Moon’s SUPER SECRET #38: Cover Letters--How You Dress to Kill
Copyright 2019 by Wulf Moon
You’re a good mama, a good papa. You’ve unchained your baby kraken, brought him topside, dressed him in the best purple prose money can buy. That white sailor’s cap with the flowing pink feather is the perfect accessory to his ensemble, and who wouldn’t think he’s adorable in those platform shoes that make him look ten feet tall. You pimp him up with a set of gold chains around his neck that would make Mr. T green with envy. There! Your little kraken is dressed to kill.
But wait! Wouldn’t it be smart to have a crier go before him, you know, to give your baby kraken a fearsome introduction to wake and shake the captain of the ship he’s about to take on? If it worked for Heath Ledger in KNIGHT’S TALE, surely it will work for your spawn, at least until he gets his little sea legs under him. So you hire the best--Geoffrey Chaucer--to flower things up a bit.
“Hear ye! Fear ye! The mighty kraken Ugg the Malevolent from the Black Sea approaches! His mother says he’s the greatest baby kraken the world has ever seen! His third-grade ballet teacher--who studied at Julliard, no less--said this kraken was destined for great things! He’s the kraken that spit ink in Blackbeard’s eye--not once, not twice, but thrice!--and he took a splinter out of Queen Anne’s Revenge’s hull with his own pointy head! This kraken is krak-a-lakken, and he comes for you in all his pimpalicious glory! Fear, fear, fear for your lives!”
With introductions made, baby kraken hops onto the deck, shakes off purple cloak and a few platform shoes, lifts those suction-tipped tentacles and squeaks, “Rawr?”When we send out our stories, cover letters are like criers--they make proclamations.
They tell the editor where to send the contract (and money!), they state the title of our baby kraken, what genre, what size, and then they share his pedigree. Cover letters present your story to the editor, along with a few pertinent credentials if you have them. At quick glance, an editor should be able to tell from your cover letter how much space she will have to dedicate for it in her publication if she buys it (word count) and if your story is in the genre they seek. They should also be able to tell if you’re an aspiring writer, or an established writer. Cover letters are the quick reference first readers and editors use to determine what’s inside the box, so to speak.
You’ve heard the saying less is more. Nowhere is this truer than in professional cover letters. Novices believe they need to flower things up, stretch the truth, inflate achievements, gild the lily. Fancier fonts might get an editor’s attention, so they submit it in Brush Script. A personal reference sounds nice, so they tell the editor how their mother, grandmother, teacher, and priest all read this story and wept with joy for the blessings to come to humanity. Some promise the editor this will be the greatest story they have ever published and will make them millions! And last but not least, some even threaten the editor, stating with absolute certainty that this will be the biggest mistake of the editor’s career if he lets this story slip through his fingers, and if the editor dares reject it, they’ll hunt him down like a duck, and close with lots of threatening words that rhyme with duck.DON’T BE THAT GUY!
Okay, you’re a SUPER SECRETS challenge beastie. We take it for granted you know better. Still, the question remains: How does one write a good cover letter? What do they look like? What’s good to put in them? What’s best to leave out?
Good cover letters are plain, clear, and simple. Like Sergeant Friday always said in DRAGNET, “Just the facts, ma’am.” A cover letter states to the editor who you are, how to contact you, what you’ve sent them, and what you’ve had published that might indicate professional status. Hey, they’re looking to buy the best--if you’ve sold to some of the best, it’s a good sign, and most want to know. Not all, but most. Think of cover letters as an index card editors will use for quick reference on the details pertinent to you and your story.
So what does a professional cover letter look like? Here, let me show you a sample:
Email: moon at supersecrets.kraken
Respectable Market Publishing
Dear Editor (or Mr. or Ms. and their last name unless you have reasons to use their first name),
Please find attached my story, “Baby Kraken Gets Schooled,” (3100 words, fantasy) for your consideration.
My stories have appeared in Science World, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2, Writers of the Future Vol. 35, Future Science Fiction Digest,
and Deep Magic.
In 2019, I won the Writers of the Future Contest and the Critters Readers’ Choice Award for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story of 2018.
Thank you for your consideration.
See? Short and sweet. Name, rank, and serial number. Do you see anything here about how great my baby kraken story is? About my high school teacher that raved over my writing skills? About why this editor would be a fool not to buy it? No. Just the facts, ma’am, and you won’t shoot yourself, and your baby kraken, in the foot.
What if you don’t have professional credits? Well, do you have semi-professional credits? List your top three, as long as they were paying, respectable markets. The point is, they should enhance your reputation, not detract from it. What if you have no publishing credits? That’s quite alright. Every famous writer you know began sending their early stories out with zero credits. There is no shame in that, and no one will look unfavorably on your manuscript if your cover letter lacks them. But if you do the other stuff in your cover letters, prepare for your baby kraken to die a most heinous death. Or worse, to be laughed at and made fun of by every captain he meets.
Give your baby kraken the chance to put his best foot forward. Dress him to kill. The fashion that’s vogue in the business of writing cover letters is ...understatement. ASSIGNMENT:
Read Alex Shvartsman’s excellent article on cover letters (I work for him as podcast director at Future Science Fiction Digest
). Here’s the link: https://alexshvartsman.com/2016/05/09/h ... er-letter/
NEXT: Please answer the following.
1. How can a cover letter actually hurt your chances to sell?
2. What are some of the most common mistakes in cover letters?
3. Is “Dear Editor” an acceptable greeting?
4. When are you permitted to use an editor’s first name?
5. When only do you list educational degrees?
6. Should you ever summarize your story for the editor?
7. Should you ever summarize your story for the editor?
8. Should you ever summarize your story for the editor?
9. Will listing non-paying or token markets impress an editor?
10. If we have many credits, should we list them all? What’s a good average that won’t overwhelm an editor’s tired eyes? (Yes, I exceeded this.
Like the Pirate's Code, they're more like guidelines
11. Finally, what do you feel is the number one rule about cover letters?
12. Finally finally. You have everything you need now to send your krakens out to sea. What are you waiting for? Get kraken!