As an editor, I’ve seen hundreds of cover letters. I do mean “seen”. I have not read hundreds of cover letters. Why? Let me answer your question with another question:
How long do you spend admiring the wrapping paper on a gift?
Sure, if the wrapping paper is woven out of OH MY GOD WHOSE HAIR IS THIS and the card says “To: A Miserable Fuck. From: The Booger Goblin”, you might. But then, you might be concerned about—or judge the person for—what you’re about to find inside.
Cover letters get read for two reasons:
- A story is good and will potentially be accepted so the editor needs your information.
- You gave the editor a “Dafaq?” moment. That means, rather than opening your cover letter, glazing over it for the minor necessary details, they had to stop, and say aloud, “Dafaq?”
“Dafaq?” things: Your cover letter is absurdly long; has a weird and/or colorful format; doesn’t include the information asked for; includes a picture of your grandchild and/or local deity; egregiously misspells the name of the magazine/editor.
There’s a theme here. You get it:
A forgettable cover letter is the best cover letter.
Or, as Laura Garrison, the editor for Jersey Devil Press put it in our interview with her:
“Basic politeness and brevity are the safest approaches. I'm not eager to work with writers who come across as unhinged in their cover letters.”
There are a lot of conspiracy theories about cover letters. So, let’s wrap this up by putting those to rest.
Editors are not looking to see:
- If you have an MFA.
- If you’ve been published in super fancy places.
- If you can prove you love them more than anyone else.
- If you’re their ex who left them on a bridge in Saint Luis back in 2009 who promised to come back in five minutes but didn’t and now they don’t know if you’re alive, dead, lost, in a parallel dimension, or if—if they’re being honest with themselves—you never came back because they came on way too strong with the moving-in stuff, and now they’d just like to apologize.
No. They want:
Pleasure consider/Thank you for considering
Title. Genre. Word Count.
One line about loving their mag/a recent story (optional)
Bio (if asked for [usually is])
The best example I’ve found is in this full cover letter breakdown by Alex Shvartsman.
Did we miss something? Comment below with your advice and we’ll add it in (if we agree).