Monday, October 15, 2007

Advice to Submitters: Cover Letters

Here at Fringe, we see a lot of cover letters from submitters, ranging from the perfectly-composed traditional cover letter to the multi-page biography. A good cover letter allows your work to stand on its own, while a bad one can be off-putting to editors and start them out with an attitudinal deficit.

As a service to writers and editors everywhere, I thought I'd run through some of the most frequent pitfalls, at least by Fringe standards.

  • Keep it short, no more than three paragraphs maximum.
  • Send a two or three-line bio either within the letter's body text, or below your sign-off.
  • Tell us if the submission is simultaneous.
  • Use proper capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. Yes, the Internet is a casual place, but we haven't let our hair down THAT much.
  • Let us know if you are/are not previously published, and list a few of your most recent or most important publications.
  • Include a cover letter.
  • Send us a curriculum vitae or a list of all 57 journals you've published in.
  • Summarize the piece(s) you are sending. Doing so robs us of the pleasure of discovering your writing on our own. If you have a sentence of background you simply must put in there, or which is necessary to understanding the story ("I wrote this piece while living with Sherpas in Nepal and studying their myth cycle which relies on..."), that's fine.
  • Address us as "Dear Sirs" -- we know you don't mean to cause offense, but we are not male, and also we are feminists. We prefer "Dear Fiction/Nonfiction/ Poetry/ Etc Editor."
  • Tell us that your piece is exactly the avant piece of literature we have been waiting for.
  • Tell us who your literary influences are. This can be a turn-off, which makes it harder to give your piece the fair reading it deserves. Remember, it may happen that your most venerated literary fore bearers typify all we loathe about the hetero patriarchal canon. Also, Burroughs and Hemingway influenced everyone.
Remember, as my old adviser Pamela Painter says, the primary function of a good cover letter is to tell editors, "hello" and "I'm not crazy." Follow these tips and yours will do just that.

Happy writing.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

The "Dear Sirs" is the one that really irks me - not only does it show your sexism in assuming that you are writing to a male editor, it also shows that you didn't take the time to learn about our staff or our editors.