How to write a cover letter for short fiction submissions

First and foremost, my experience with cover letters is based on a couple years of submitting stories to magazines and is limited to speculative fiction magazines and anthologies. My way isn’t the only way. Also, every magazine is different and if you take nothing else away from this: read the submission guidelines from top to bottom to see if they have any cover letter preferences.

Again, please read submission guidelines. It will make everyone’s life easier and significantly improve your chances of getting that coveted acceptance letter. Okay, on to cover letters…

How to write a cover letter for short fiction submissions:

First, don’t overthink it. Cover letters don’t need to be creative or even particularly well-written. Most magazines openly admit they don’t care much about the content of your cover letter; after all, it’s your story they’re buying. Second, there are only FOUR components to 90% of cover letters: greeting, info about the story, your publication history, and closing.

1. Greeting

Some cover letter instructions mention headers with your name, address, email address, and phone number. That seems to be going out of fashion and most magazines either explicitly or by omission do not want all of that personal information during the submissions process. (If your story is accepted, they might ask for it then.) I sometimes put my name and my pronouns, but most magazines ask for that info in their submissions form.

For the greeting itself, I recommend looking up the editor’s name and addressing them specifically. DO NOT assume titles like Mr. or Mrs; just use their full name. If there is more than one editor-in-chief, you can put all of them. Some editors have a preference for how they’re addressed, so look for that in their submission guidelines.

2. Information about your story

Next up is the title of your story, the word count rounded to the nearest hundred, whether it’s a simultaneous submission (check the guidelines to see if they accept submissions still waiting on a response from another magazine), and whether it’s an original or a reprint.

3. Your publication history

If you haven’t had any stories published, don’t sweat it. You can omit this section or say something simple like, “My fiction has not previously been published.” If you have had your work published, you can list up to three or four places your fiction has been published. You can also mention if you have any relevant education (like an MFA) or associations you’re a member of (like SFWA).

4. Closing

A quick Best or Warmest regards or even the old classic, Sincerely, will do here.

Here’s an example of a cover letter:

Dear Keisha Mann and Mike Garcia,

Please consider “Songs of Death” (5700 words). It has not previously been published.

My short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in FIYAH, Diabolical Plots, and Anathema: Spec from the Margins.

I appreciate your time and consideration.

Best regards,
Kel Coleman

Sometimes editors will ask for additional information, like your email address, background information that can provide context on your story, pronouns, or demographics with which you identify. This is especially true if the submissions call is limited to a specific demographic or they’re looking to offset reader bias by taking into account, upfront, any experiences the author has that the slush readers (often the first people who read and comment on your submission) and editors may not. A cover letter with some of those additional components may look like this:

Dear Keisha Mann,

Please consider “Songs of Death” (5700 words). This is a simultaneous submission and I will notify you immediately if it is accepted elsewhere.

I am a member of SFWA and my short fiction has appeared in FIYAH, Anathema: Spec from the Margins, and other fine publications.

I am Black and queer.

I appreciate your time and consideration.

Best regards,
Kel Coleman (they/them)

And that’s basically how you write a cover letter. Seriously, don’t overthink it or spend an inordinate amount of time on it.

How to query a short fiction magazine or anthology after you’ve submitted a story:

Has it been a million years since you submitted your story (aka a few months)? Is it past the estimated response time stated in the guidelines or perhaps the publisher posted on Twitter saying they’ve cleared all of their submissions? Then it’s time to query!

If you’re like me, you feel awkward about this, but you shouldn’t. As long as you’ve waited for the estimated response time to pass and you are polite, no reasonable magazine will mind a check in.

Example of a query letter:

Hello,

I wanted to inquire about the status of my submission of “Songs of Death”, submitted on June 1st, 2021.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best,
Kel

Simple as that. Editors are busy busy people and I don’t think you can ever go wrong just getting to the point, as long as you are polite about it. I don’t know if this is the “right” way to query, but I searched online for the proper way to no avail. I finally asked an experienced author I knew and used some of what they suggested to craft my letter.

Hope you found this post helpful! Happy submitting!

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