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Short Story Cover Letters

 
Let me preface this post by saying:

  • These are my preferences for cover letters when submitting a story to Clarkesworld Magazine or one of my anthologies. This is not a standard, though other editors may feel the same way.
  • Most cover letters are awful, so I read them last. I don’t want them influencing my opinion of a story before I’ve even read it. I’ve never rejected a story because of the cover letter.
  • This post will be updated as necessary. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments.

How to address a cover letter

You can skip Dear Neil, Dear Mr. Clarke, Dear Editor, Dear Editor and first readers, etc. It doesn’t have any impact. Simple mistakes here can sometimes work against you. For example, “Dear Sheila” tells me you either meant to send this to Asimov’s or they’ve already rejected it. Every editor I know has had this sort of thing happen to them. Some hate it. Some find it amusing. I couldn’t care less, so just skip the niceties and dive right into the substance.

What should be in a cover letter?

There’s a few things that might have me view your story in a different light.

  • if there’s a particular aspect to this story that pulls from your professional experience (for example, physicist, historian, astronaut, musician, etc.) or personal experience (cultural, regional, temporal, etc.)

You don’t have “write what you know” but if you happen to know, it’s good that I know you do.

  • if you are a non-native English speaker

I have immense difficulty learning other languages, so I’m not going to hold a non-native speaker to the same standards for spelling and grammar. Your approach to storytelling might even be a bit non-standard to an native English speaker. This is important to know for the evaluation and (if accepted) editing phases.

  • if you are under 18 years old

I’m impressed. I never would have done something like this at your age. Like the non-native speakers, I’m going to cut you a little more slack on the grammar and spelling. (Not that I’m particularly hung up on that being perfect to start with.) It does, however, have an impact should we choose to accept your work: your parents or legal guardian will be required to co-sign the contract.

Since I read the cover letter last, think of the above items as having the potential to make me go back and read a bit further. This even applies in instances where I haven’t been the first reader. (Editors and first readers often stop reading a story when they no longer think it will work for a publication.)

  • if you are previously unpublished

I’m not buying names. I’m buying stories. What you’ve sold previously (or not) doesn’t mean this story will be any better or worse. That said, every editor I know loves to be the first person to publish an author’s work. It’s something that should be celebrated and I often don’t find out until after the story has been published. Telling me up-front helps avoid that.

  • if you are submitting a translation

You should be tell me where the story was originally published (if it was), what the original language is, your relationship to the story (author or translator), and whether or not you have the approval of whoever holds the rights on the original (sometimes this isn’t the author or their estate).

  • if you are submitting a reprint

We don’t accept reprints at Clarkesworld, but this does to any of the reprint anthologies I edit. I need to know where and when the story was originally published and if there are any restrictions (usually time, region, or language-based) in place.

  • if you aren’t the author

Yes, there are legitimate reasons this could happen. The most common is that the person submitting the work is the author’s agent or otherwise represents their estate. It also common with translations. We will verify this before issuing a contract.

  • if you selected “other” for genre

Since it doesn’t fit in one of the categories we’ve listed, please let us know what genre you think it is.

If none of the above applies to you, then a simple “Thank you for considering my story” is more than enough.

What shouldn’t be in a cover letter?

  • Our submission system already asks for title, genre, word count, and email address. Repeating them here is pointless
  • Mailing address (should be on the first page of the story) or phone number
  • A laundry list of everyone that has ever published you. Never include more than three, but honestly, you should just skip this information entirely
  • Bank or PayPal information
  • A summary of your story

 

Ultimately, I prefer your cover letter to be very short. If your cover letter is long (for reasons other than those positives I’ve mentioned), you’ve likely done something wrong.

International Submissions: A longer view

 
Following on the earlier post about international submissions, our submission data goes back to 2008, so I took another look at the data by year:

A closer look at the change in non-USA submissions:

And to give you some sense of the variety of countries participating: (Keep in mind that 2008 and 2020 are both partial years in terms of available data.)

The lifetime top five countries (US, UK, Canada, Australia, India) were broken out separately because individually their data was the most influential. They were not chosen by language, but it shouldn’t be surprising that it fell that way. Creating “other” to represent the rest of the world allows me to show the progress being made internationally outside those countries. I’m not going to list all 120+ countries participating, but the top ten within other are: Germany, New Zealand, Ireland, Japan, South Africa, Netherlands, Italy, France, Philippines, and Spain.

A Windows into Clarkesworld Submissions by Genre

 

If you go back to 2015 or 2016, the distance between Science and Fantasy is smaller. SF represented around 39% back then and Fantasy was closer to 27%. Dropping Horror as an option contributed to some of this, but SF has slowly gained ground, even without that. I decided to see if the increasing international submissions might be impacting it, but it doesn’t appear to be the case.

Why the future of SF is international

 
I’ve often said that the future of science fiction is international. It’s not a ding against US-based authors. We only represent 4.25% of the global population and the other 95.75% is getting more involved. Now I have some data to back that up. (CW submissions 1/2019-5/2020.)

Twitch

 
I tend to be a stay-at-home kind of person, but I’ve had to cancel traveling to a lot of conventions and events in the last year. One of the things I tend to enjoy the most about those events is the interactions I have with fellow attendees (fans and professionals).

Later this month, I’ll be hosting some online short fiction-related panels with some friends and colleagues, but Kate has been pushing me to try using Twitch for more “just me” stuff. I’ve created an account and plan on holding informal kaffeeklatsch-like events there. If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, let me translate…

Twitch is a video streaming site. If you go to this page, you’ll find my profile there and can sign up to be notified when I’m “streaming” (on camera and available). I can’t see the audience members, but they can “talk” to me via the chat room. At conventions, a kaffeeklatsch (or a literary beer) is an informal event where you can go and have a group chat with one of the guests. The participants ask questions about the work you do and other related stuff.

I’m going to give this a try and see how it goes. The first session will be Thursday, April 9 at 1PM EDT. How long it runs will completely depend on the audience. Hope to “see” some of you there. (If this works out, I’ll schedule others at different times and different days. Not trying to favor any one particular time zone here.)

Slush Reader Application 2020

 
If you are interested in being a slush reader for Clarkesworld Magazine, I highly recommend that you fill out our application. When a vacancy opens, we consider/reconsider every application turned in during the last year before soliciting new applications on social media. Quite often these positions are filled from existing applications.

A few notes:

  1. This is an unpaid volunteer position.
  2. Slush readers & other staff are prohibited from submitting stories or articles to the magazine.
  3. You should have time to read an average of five stories a day. (You can stop reading a story when it’s clear that we shouldn’t publish it.)
  4. Priority is given to writers and those considering becoming an editor.

A version of this post is reblogged every year or so with minor changes.

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