Equipping Writers for Success
HELPFUL LINKS   |   EDITOR'S CORNER (Ramblings on the Writing Life)

Getting Around...

Career Essentials
Getting Started
Queries & Manuscripts
Market Research

Classes & Conferences

Crafting Your Work
Grammar Guides

Writing Contests

The Writing Business
Income & Expenses
Selling Reprints

Negotiating Contracts Setting Fees/Getting Paid
Rights & Copyright
Tech Tools

The Writing Life
The Writing Life
Rejection/Writer's Block
Health & Safety

Time Management
Column: Ramblings on the Writing Life

Fiction Writing - General
General Techniques
Characters & Viewpoint
Setting & Description
Column: Crafting Fabulous Fiction

Fiction Writing - Genres
Children's Writing
Mystery Writing
Romance Writing
SF, Fantasy & Horror
Flash Fiction & More

Nonfiction Writing
General Freelancing
Columns & Syndication

Topical Markets
Travel Writing

Creative Nonfiction

International Freelancing
Business/Tech Writing

Other Topics
Poetry & Greeting Cards Screenwriting

Book Publishing
Traditional Publishing
Electronic Publishing
POD & Subsidy Publishing

Promotion/Social Media
General Promotion Tips
Book Reviews
Press Releases

Blogging/Social Media
Author Websites

Media/Public Speaking

Articles in Translation

Search Writing-World.com:

Yahoo: MSN:

This free script provided by
JavaScript Kit

Cover Me - I'm Going In!
by John Floyd

Return to Queries, Submissions & Market Research · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

So you've finally written that short story. You've written it, you've polished it, and you're ready to send it out to an editor. But wait -- don't send it yet. There's one more piece of writing you might want to do first.

A cover letter, or covering letter as it's sometimes called, is a way to "introduce" your manuscript -- and yourself -- to a prospective editor. It can showcase your writing, announce your credentials, and demonstrate your professionalism -- even before the editor starts to read your story.

But be careful not to confuse a cover letter with a query letter. Though they are similar in many ways, a query letter's main purpose is to "sell" an idea, usually to an agent or an editor. It contains a detailed description of the manuscript or project, and is intended to convince the recipient to ask to see the manuscript itself. A query letter is almost never used with short fiction; a cover letter is almost always used.

What Does It Look Like?

What does a cover letter look like? It's a simple, brief business letter, addressed to a specific editor and mailed in the same envelope with your story. In fact, it should usually be paper- clipped in front of the first page of your manuscript. The letter should be single-spaced, with either standard block or semiblock format and double-spacing between paragraphs, on plain white 8 1/2" by 11" paper or tasteful, pastel stationery.

My cover letters generally consist of two or three short paragraphs, followed by one or two closing sentences. The first paragraph includes the story title, information about previous publications of this story (if any), and a reference to any requests the editor might have made to see my work. The second paragraph mentions publishing credits, significant writing awards, and any personal background related to the story. The third paragraph, if included at all, informs the editor that an SASE is enclosed and that the manuscript is disposable. I sometimes close the letter with a short sentence like "Thank you for your time" or "Please contact me if you have any questions," followed by "Sincerely," or "Cordially," and my full name.

Here's an example of what I typically say in a cover letter accompanying an unsolicited short story manuscript:

Dear [Editor's Name]:

Please consider the enclosed story, "Silent Partner." I hope you'll want to use it in a future issue.

My publication credits include more than 300 short stories and fillers in magazines like Grit, Woman's World, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Two of my stories were recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and another for the Derringer Award (by the Short Mystery Fiction Society).

I've also enclosed an SASE for your reply. If my story doesn't interest you, there is no need to return the manuscript itself.

Thank you for your time.


John Floyd

Be careful not to include a detailed description of your manuscript. A very brief description is sometimes appropriate "a short story set in rural Mississippi," etc.), but don't overdo it. The cover letter should never be a blatant sales pitch. Let your story stand on its own.

A Word on Credentials

Here's a good rule to follow regarding previous publication credits: If you have them, say so, but don't make a long list. Mention a few of the more impressive credits and leave it at that. It's sometimes a good idea to customize those a bit, depending on what type of magazine you're submitting to. The editor at The Atlantic Monthly might be more impressed to know you've been published in The New Yorker than in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. If you've not yet acquired any credits, don't apologize for it -- in fact, don't mention it at all. According to Laurie Henry in the Handbook of Short Story Writing, Volume II, "If you have no previous publications, it's still a good idea to personalize your submission with a brief (one or two sentence) truthful statement of some kind." When I first started submitting stories, I just said, "I am a former Air Force captain, and spent 26 years with IBM Corporation."

It's also perfectly acceptable to put in a few words about personal experiences, IF that has a bearing on the story itself. If you're submitting a tale about life in the Arizona desert, it would certainly be appropriate to mention your three hikes into the Grand Canyon, and if your story is a police procedural, the editor might like to know that you spent a year as Assistant District Attorney. Again, keep it brief.

Tips on the Perfect Cover Letter

Here are some guidelines to follow when you prepare a cover letter:

  • Keep it Short. Cover letters should never be more than one page in length. Half a page is about right. Do not include a photocopied list of credits or history of your life.

  • Send it to the Right Person. Always address your letter to a specific individual when possible, not just "Dear Editor." Use market listings or the Internet or the masthead of the publication itself to find the appropriate editor's name, and spell it correctly in your letter. If you're not sure of the gender, put in the entire name ("Dear Pat Cartwright," or "Dear Editor Cartwright"), and never address the editor by her first name unless she has used your first name or signed her first name in previous correspondence.

  • Be Positive. Never say your story might need a little more work, or that you would welcome the editor's criticism or advice. Also never mention any previous rejection of this story, by anyone.

  • Be Truthful. Stick to the facts. This does not, however, keep you from putting the best possible spin on those facts. For example, if your only publication credits are two poems in small literary magazines and a short essay in The Paris Review, say something like, "My previous work has appeared in several publications, including The Paris Review." Refer to any work that has been accepted but not yet published as "forthcoming."

  • Be Professional. Never try to be witty in your cover letter, and especially avoid looking cocky or presumptuous. Editors hate seeing something like "I know your word limit is 2,000 and my story runs 4,000, but it's so good I'm sure you'll make an exception." Also, don't use fancy stationery, and double-check your grammar and spelling. This will probably be the editor's first opportunity to judge your skill as a writer; you don't want your first impression to be a negative one.

So, you might ask, is a cover letter always necessary? In my opinion it is, unless a specific editor's guidelines (or market listing) tell you not to send one. "After all," says Scott Edelstein in Manuscript Submission, "you are not merely a writing machine sending a product to an editing machine; you are a human being making contact with another human being. A cover letter establishes a person-to-person relationship... between you and the recipient of the manuscript." There is no other way, to my knowledge, for a relatively unknown writer to do that. Why not take advantage of it?

One final thought: the greatest cover letter in the world won't help a substandard manuscript. The real deal, the star of the show, and the reason for your submission is the story itself. The cover letter only introduces it. But a good introduction never hurts.

Find Out More...

Cover Letters: When, Why, and How to Use Them, by Moira Allen

Copyright © 2001 John Floyd
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Mississippi writer John Floyd has sold more than 500 short stories and fillers to 100+ publications, including Strand Magazine, Grit, Woman's World, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. His stories have been nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and the Derringer Award.


Copyright © 2019 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
All materials on this site are the property of their authors and may not be reprinted
without the author's written permission, unless otherwise indicated.
For more information please contact Moira Allen, Editor

Please read our new Privacy Statement.

Organize your writing
and save time. Click here for a free download