Tag Archives: submissions

The Art of the Cover Letter

Look at you writing that cover letter like a champion!

Perhaps the most dreaded feedback for a writer or a skyscraper architect to receive is: “Can you make it shorter?” For some writers, this is one of the most painful parts of the editing process. For me, it’s… well, I actually haven’t gotten that note before. I write short, and I friggin’ like it that way.

Turns out I’m not alone. I’ve received some significant compliments from editors and publishers on my short, concise, and to-the-point cover letters. I found this curious, until I realized I have lots of experience with cover letters. At a former job, I was first point of contact for applicants and read literally thousands of cover letters. I’d taken note of what worked, what didn’t, and what could work if finessed. Below, I’ll give you that basic structure based on what you’re submitting to an editor or publisher.

The most important thing to mention is that if you can turn the basic into the unique without it being overblown, braggy, or down-right weird, then do it. Your cover letter is your chance to introduce yourself in a provocative, distinct way. Take advantage of the opportunity!



(A)It’s my pleasure to submit SHORT STORY/MANUSCRIPT TITLE for your consideration for PUBLICATION NAME.

(B1) [If you are submitting a novel, directly go in to a little about yourself. In this section about yourself, be sure to mention:

  • If you have met the editor or publisher at an event, immediately remind them when and where you two met, and remind them that they asked to see your work
  • Published works (if you have many, choose your top three or just use the titles of the magazines, for example: My short stories have appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show, Pseudopod, and Daily Science Fiction.)
  • Ongoing works such as blogging, reviews, or newspaper/magazine columns
  • Soon-to-be published works
  • Long-term works (ex. “I am currently writing a horror fantasy series set in 1920’s Brooklyn.”)
  • Any other writing-related credits (editor, copywriter, etc.)
  • One or two sentences about yourself including your day job, inspirations, aspirations, unique experience you hold that might be attractive to a publisher — this is an opportunity to hook an editor with your personality]

(B2) [If you are submitting a short story, I recommend first talking about the story:]


(C1) [For submitting a novel, now is the time to go into 1-3 paragraphs about your story. This will be different than what is explained in B2, as you need to go into a longer pitch of your novel. In these paragraphs, take the editor on a small tour of what they can expect to read in your novel. Go over the main characters and basic plot, then mention the themes you delve into as well. After the long pitch, if you haven’t mentioned it already, state your target audience for your novel, approximate word count, and any other information you feel is important for the editor to know. For example, mention that you gave your novel to ten 5th grade boys (your target audience), and provide quotes of from the boys detailing how they loved the book.]

(C2) [For submitting a short story, now is the time you can talk about yourself. Keep it to a paragraph and just list your past, ongoing, and soon-to-be publications, and a fact or two about yourself (where you live, that you are a professional skydiver, that you have 49 grandchildren, etc.).]

(D) [Thank the editor for their time in this short section, and put it in your own words.] I appreciate your time, and thank you for taking a look at my story/novel “SHORT STORY TITLE”/NOVEL TITLE. I look forward to hearing from you.

(E) [Your personal information goes here such as:]

PHONE NUMBER (optional)

As you may have noted, a cover letter for a novel will be a bit longer than a short story, but both should be limited to between four and six paragraphs. You don’t want the editor spending their precious time reading your cover letter. You want to leave them intrigued as to who you are and excited to read your story. So much so, they’ll jump right into reading your manuscript.

Additional (and helpful) resources:

  1. Submission and Formatting Basics: http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/how-to-submit-short-stories-formatting-basics
  2. Submissions 101: http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/literary-journal-submissions-101
  3. Writing a Query Letter: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-write-the-perfect-query-letter

The Submission Sanity Saver

Are you a disorganized person? It’s okay to admit it. We’re friends here, and this is a safe place. Here, I’ll go first. I am extremely disorganized. I don’t keep a calendar. My desk at work is a mess. I consider organizing things to be a hassle, and I detest hassle. I’ve long skated by on a better-than-average memory. That document from last week? It’s in the third pile on the right, the one that’s teetering on the edge of falling.

The problem is, as I’ve gotten older, my brain has gotten more full and, well, older. My once-vaunted memory has begun to fail me. Sooner or later I’m going to have to admit that, and start being more organized like a normal person. But probably not.

Still, there’s one organizational decision I’ve made that I don’t regret in the slightest: surrendering my short story submission process to Duotrope. Duotrope is a one-stop-shop website for submissions. Short and long fiction, nonfiction and poetry, Duotrope has you covered. They currently list over 5,000 markets, and continuously update their list as new markets become available. They feature a robust search engine where you can specify which criteria you are looking for in a market. They list acceptance rates, pay scale (or lack thereof), average response speed (or lack thereof) and each market’s page on Duotrope links to the market’s main site.

Simply put, I would be utterly lost without Duotrope.

Every time you submit, you complete an entry with the name of your story (stored in your account database), the venue and the date of submission. Duotrope starts counting days. When you get a response, you update the entry, and the site uses your inputs to improve its own venue database. Better still, they keep records of every story you’ve submitted and which markets you’ve submitted it to. They even compare your acceptance rate to others who have submitted to the same market and give you a sense of how you’re doing.

Just this morning I was thinking to myself that I had a story out on submission. I couldn’t remember which venue or, honestly, which story, but I was fairly certain I’d submitted it awhile ago. Surely, I thought, I should have heard something by now. I logged into my account to see if I’d run over the expected amount of time for this market. Turns out my memory just wasn’t so hot (damn you, age!). I’ve still got sixteen days left until the story has been out past this market’s normal response times.

Now for the bad news. While the site was free when I began using it, eventually soliciting donations was apparently not enough to pay their bills. They have since gone to a pay system, which is unfortunate for those without much disposable income, but at $50.oo a year, I consider it a steal and well worth it. They even offer a free trial! If you do a lot of submitting and have been trying to keep track of it all yourself, I strongly suggest you consider giving them a try.


Greg LittleRocket scientist by day, science fiction and fantasy writer by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His novelette Some Say in Surf appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of The Colored Lens. When not working or writing, he enjoys the occasional video game. He lives in Ashland, VA with his wife and their yellow lab.

Thoughts From The Slush Pile ““ Success

I’ve recently become a slush pile reader for Flash Fiction Online. In my opinion, good Flash Fiction (a complete story of 500 to 1,000 words) is harder to write than a complete novel. In one of the slush rounds – reiewing stories their writers hope to have FFO publish – I moved two of the stories to the next phase of consideration. Why?

One was science fiction, and one was fantasy/slipstream. Even though the two stories were nothing alike, they had some common traits that helped them move to the next round. So what did they do right?

(1) The prose was clean – no typos, no major grammar problems.

(2) The main characters were well-defined and interesting.

(3) Each character had an interesting problem to solve. One wanted to go home, and the other had a major decision to make. The second story violated my withholding “rule”. It didn’t tell me something the main character would know – what the decision was. I didn’t mind the withholding this time because the point of the story wasn’t the decision, but how the character makes it.

(4) The writers had strong “voices”. A writer’s voice is different than technical proficiencies. It’s a little hard to define. Voice is the personality of the writer coming through his or her words. It makes the story unique. Five people can write a story about a werewolf’s first transformation. While the plotline will be the same for each, the stories will be told very differently because of “voice”. For these submissions to FFO, the fantasy’s voice was a bit irreverent and humorous. The science fiction voice was curious and intelligent.

(5) They were complete stories with beginning, middles and ends. Rust Hills said “a short story tells of something happening to someone” in his Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. Submissions that aren’t complete are character sketches or scenes. While they may be fabulous, they aren’t what FFO is looking for.

(6) Setting. It’s difficult to convey a full setting in 1000 words or less, but both of these stories gave me enough of one that I could see where the characters were. One in deep space, and one in a somewhat run down kitchen.

Note the order I put the above-list in?

I did for a reason.

Your story might have all the other elements, but if it is riddled with grammatical errors, I won’t read on and find that out. If the story is readable, I look for a character to care about. And so on. My list isn’t absolute. I might pass on a story with grammatical errors if the voice or characters are stunningly fabulous. Don’t put the bar to publication any higher by making technical errors.

What am I looking for as a slush pile reader?

The same thing I’m looking for when I buy a novel. A great story told well.

Keep writing, and keep submitting. I hope to see you all over at Flash Fiction Online.

And the winner is …..

And the winner is ….

Not you!

What happened? You’ve worked on your craft for tens of thousands, hundreds of hundred thousand words. You’ve gone to workshops, read every blog, every book on craft you can find. By now you know what the pros say and you can teach the writing courses just as well. And yet, the podium still eludes you.

Then there’s Writer X gracing the podium. Her writing isn’t as crisp. Her wrinkles of profound thought aren’t as deep. And she’s much newer at the game. So why was her work chosen over yours?

As co-editor of the Shanghai Steam Anthology, I’ve had to read well crafted and poorly crafted stories. Some writers had great ideas but needed to hone their writing skills. Others wrote prose well enough but the story lacked tension, the story arc was incomplete, the dialogue didn’t work, it lacked theme/focus or the historical homework wasn’t done.

Then there were the stories which survived the first round of cuts. Those which had that extra something. Some would need some revision, others editing while the best ones required no work.

What!!!!!! you exclaim. Some needing revision are in the final round? What about the ones with the well crafted prose that you denied? Why weren’t they chosen for editorial revision?

The answer is simple – besides being decently written, these stories are memorable. Despite their flaws, I was engaged to the end. Every story in the last round evokes an emotional response whether it’s of laughter, amusement, bitter sweetness, feeling defeated, cheering a hero, being horrified, melancholy, elation, and so on. It may be quietly engaging as in a romantic tragedy or a simple rendering of a thought provoking moment.

The emotional response I’m describing is not about liking or disliking a character. It’s about the story itself. Am I left feeling optimistic, laughing, amused by the clever turn of events or am I saddened, horrified, forced to reflect on the human condition? And does that story stay with me long after I’ve read it? Does it have emotional resonance?

The story, like every character in it, has its own voice – its own drama, its own growth, its own ability to draw readers in and not let them go. That voice carries the story’s emotional resonance which is framed by the promise made at its beginning and is concluded or addressed by the end.

We understand that the story arc is an important backbone for a story with a beginning, middle and end which includes challenges, climax and denouement. Characters cleverly doing their thing without purpose or meaning is not enough. How do you want the reader to understand the world you’ve created when the story is done? How do you want him to feel? Happy? Sad? Thoughtful? Hopeful? Depressed? Scared to death? Satisfied for running a marathon? Cheering that the good guy beat the bad guy?

Once you understand what emotions you want the reader to experience, your writing voice will be clear and the story’s emotional resonance will reflect that. Emotionally, the reader is compelled to read the story through to its bitter, joyful, triumphant, tragic or thoughtful end. You don’t want them feeling emotionally flat and wondering so what?

 Good writing counts for a lot in submissions for contests, anthologies or publishing. But no matter how well crafted the words are, how strong the plot and characters appear to be, without emotional resonance the story isn’t memorable. It’s the little aha! I get it! or what a ride! feeling a reader experiences that makes it memorable. That aha! may be a good chortle, a reflective moment, celebration of the protagonist’s victory or grumping at a character’s stubbornness. Whatever the aha! is, every reader craves it and every story needs it to be memorable.

 Now when you revise and edit your work or when others critique it for you, ask them: How does the story make you feel?, Does it stay with you after you’ve finished it?, If you had strong feelings about the story, tell me why. If not, what does it need/why does it feel flat to you? These are hard questions to ask and answer but knowing this will take your story to the next level and make it resonate with readers.