What Published Authors Never Tell You About Writing A Cover Letter by Catherine Foster

As a short story author, I am proud to tell people that I have over seventy published titles to my credit. This is one of the first things that I list about myself when I am crafting a blurb about my accomplishments or when I need to write up a paragraph detailing my successes. As authors, we can craft what truth to write on the page to suit our needs. For instance, it is an equal truth but far less flattering to mention that for every story on the list that met with an approval letter, I first met with at least four rejections. Sometimes I had ten or fifteen dismissals before I saw that coveted acceptance finally come my way. In fact, it might be fairer to write next to my name: suffered 703 kicks in the teeth, but who wants to trumpet their failures? It’s far better to tell about the ones that people liked than the ones they didn’t, wouldn’t you agree?

Let’s be honest: you’re going to get some rejections along the way. It’s to be expected, but you’re strong and you can handle it. You can mitigate your risk of receiving that dreaded rejection letter by following a few simple rules:

–When you are ready, having your piece thoroughly edited and proofread.

No submissions editor wants to read a story by an author that couldn’t be bothered to properly punctuate or spell correctly. If you don’t care, why should they?

–Reading and respecting ALL submission guidelines.

This can be difficult, since each place has varying, possibly circuitous, rules that sometimes seemed designed to test your patience and understanding of your computer’s advanced formatting tools. But a word to the wary: many places will not even read your submission if you don’t follow their rules very closely. It is wise to spend time reading the fine print, and I especially recommend becoming familiar with William Shunn’s excellent guide to formatting, which is considered by most to be the gold standard when there is any doubt about the rules.

Choosing wisely about where to submit.

You may not have time to read the back issues of every literary magazine between The Albuquerque Revue and Zephyrhills Weekly, but it is your responsibility to be at least a little familiar with where you are submitting. It doesn’t make sense to submit a horror story to a romance-based magazine or a conservative political editorial to a nonbinary review. These types of mistakes are sure to get you a rejection, and not a nice one. A little bit of research beforehand can save you a lot of headache in the long run. Or it can make your day!

–Having a great submission letter.

This is your introduction and your chance to stand out from the pack.

We’re going to focus on the last item. The key to having your first story accepted instead of brushed off can be as simple as your submission letter. If I had known that when I was beginning my career, I may be more able to write now suffered only 201 kicks in the teeth and saved myself a few heartaches, but perhaps you can learn easier than I did. A well-written submission letter is important because it gives a lot of information about you in an organized manner. Many contributors skip this step, especially if they are submitting through an online management software system such as Submittable that has its own place for the questions that would normally be included in a cover letter. This is a mistake for several reasons, this first and most important is that your information will be stored with that system, but you want to be known as professional. Your submission and that spot in the magazine or with the publishing house is similar to a job to which you are applying. If you take yourself seriously and with respect, the editors will see that and take notice. Filling out an online form is the minimum effort required, and it shows. Having a well-crafted submission letter speaks volumes about you, and you want to leave people with the best impression of yourself and your work that you possibly can.

It is all right to create your letter beforehand and tweak it to fit the different places you are submitting to. This is known as a form letter. The danger in this is that you must be very careful to look over your letter before you send it out. You don’t want any embarrassing mistakes because you sent the wrong date or the wrong salutation at the top. So be aware of the pitfalls of the form letter.

The submission letter should start with your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address at the top left corner, left-justified. Must you give this information? Sometimes not, but it is easier to remove it in subsequent drafts than to keep adding it every time you want to send the letter. Traditional cover letters usually include that information, and any reputable establishment will not sell or use personal information from submissions. If you choose not to include this information, you can always delete it later.

The next step is to choose a greeting. Because it is a form letter, it is advisable to choose something that does not specify gender or is inclusive to both. “To Whom It May Concern,” “Dear Sir or Madam,” etc.

The opening paragraph is where you introduce yourself. Say hello and state the the name of your story. This is where you need to establish a connection, no matter how tenuous: “I found your listing for calls in New Pages.” “I read Glimmer Train.” “I read a story by your editor.” Here is where you mention how know about them or how you heard about their company and why you think your story is a good fit. This paragraph should not be more than three or four sentences. This is not the time to discuss plot details or to explain anything. This is a quick, easy, paragraph establishing introductions and connections and should not be overly dense.

The next paragraph is your biography. It should be about seventy-five to a hundred words, or no more than four sentences. This is where you state some accomplishments germane to the industry. You may list a single website and no more than three published titles. If you list everything you have ever written, you risk boring the editor and they will skip over your whole letter. If you are new and just getting started, don’t fret. You can use general terms when talking about your accomplishments: “I’ve been writing for 5 years.” “I have always loved reading and have decided to pursue writing as my dream.” Many, many publishers passionately support new and emerging writers, so don’t be intimidated  when you’re just starting out!

The last section is where you close it out and tie everything together. Thank the editors for taking the time to read your work. Say something gracious about the process or something personal but genuine. If nothing seems to fit, that’s okay. This section should be short, but not more than three sentences at most.

For your closing, pick something that suits you but is not too trendy. “Sincerely,” “Respectfully,” “Best wishes,” are all good choices and something in that vein would serve you well. You want to write your name, and underneath that you may also put your pen name in parentheses, if you are using one.

This will be a good, solid submissions letter that will serve you all the years that you will be working with the publishing industry. It can be modified easily: you can add to your growing list of accomplishments in your biographical section, add in word count if the site specifies it, give a little blurb about the plot if they require it, and so on and so forth. The most important thing is that you remember to read all of the requirements for each site so that you can make the changes to your letter that you need to.

Rejection doesn’t come easy to anyone, but being prepared will help you avoid a majority of those nasty stings. This guide to submissions letters is your first step in great preparation. Good luck out there, and happy submitting!





Meet Our Editors!

Catherine Foster is a twelve year editing veteran and an accomplished author of over 70 published works. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her own work. This, combined with her experience as the submissions editor for Bedlam Publishing, gives her a unique perspective on keeping manuscripts from the dreaded circular file. In fact, she boasts a remarkable 86% rate of her edited works being published. She is also a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association.

When asked about the most memorable work she has edited, she said, “The thing I am most proud to have worked on is an upcoming volume of poetry by Ramez Qureshi (publication date 12/2017). He was a student who died just prior to 9/11. The Estate put all of his things in storage for years, and when they went through them a few years ago, they found a treasure trove of amazing poetry, but a lot of it was unintelligible. They contacted two companies to transcribe it before they came to us, but no one was able to do it. I took the job, and after hundreds of painstaking hours of pouring over letters, I was able to decode Ramez’s entire collected works. One of the poems was written on the last day he died. It was touching and heartfelt beyond belief, and I was forever changed by the experience. I wrote about the experience in my own memoir. I later was part of the team who selected and edited a first round of the poems for publication, and this is an incredibly personal endeavor for me. I am so honored to help bring Ramez’s words to light after so long.”

When she isn’t working with the written word, Catherine spends her days raising her children and chasing her six cats and three dogs. She also enjoys playing classical piano, practicing her German, and baking fancy cakes and breads.

Melissa Heiselt is an experienced editor and writer. She has worked as a research writer, copywriter, and blog writer for about ten years. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in English, and minored in Linguistics. She specializes in higher-level edits; helping with structure and cohesiveness, suggesting alternative words, pointing out discrepancies between the style/tone. A former homeschool teacher, she enjoys the teaching aspect of editing and seeks to always make her clients stronger authors. She taught English in China and spent a number of years doing ESL tutoring.
A self-professed word nerd, she lists the Classics and Fantasy among her favorite genres. Brandon Sanderson, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Shakespeare all top her list of favorite authors. She particularly admires Ms. LeGuin for her precise and beautiful prose.  Melissa loves poetry with a heartbeat and enjoys compulsively critiquing any stray banner, flyer, or fast food sign she sees.

Josh Smith is not a pseudonym. He is, however, an editor with fourteen years of experience. Eleven of the fifteen pieces he has edited for The LetterWorks thus far have either been published, or are forthcoming as of this writing. He co-founded Bedlam Publishing in 2003, and was named Editor-in-Chief in 2010. Bedlam has produced three different magazine titles over the years, as well as various online publication. Their current art/lit digital magazine, Loud Zoo, is in its fourth year, and their first book is scheduled for publication in September.
When he isn’t busy editing, childhood dreams of being a mad scientist and a musician take hold, and he tinkers with found objects and simple circuits with noisy, percussive results. He has a floofy dog named Tractor, who some say is the brains of the operation. His favorite writers include Jeff VanderMeer and Jorge Luis Borges, and as such, loves to edit fiction that exists beyond the boundaries of expectation and familiarity.

Eleven Steps to Becoming a Published Author by Amanda Wayne

Step one: Write something. Pretty simple, right? You just sit down in front of your computer and pour out a few thousand words. There should be a beginning, middle, and an end. You might want a plot and a few characters. Perhaps you could throw in some action and dialogue.

Step Two: Okay, you nailed the writing part. Go you! Now comes the less exciting part. Set your manuscript aside. Figuratively and literally. Move on. Get coffee. See a movie. Write a new story. Wait at least a month. No peeking.

Step Three: Read your story all the way through. Don’t stop to change tenses or adjust the dialogue. No editing whatsoever. Read it as if you weren’t the one to write it. Ask yourself, “Does my story make sense?” Do not ask yourself if the story is any good. First drafts rarely are.

Step Four: Read it again. Make notes about changes that need to be made. Don’t worry about proofreading right now. There is no point in adding a comma to a sentence that may not even exist tomorrow. Think about the scenes; are they necessary to the plot or just taking up space? Make those changes, change your mind and undo your changes and then change them again.

Step Five: Now that the story is officially a second draft, you can have someone else read it. Give away your precious baby to someone brutal. Pick someone who can tell you the truth. Friends, while well-meaning, do not usually make good Alpha readers. If all anyone tells you is that it’s really good, they aren’t helping. You need them to be blunt and honest. Take their feedback and decide whether to implement their advice. Make those changes or find a new reader. You can also pay a professional editor to read your work and give you substantive or developmental advice. These people are there to tell you that the knife on page seven isn’t in the same place on page thirteen, that Annalisa used to have blonde hair, and that you don’t really need all of page seventeen.

Step Six: Okay, now your story is in pretty good shape. It’s looking more and more like a Pulitzer Prize winner. Now is the time for some real editing. If grammar and dangling modifiers aren’t your forte, hire or bribe a good editor to do it for you. There are thousands of people who claim to be editors. A good editor is probably going to cost you at least a penny per word. That’s industry standard. Be wary of anyone giving you a lower quote. You get what you pay for.

Step Seven: Your copy is back from the editor and it is just chock full of red pen! Oh no! Don’t sweat it. Even great writers need an editor. Go through your story again. Make adjustments to tense, punctuation, grammar, style, and voice. Read through the story from back to front. This will feel weird. The sentences don’t go in this order. You aren’t looking for order, you already did that. You’re looking for misplaced commas, incorrect tenses, and missing quotations.

Step Eight: Another round of readers. Find another reader who is equally as unforgiving. Have them read your mostly polished manuscript and give you feedback. Give it to a few more people. Take their praise and criticism and change what needs to be changed or leave it all the same.

Step Nine: Write or hire someone to write a really great cover letter for your submission. There are many templates available online to give you ideas. A submission cover letter introduces you to the publishing house or literary magazine. You can list any previous publications you might have or just try to make it sound as if you have some idea what you are doing. A cover letter the resume of the writing world. Your work can and will stand on its own merit; but the cover letter will operate as an opening act.

Step Ten: Slap a stamp on that manuscript and send it off to Judgment Day. You will probably get rejected. A nice little form letter will arrive in the mail long after you stopped impulsively checking your mailbox. If you get lucky, some thoughtful submissions editor will scrawl one line about how you should keep trying.  It will crush your soul. All of your hard work! All those hours!

Step Eleven: Repeat Step Ten. Again. Again. Again. Again. Again.

Keep writing, even when those rejection letters start to pile up. They aren’t proof of anything other than your specific piece wasn’t the right fit for that particular publisher at this exact moment. With an eye for careful editing and thoughtful submissions process, you are sure to succeed and become a published author!

Check out our website for more articles, to find a professional editor, or to learn more about us! Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest!

Welcome to the LetterWorks first blog post!

When first beginning in the cyberworld, it is polite to say “Hello World!”

And that is what we are doing to help serve the writing community.  At TheLetterWorks.com, we strive to improve your quality of work no matter what you are working on.  If you are writing a short story, a school paper, a novel or even a technical report, we can help give it a technical polish.

Our blog is intended to help guide authors in a gentle but informed way, kind of like our edits.  We hope you will enjoy the various styles of writing by our award winning editors (who happen to be accomplished authors in their own rights).

I hope you will enjoy viewing our website and blog and share it with your friends and family.  Check out our Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts, too!  And if you have any suggestions, please let us know.

Best regards,

Sander (the webmaster)