Neil Clarke

Award-Winning Editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, Forever Magazine, The Best Science Fiction of the Year, and More

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 apply 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.

Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 5, Table of Contents

 
Volume 5 (covering 2019) of my Best Science Fiction of the Year series will be published later this year by Night Shade Books. The cover (art and names) you might see on some sites is just a placeholder. I’ll unveil the final one when I have a finished copy. Preorders for the hardcover (isbn: 978-1949102239) and trade paperback (isbn: 978-1949102222) are now available from most booksellers. I’m not sure why, but the ebook edition still isn’t listed. I’ll post updates as I get further information.

Table of Contents

  • “The Painter of Trees” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld Magazine, June 2019)
  • “Emergency Skin” by N.K. Jemisin (Amazon Original Stories, September 17, 2019)
  • “In the Stillness Between the Stars” by Mercurio D. Rivera (Asimov’s Science Fiction, September/October 2019)
  • “Sympathizer” by Karin Lowachee (Do Not Go Quietly, edited by Jason Sizemore and Lesley Connor)
  • “Knit Three, Save Four” by Marie Vibbert (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November/December 2019)
  • “Moonlight” by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Broken Stars, edited by Ken Liu)
  • “By The Warmth of Their Calculus” by Tobias S. Buckell (Mission Critical, edited by Jonathan Strahan)
  • “Deriving Life” by Elizabeth Bear (Tor.com, January 31, 2019)
  • “The Little Shepherdess” by Gwyneth Jones (Current Futures, edited by Ann VanderMeer)
  • “Such Thoughts Are Unproductive” by Rebecca Campbell (Clarkesworld Magazine, December 2019)
  • “The River of Blood and Wine” by Kali Wallace (Asimov’s Science Fiction, November/December 2019)
  • “One Thousand Beetles in a Jumpsuit” by Dominica Phetteplace (Lightspeed Magazine, August 2019)
  • “Permafrost” by Alastair Reynolds (Tor.com Publishing)
  • “The Work of Wolves” by Tegan Moore (Asimov’s Science Fiction, July/August 2019)
  • “Song Xiuyun” by A Que, translated by Emily Jin (Clarkesworld Magazine, October 2019)
  • “Mother Ocean” by Vandana Singh (Current Futures, edited by Ann VanderMeer)
  • “Cratered” by Karen Osborne (Future Science Fiction Digest, June 2019)
  • “The Justified” by Ann Leckie (The Mythic Dream, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe)
  • “Old Media” by Annalee Newitz (Tor.com, February 20, 2019)
  • “At the Fall” by Alec Nevala-Lee (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, May/June 2019)
  • “The Ocean Between the Leaves” by Ray Nayler (Asimov’s Science Fiction, July/August 2019)
  • “Rescue Party” by Aliette de Bodard (Mission Critical, edited by Jonathan Strahan)
  • “Close Enough for Jazz” by John Chu (The Mythic Dream, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe)
  • “On the Shores of Ligeia” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Lightspeed Magazine, March 2019)
  • “The Empty Gun” by Yoon Ha Lee (Mission Critical, edited by Jonathan Strahan)
  • “Kali_Na” by Indrapramit Das (The Mythic Dream, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe)
  • “Painless” by Rich Larson (Tor.com, April 10, 2019)
  • “Give the Family My Love” by A.T. Greenblatt (Clarkesworld Magazine, February 2019)

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.

Relampeio Festival 2020

 
Brazil-based Relampeio International Literary Festival will be presenting live online interviews with an assortment of international members of the SF/F/H community. I’ll be among this year’s participants with an interview scheduled for this Sunday. All interviews will be available via their YouTube channel and presented in either English, Spanish, or Portuguese. English and Spanish program items will also be translated into Portuguese.

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.)

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