine and Press. You can read more of her fiction
and non-fiction at amandamiska.com.
**(This is a real one that was attached to a story that was recently accepted!)
-Re-check that you’ve followed all of the guidelines and that you’ve uploaded the piece you actually want to send to the magazine.
-Add your cover letter, short and sweet.
-Hit submit! Give yourself a high five.
-Repeat the above steps for the grouping of magazines you are submitting this piece to. Most magazines accept simultaneous
submissions, but you MUST withdraw the piece immediately if it is accepted elsewhere!
It’s essential that you keep track of where you submit and when, as well as the response you get. Not only does this keep you from the faux-pas of accidentally getting accepted at more than one magazine at once, but it provides a map of your submissions, and it shows you how far you’ve come (and how far you need to go!).
Manual vs. Spreadsheet vs. Duotrope
Because some of us still like putting pen to the paper. Some people keep a folder of their stories with notes written on them. This is a very simple tracking system with very few details, but it works if you want something basic. R for Rejection (a small note if it was encouraging), highlighted if I received a response with the date of each one, as well as the day I submitted at the top. (I got a "purgatory" note here from ROOM, which told me my story was liked and had moved on to a second round of reading, but that I shouldn't expect to hear officially for three more months! (Still waiting.)
-List the title, date, magazine name/s so you know where your work is being considered. (If the magazines use Submittable, you should get a “receipt” email; I keep these all in an email folder).
-Some people also like to list if they paid a submitting fee (this happens occasionally, often at paying magazines) so they can write it off later.
-If you write in more than one mode (fiction, poetry, non-fiction), you may want a space for this or for word count (to differentiate between longform and flash).
DUOTROPE ($5/month or $50/year)
If using Duotrope’s paid system, you simply fill out the form they provide. They have other potential details about the submission, which are optional. I can also see how many days have passed, if it's past the usual deadline. Duotrope is not paying me to say this, but if you can afford it, it's worth it to use the system (especially if you despise spreadsheets, as I do).