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). The translator’s name should also be in the manuscript, typically under the author’s byline.

  • 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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55 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.

  12. Nithiya Shree

    Hello Neil Clarke Sir.
    I want to introduce myself to you because I got very much inspiration from you.
    When I searching to Chakesworld for submission I saw ” Award Winning Editor” this impress me Soo much.

    I’m Nithiya Shree from Myanmar ( Burmese). I’m 18.
    I’m finished my high school when I’m 16 and now I’m trying to be an author.
    As above you mentioned sir, I’m not English native speaker. I have only English intermediate level. But sir I will try my best to submit my story to your team. Also I’m not previously published. Again I’m not an author now.
    Even though I’m none of them, Can I able to become an author Sir ?

    Now Sir I’m starting my plot. One day I will be as you.

    This comment may br disturb to you, I’m sorry for that.
    As you said, I’m freely to comment. I hope it will not agitate you.

    • Hi Nithiya,
      You don’t need to be a published author (in English or any other language) to submit stories to Clarkesworld. We are happy to see works by new writers from all over the world. I wish you the best of luck with your writing and hope to see submissions from you over at Clarkesworld someday.

  13. Evonne M. Biggins

    Hello, Clark,

    I appreciate that you take questions.
    A couple years ago, I sent three stories to the non-profit state writing league. They were printed in a book with many other members’ stories, but whoever printed/edited them scrambled sentences, changed dates and locations, didn’t indent paragraphs. We were all very upset. Mine were my favorite stories. We weren’t paid for them, but the league made money from them. The league recently folded, no longer exists.
    So, are those stories considered previously published and not publishable or can we change the stories and the titles and be able to submit them?

    Thank you, Evonne M. Biggins.

    • Hi Evonne,

      Published badly is still published. Even corrected, you won’t be able to sell them as originals anymore. They’ll be reprints from here on out. Changes would need to be substantial before someone would consider them as a new story. Changing names, formatting, and correcting errors doesn’t achieve that. Not surprised that the league folded if that’s how they treated the writers they worked with.

  14. Evonne M. Biggins

    OMG. I meant to start with the correct spelling of your first and second name.

    A lesson was learned on my part, sorry!

    Evonne.

    • 🙂 No worries. Happens all the time.

      • Evonne M. Biggins

        Hi Neil Clarke 🙂 ,

        I expected that reply, and thanks again. I agree; those stories meant a lot to us, and the “leaders” of our chapter failed us. I’ll think up an even better story to send to you.

  15. Catrina

    Hi,
    I was just wondering, do you consider stories with long, descriptive and slightly philosophical sections, or do you prefer fast- moving and plot based work?
    Thank you,
    Catrina

  16. Catrina

    Thank you for the quick reply.

  17. Ayesha javed

    Hello Clark ,
    I just turned 18 and want to become a story writer. I want to publish a story that I have been working on for the last couple of months. I have never published before and don’t know much about it. The story that I have been working on is in volumes and each volume has roughly 5000 words. I don”t have anyone to guide me so can you please tell me if I can publish my story in volumes

    • Short stories are usually submitted and considered by publishers individually. Even if we were to accept the first one, each one after that would still be considered on its own individual merits. We would also expect each story to stand on its own, meaning that someone could read story #3 without having to have read #1 and #2. If each story is dependent on the prior installment, you may be serializing a novel (depending on many 5K installments you have). While there are some current magazines that have published serialized novels (I can think of two in recent years), we’re not one of them. That said, we have published some short stories that have eventually been expanded into novels and published elsewhere.

    • Evangeline Mmayie

      Hello Clarke,

      I have two questions concerning the type of story we are to submit. Should it be YA or adult SF/F?

      Also, you stated you don’t want a story about rapists. But what if the rapist is the villain and the crime occurred long before the story begins?

  18. Doris Antonio Balica

    Hello Neil,

    Continuing on what Ayesha previously asked, but somewhat different, could stories be published separately—and at a later date from each-other— in, let’s say two volumes, if the second one is not an actual continuation of the first, nor a “prequel”? Instead, the plot of the second volume occurs at the same time and is simply seen from the perspective of other characters / civilization, barely named in the first volume, or not at all. The plot culminates in the same ending, there are some repeating scenes and dialogues, but a different point of view, the stories do stand on their own, as someone could read #2 without reading #1 and vice-versa. Could the second volume be accepted (providing the first one is)?

    • So two stories happening in the same world at the same time, but told from two different points-of-view? I remember reading a book, many years ago, that did that. The book was evenly split between the two points of view and you could read either half first.

      It is possible that could work in short fiction, but the amount of repeated content could become problematic (since short fiction is paid per-word, the amount of recycled word-for-word content might become a red flag for an editor/publisher) and as you said, the story ends the same way, so something else would have to stand out to make up for the spoiled ending. The latter is the same problem a lot of retellings face.

      I wouldn’t discount the possibility this could work, but I think it might be harder than selling two very different stories.

      • Doris Antonio Balica

        Thank you for the reply, my first plan was to blend them together in a single story, but it would’ve had too many main and side characters even for a novella. I’m looking forward to submitting the first story soon and see how it goes from there.

  19. Evangeline Mmayie

    Hello Clarke,

    I have two questions concerning the type of story we are to submit. Should it be YA or adult SF/F?

    Also, you stated you don’t want a story about rapists. But what if the rapist is the villain and the crime occurred long before the story begins?

    • Our audience is primarily adults, but adults read both, so it doesn’t matter which.

      I don’t have enough information to make that call. Submit the story. The worst that happens is we’ll say no.

  20. Robert Lewis

    Can you withdraw after submission?

    If one were to notice an error or a glut of errors would one be able to withdraw and submit a revision? A mark of the unprofessional, I know. Haven’t quit my day job yet.

    • Sure. If you contact us, we can remove the submission. You’ll have to resubmit and that will move you to the back of the queue. That said, if it’s just a few spelling errors, I wouldn’t worry about it. That’s not enough to sway our opinion.

  21. Greg Osadec

    After reading the original post and the comments, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything for me to include in a cover letter.

    Is it okay to write one that’s just a few sentences (such as these examples from Strange Horizons: http://strangehorizons.com/submit/fiction-submission-guidelines/how-to-write-a-cover-letter/) or skip it altogether?

    Thanks!

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

  22. Greg Osadec

    Oh jeez, I just noticed this in the original post. I’m embarrassed that I missed it. Thanks for your patience!

  23. Evangeline Mmayie

    Hello Clarke,

    Do you accept high fantasy with a sword and sorcery vibe?

  24. Emil Ogan

    I need to write my details in the story, like an address, an account number, or do it in a cover letter.

    • Address is part of the standard first page information in the document containing your story and there is no need to replicate it in the cover letter. Account number is never necessary in a submission. That should only come up if a story is accepted for publication.

  25. Shahroj

    Hello Neil,

    Can I submit a story based on science fiction, martial arts and fantasy.

  26. Chris Wozney

    I love the clarity and directness of these instructions. It’s quite clear that there are human beings (who are attempting to be judicious) on the receiving end of submissions, not a sorting algorithm.

  27. Bonnie

    My husband has written an excellent story, but he doesn’t have any confidence that it could be published, so he’s reluctant to submit it anywhere. Could I submit it for him and then (one hopes) surprise him with an offer to publish if you choose it?

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