Continuing on from yesterday, let’s talk more on with the nuts and bolts of submitting short stories to magazines/anthologies.
The Cover Letter
I feel like that heading should come with a dramatic flash of lightning and a crack of thunder. This is the number one thing that scared the hell out of me when I was starting out. It’s the first thing people see before they ever get to your story.
Trust me, it’s not worth the angst. This is a cover letter. It’s not a query letter, like you’d use to try to convince an agent that your novel is amazing and they should totally invest the time reading it. With cover letters, you want it simple, short, and to the point.
First, remember how yesterday I told you to read the submission guidelines? Start there. If there’s something in particular the editors want in the cover letter they will tell you. (eg: a short biography, etc.) Otherwise, this is all you need: the title of your story, its length, your relevant publication credits, and courtesy. I’m not going to claim I’m an expert at cover letters, but I’m guessing I’ve managed to do something right since I’ve sold some stories. Here’s an example of a cover letter from me:
Thank you for considering my story, “Most awesomely Mind-Blowing Story Ever.” It’s about XXXX words long. I’m an associate member of the SFWA and part of the Northern Colorado Writers Workshop. I’ve published:
“Entangled” in Specutopia issue #1 (July 2012)
“Comes the Huntsman” in Strange Horizons (July 2, 2012)
“The Jade Tiger” in Penumbra (March 2012)
“Transportation” in Anotherealm (September 2011)
“The Falling Star” in Aurora Wolf’s New Fairy Tales Anthology
“The Book of Autumn” in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #49
Thank you and I hope that you enjoy reading my story!
Exciting, I know. But the point is, your story is supposed to be exciting and interesting. Your cover letter is supposed to convey the absolute minimum of necessary information so that you’re not wasting the time of someone who you’d much rather have reading your story.
Don’t tell the editor at length that you’re a new writer and have no publishing credits. If you don’t have any listed, it’s obvious enough and you shouldn’t belabor the point. It’s okay to be new, everyone was at one point. Don’t describe your story or even highlight the genre of it in the cover letter unless the submission guidelines tell you otherwise. Most editors/slushpile readers like to go in to a story without preconceptions. Help them out with that. Don’t apologize to the editor about the quality of the story, point out that you have no self-confidence, or defensively state that your friends totally liked the story.
I mention all of the above sins, mind you, because at some point I’ve committed them myself and had some kind editor (BLESS THEM) ask very sweetly if I would please knock it the heck off. I made the mistakes so you don’t have to!
After the angst of the cover letter and the terrifying, stomach-churning moment where you send the e-mail or click the submit button, this is the worst part. You have to wait for what is often a long (3-6 months or more!) time and can really just look forward to a rejection e-mail, likely a form letter, at the end of it. It sucks.
Don’t query about your story unless you’ve waited long enough. Period. The submission guidelines (remember those?) will normally tell you at what point you ought to query to make sure your submission didn’t get lost. If not stated, you should wait at least 90 days.
So you know what you do, while you’re waiting? Write more stories. Edit them. Submit them.
I describe it as playing story ping-pong, where every time one is rejected I bounce it back out to another potential market. (Sometimes with a little additional polishing if someone has been kind enough to send a note along with the rejections.) Right now, I have thirteen stories out and waiting for rejection or the much, much more rare acceptance. And I’m writing more.
Because we’re writers. It’s what we do, right?
I have a lot more to say about getting rejected, stuff that deserves its own blog post, but really quick: DO NOT ARGUE WITH AN EDITOR. EVER. EVER. EVEREVEREVER.
You might think your art is the best thing ever. No one is required to agree. And the last thing you want is to gain a reputation as someone who is combative, nasty, or just plain crazy. You want more chances to catch the attention of these editors, since maybe they’ll like another story of yours. You don’t want a permanent place on someone’s spam filter.
Also, if someone sends you a nice note along with a rejection – and it does happen! – take it as the enormous complement it is. Most editors are incredibly busy, and even a sentence or two, particularly if it’s advice about your story, is a real gift. That said? Don’t send them a note back. They’re busy. Their inboxes are full. Don’t clutter them up.
Finally, unless the submission guidelines (those things again!) say re-submissions are okay, they’re not. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve edited and re-grooved a story, you get one chance per market and you’re done. The only exception to this rule (other than the submission guidelines) is if the editor e-mails you specifically to ask you to re-sub the story once you’ve done some editing.
Questions? This obviously doesn’t cover everything.