Friday 10 May 2019

Covering letters

The following comment was left on the blog recently –

"What about submission letters to The People’s Friend? How do you write those? Can you send it by email as well?"

Good question and as I don't think I've ever done a post on submission letters (or covering letters as they're often known), I decided to put that right.

The covering letter, for any submission, should contain –

1) Your real name (even if you write under a pen name they'll need to know your real one for the contract and payments).

2) Your contact details – postal address and email, possibly your phone number too. (Personally I don't include mine as it's almost impossible to reach me by phone and I don't want editors wasting their time trying).

3) The title of your story. (This might well be changed, but you still have to call it something!)

4) Your pen name, if you are using one. It's common to put something like 'by Patsy Collins, writing as Pasty Clown'. 

5) The approximate word count. It's common to round this up or down, so if (for example) the requirements are for a 1,000 word story, you know they allow 10% leeway and your story is 1,097 words, you'd state it was 1,000 words. 

6) Anything else requested in the magazine's guidelines. 

Some editors request a synopsis of the story. You must provide this if requested, but don't do it otherwise.

I've not come across it with womags, but some other markets ask for a short biography, or for authors to give details of their publication history.

7) If the editor has requested stories in a particular genre, length etc it may be helpful to state yours complies with that. It may also be helpful to state if your story is time sensitive or seasonal.

That looks like a long list, but it shouldn't be a long letter!

The covering letter, for any publication, should not contain –

1) Anything not asked for in the guidelines and/or not relevant to the submission. When the editor is dealing with submissions she won't want, and won't have time, for anything else. Give her everything she needs and nothing else.

Some magazines will state that no cover letter is required. In that case put all the information on the first page and start the story underneath. 

Whether or not you use a covering letter it's probably a good idea to put your name and email or phone number in the header or footer of every page, just in case anything goes missing.

Regarding email v postal submissions – do as requested in the guidelines. Sometimes you'll hear of people submitting in a different way, or to a different name/address than stated in the guidelines. That's because some editors request this from people who've already been published by them. Until requested to do otherwise, follow the guidelines!

If emailing, your covering letter will be the email body and your story an attachment (unless any guidelines state otherwise). You ma ybe requested to put certain information in the subject line – if so, do as asked. If not, I suggest including the word 'submission' and your story title.

Most importantly – follow the magazine's guidelines and any requests made by editors. They all have slightly different processes and requirements. I mention these on this blog when I hear about them, so before submitting you may wish to click on the magazine's title in the 'magazine guidelines - quick links' (in the right hand column) and read the latest posts.

Is this how you do your covering letters? Anything to add, or any questions? 


Bubble said...

I went to a woman's fiction workshop a couple of years ago where the writer shared her cover letter. It was basically a standard letter outlining all the contact details as you would to anyone else, including the receipt address (useful for addressing the envelop later!).

Then just before the 'dear xxx' one line stating the details of the story, so for example Re: A Daughter Gained - a story of 1968 words by [writing name].

Then your greeting. Then 2 sentences. One saying you've written a short story with their readers in mind and the second one giving what the story is about. This latter one was crucial for me because it's not the plot, it's the theme and if I haven't got my theme sorted out then the story generally doesn't work. So, for the first story I wrote this sentence: "It's about an older man coming to terms with the death of his only child."
Finish off with your [real name] writing as [your writing name].

I have it as a form letter in my short stories folder and just type the relevant bits in each time. I only use it for The people's friend, though, as this is the only mag really asking for a cover letter.

Good luck.


Kate Blackadder said...

I think you've 'covered' everything, Patsy!

I've always been told not to give the exact number of words but to round up or down to the nearest ten.

Elizabeth McGinty said...

Mine is much the same Patsy, I always try to keep it formal as it is a business letter. Not sure if that is the correct etiquette.

wannabe a writer said...

Good post Patsy, very informative as ever. One thing I would say though, specifically for The People's Friend, is that even if you have had previous acceptances to the magazine, they still prefer submissions by post.

Sharon boothroyd said...

In the past, there's a been a lot of discussion about including a publication history in the covering letter.
Some have said that fiction eds don't want to know if you've had work published in other magazines, as it shows you're writing for the competing titles.
Also, they say that the standard of the submitted story should speak for itself.
I agree, but I personally feel it's good to mention your short story publication history, as it acts as a mini CV, and shows the eds the level of your experience.

carrie said...

Good post, Patsy. I must admit that I put the actual word limit in my 'letter' or 'email' - I was never sure whether that was the correct thing to do or not, but to me it seemed upfront and honest. I always follow the guidelines though; quite often referring back to your useful information to double check!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Great overview, Patsy - think you've covered everything!

Anonymous said...

Really useful, thank you Patsy.

Patsy said...

@ Bubble – Personally I don't put any details of what the story is about, unless asked to. Thinking what you'd put sounds like a good exercise for the writer though. It might help us see if it's a good fit for a particular magazine.

@ Kate – the rounding up or down is what I was taught too.

@ Elizabeth – it is a business letter as we're offering our work and that forms part of the legal contract should it be accepted. If we state anything untrue eg it's not been previously published when it has we could be in trouble! That doesn't mean we need be excessively formal, but I feel simple is best.

@ Wannabe – It's important to submit work however requested – even if that doesn't seem to be how everyone else does it.

@ Sharon. I do agree that the story should speak for itself. I don't think any editor will mind that you've sold work elsewhere – they know each has different requirements so it's unlikely that everything we write will suit the same publication. I doubt that mentioning you've been published elsewhere will hurt, but I don't think it will help either. (Outside of fiction for womags the case may well be different.)

@ Carrie – I don't think putting the exact word count is wrong, it just seems to be convention to round it up or down a bit.

@ Rosemary and Holly – thanks. I'm glad it was useful.