In my spare time, I’m a slush-pile reader for Sanitarium Magazine. If you send in a submission, I guarantee I’ll read it at some point. (I see everything.) And while I’m not the decision maker, I see some recurring trends in cover letters that really, really need to stop.
1. “This story will scare you/thrill you/chill you to the bone like never before!”
Yeah…no. You, the writer, don’t decide that. I, the reader, do. I understand that you’re proud of your work, but you’re just giving it an unnecessary hype. I have yet to read a submission with that line in its cover letter that did not utterly fail to meet expectations. In fact, just seeing that sort of phrase makes me lower my expectations in advance.
2. “I have an MFA from [university].”
This smacks of pretentiousness, just a bit. You’d think being a writer with an MFA would ensure doors just open to you everywhere, right? No, wrong, sorry. You still have to be able to do things like construct a scene properly, write dialogue that indicates the speakers clearly, show your research, and have a more-than-basic grasp of grammar and punctuation. Moreover, an MFA is unlikely to be the sort of degree that’s at all relevant to your story’s subject matter–unless your degree is in, say, sculpture and your narrator is a sculptor. MFA-bearing authors have provided me with some of the worst things I’ve ever read.
3. “This can’t be cut, it’s my masterpiece!!!1!”
I saw this phrase, almost word for word, in a recent cover letter. Again, you wrote a thing and you love it, and you think other people should love it too. I’m a writer; I understand that. I want people to love my things too. Unfortunately, what comes across with that statement is “I’m too good for an editor,” and honey, let me tell you, no one is that good. Ever notice how many different versions of the Bible there are? That’s because even God needs an editor. Now here, take this ladder and get over yourself.
It’s simple, really. If you’re writing a cover letter for a fiction submission, the best thing to do is just say, “This is the title of the thing I wrote. This is its word count. Here’s a brief summary of the plot.” Feel free to list publication credits if you have them, but don’t expect anyone to be impressed by them. Trust me. Keep it simple, and the people who read your story will thank you.
….or at least be slightly more inclined to take you seriously.