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.

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22 Comments

  1. Carolyn O'Brien

    Very helpful information,

  2. Angela Panayotopulos

    Good to know! Thanks!

  3. Des Browning

    “We don’t accept reprints at Clarkesworld, but this does to any of the reprint anthologies I edit”

    This doesn’t read correctly, specifically “this does”. Should it be “this doesn’t apply” ?

  4. Oyeledun Jehofanifemi

    About the Co_signing of the contract, how is it going to be possible with international writers

    • We work with international writers all the time and have never had any problem with receiving digital signatures on their contracts. Sometimes they sign through the PDF and sometimes they print, sign, and send us a scan or photo of the contract.

  5. Jaidan

    Hello,
    If I am writing with 8 other writers, and we would like to explain how this story came to be, would you like us to include that in the cover letter?

    • If you must, please keep it short. While it may be interesting, it isn’t relevant to the evaluation process.

  6. Gim Patrick

    Hello,
    I’m 15 years old right now and I’m from San Andres Island, Colombia. My mom already knows I want to start with this and supports me. ¿Do I still need a co-sign?

    • You can submit stories without needing any signatures, but if we accept one for publication, a parent or legal guardian will need to co-sign the contract we send you. This is a legal requirement for us when working with minors (anyone under 18).

  7. Simon Kibunyi

    Hey what if I rewrite a story that was written centuries ago,put my own twist into it. It’s important to also say that these stories are royalty free meaning I can do anything I want to do with them..do you accept them?

    • Retellings/reinterpretations of public domain works (stories, myths, legends, etc.) are quite common and we have published some. I would recommend mentioning the work that inspired yours in the cover letter.

      • Simon Kibunyi

        Wow thanks for quick response…I will definitely do that..Thank you

  8. Kristina

    Is there a way we can retain audio rights? It doesn’t say anything about having a podcast, so if I would like to submit the short story to another podcast, would that be possible?

    And I was wondering about reprints. I know that most podcasts accept them, but I was wondering if it worked the other way around. If my short gets accepted for a podcast, but has not been published yet (in text form), can I still send it out to magazines after it’s in audio and published?

    Thanks!

    • Clarkesworld requires audio rights. (We podcast all the stories that appear in our magazine.) If a story has been previously published by a podcast, it would no longer have the first rights we also require.

  9. Issac Strom

    Would it be possible for you to offer an example of what you consider to be an exemplary cover letter?

    I would be extremely appreciative. In any case, thank you very much for your time in writing out this useful advice.

    • Not including one was a deliberate move on my part. The above criteria can result in a variety of “exemplary” (by my standards) cover letters and providing an example of just one might mislead someone who needed another.

      That said, merely “good” is good enough. If everyone followed the guidance of the last paragraph of this post, that would be a great start.

  10. Xiaoyu

    I would like to say, thank you very much for taking the time to make these guidelines crystal clear and easy to understand.. I look forward to submitting my work soon.

  11. Xiaoyu

    I have a quick question, I know it might sound silly but I think it’s better to ask and be corrected than to make the mistake anyways. The short story that I have written is up to 20,000 words, I’m wondering if I could include chapters in it or it’s forbidden to do so.

    • Do what you think is appropriate for the story. Something that small won’t alter our evaluation of it. If we accept it and think it isn’t quite right, we’d discuss it with you during the editing phase.

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