The Tea House: Rocking It As a Professional (I)
Whether I’m working as a writer or an editor, I appreciate people who are professional in their interactions. In fact, I seek to work with people who are professionals. If I interact with other professionals, be they other writers, editors, graphic designers, book designers, agents, etc., and they behave unprofessionally, I’m less likely to work with them. Unprofessional behavior is a yellow flag; sometimes even a red one. I’m not alone in this–when I talk to other artists or publishing professionals, they tell me they want to work with people who behave professionally.
Does this mean I don’t relax protocols once I’ve developed a relationship with other professionals? Depending on our relationship, I may totally relax–absolutely. But I still treat these people with the respect they deserve; this is still a professional relationship. Besides, it’s the right thing to do.
There’s a lot of different skills that go into behaving like a professional. Over the next weeks, I’m going to address some of these skills. Today we’re going to talk about cover letters.
There’s several different professional letters an artist needs to know how to write. When a writer submits a short story to an editor for a magazine or anthology, such as The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, the story should be accompanied by a cover letter, also called a submission letter. Some publications don’t require a cover letter–if this is the case, the publication will specifically mention this in their submission requirements. (Please note you do not send cover letters when submitting a manuscript for a standalone book–this letter is called a query letter and will be discussed in a later post.)
Cover letters are a short introduction to your work, and an editor’s first impression of you. Cover letters include a salutation where you address the editor or editors by name, an invitation for the editor to consider your work, and your past publications.
When addressing the editor, do not address editors by their first names unless you know them well. It’s more respectful to address editors as Mr. Smith or Ms. Smith. If you aren’t sure if the editor is a Mr. or Ms., it’s reasonable to address the editor by their full name–Chris Smith, for example. If you absolutely can’t find the editor’s name, addressing the editor as “Editor” is reasonable. Additionally, if you are submitting to a publication that is edited by more than one editor, address the letter to all the editors, e.g., “Mr. Brown, Ms. Carter, Mr. Rowe and Ms. Smith.” You could also simply write “Dear Editors” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
Ensure you address your cover letter to the appropriate editor, and spell the editor’s name correctly. Not only do you not want to annoy the editor who’s going to consider your story for publication, you also don’t want the editor to take your manuscript less seriously because your cover letter was not detail-oriented. Remember, you’re making a first impression with this letter, and you want to make a good one.
After you address the editor in your salutation, invite the editor to consider your story. You may do this by writing, “Please consider my short story ‘Planet of the Monkey Whompers’ for publication.” Another variation I’ve seen: “Please find my attached short story, ‘Planet of the Monkey Whompers.'” After this invitation, you may choose to include your story’s word count.
If you’ve had some previous publications you’d like to share with the editor, include them in a new paragraph. Do not list your whole bibliography; list only a few of your best publications if you have more than, say, three. If you’ve attended a prestigious writer’s workshop, MFA program or are a member of a professional artistic organization with some clout, you may also choose to list these in this paragraph. Such details may result in editors giving your story additional consideration.
Sign off with a pleasant, “Thank you for your consideration,” “Sincerely,” “Thank you,” or other appropriate sentiment. Finish your letter with your legal name.
Below are two examples of cover letters. One is the quick and easy version, the other is more elaborate.
The quick and easy version:
Dear Ms. Smith,
Please consider my attached short story “I Fight the Crimefighters of Uranus” for publication.
My fiction has previously appeared in The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Unicorn Knife Fight and The Drabblecast.
The more elaborate version:
Dear Mr. Brown and Ms. Smith,
Please consider my attached short story “I Fight the Crimefighters of Uranus” for publication. It is 4,500 words long.
I am a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and my fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Unicorn Knife Fight and The Drabblecast.
And that’s all you need to say. Keep your letter short and simple, ensure your grammar is perfect, and the editor’s first impression will be, “This is a professional.”
If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below. If you’re a musician, visual artist, filmmaker or other type of artist, I’d love it if you’d share your discipline’s equivalent to a cover letter. I’d also love to hear everyone’s thoughts on presenting themselves as professionals.
Spike Marlowe has held a number of odd jobs, including working as a detective, a Bigfoot researcher, a writer for an internet content farm, a busker and as a performer in a wild west show. These days she’s a writer, blogger and bizarro editor for Eraserhead Press, with a focus on the New Bizarro Author Series. Her first book, Placenta of Love, is available at all the usual locations. You can stalk her online at her website or on Twitter at @spikemarlowe.