As Fiction Editor of Atticus Review, I see quite the gamut of cover letters. They range in length from a single sentence (e.g., “Here is a story I wrote” or “I hope ya’ll don’t hate this”) to several pages, longer than many of the flash fiction submissions we receive. Some cover letters are formal, some more conversational. Some seem geared toward entertaining; others give off a nervous energy. The truth is we don’t really care what’s in the cover letters we receive; it’s what’s in the attached submission that matters. We will read your work regardless of what you write in your cover letter, and a lot of the time I don’t look at the cover letter until after I’ve read the submission. However, I’d be lying if I said that cover letters don’t make an impression.
The kinds of things that make a less-than-stellar impression are almost always cases of the writer including gratuitous information. So I thought I’d share a few examples of what is unnecessary to include in your cover letter.
I am sending you my story “Fuck It” for consideration for publication in your fine journal. I believe you’ll find this story to be witty and clever and sublime. I was rolling on the floor laughing at points while I was writing it. At other times, I was blown away by the incredible insight my character, Jay, delivers about life and love! He’s far wiser than me, I’ll tell you that. Anyway, I hope this story blows your mind, too, and that it tickles all of your funny bones.
Also, if you don’t find my story witty, clever, and/or sublime enough to publish in your journal, I would very much appreciate detailed annotations using Track Changes as to how to improve the piece.
Bio: B. Writer has been hailed as one of the most prolific writers in the Northern Hemisphere. His work has appeared in 5,023 journals as of the date of this submission (of course, that number has most likely increased between the time he submitted the story and the fiction editor got around to reading it). He would very well have work in over 6,000 journals by now if it weren’t for the sad fact that some editors allow their envy of his great success to make them petty.
Attached is my story, “Monkeys Screaming.” It tells the story of Mark, a man in crisis. He’s lost his wife, his job, and on top of all that, he wakes up one day to find that he is incapable of speaking coherently. In fact, when he opens his mouth, all that comes out is nonsense animal sounds. This story follows Mark as he learns to grapple with this strange predicament, eventually finding some peace with his situation.
Anyway, I hope you find this story worth publishing. But if you don’t, I won’t hold it against you. I’m used to rejection. Sigh.
I hope you’ll find my story, “When Horses Trot,” a good fit for your journal.
“When Horses Trot” has received highly encouraging rejections from countless journals far more esteemed than your journal. In fact, a few of these editors have described this story as “Brilliant!” “Dazzling!” and “Amazeballs!” But alas, they said they didn’t have room for it in their journals. So now I’m down to submitting my story to the journals in the twenty-fifth tier. Still, of that tier, your journal is my favorite! I have admired every story you have published and believe that “When Horses Trot” will make an excellent addition to that catalog.
To Whom It May Concern,
I have been writing since I was two years old and stole a notebook from Target while my mother was busy buying my diapers. Ever since, my passion for writing has surpassed my passion for everything else in life, from s’mores to sniffing glue to sex. I’d rather write than breathe!
I have yet to be published, but I believe in my heart that if I keep trying, someday my lifelong dream will come true!
So what should go in a cover letter? It’s simple really. Just tell us what you’re sending us (e.g., a short story, two flash fictions, etc.) and the title of the work you’re submitting. A word count is nice, but not obligatory. Same goes with a bio. Politeness is always nice. Showing that you know who you’re asking to read your work is nice, too.
If you’re attached to including more information, that’s fine. We are sincerely grateful that you’re interested in placing your work in Atticus Review, and that you trust us with your work. We couldn’t do this without you. We will happily read your work even if your cover letter is longer than your attached submission and comes with its own footnotes.
One caveat: we may very well not read work that violates our maximum word counts. Please don’t send us a 4800-word story with a cover letter that states that you are willing to cut 800 words if we will just tell you which 800 words to cut.