In Back to Basics: The Cover Letter, I presented an example of a basic cover letter with all the elements a publisher usually wants to see. But what if the publisher ask for something additional that deviates from that letter? What might those somethings be? I generally see three additional cover letter elements in publisher guidelines. Let’s take a look at them.
By far the most common cover letter addition. Usually, a publisher wants fifty (50) words or less. If you don’t have a short bio, here’s one of mine as an example (47 words). You might also check out this recent post to see how I build a bio.
Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington. He is the author of the Acts of War series by Privateer Press, and his short fiction has appeared in The Arcanist, Havok Magazine, and Pseudopod, among others. Learn more about Aeryn’s work on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.
When a publisher asks for a short bio, I add it right below the basic cover letter.
I often see publishers ask writers to include a relevant personal detail if it would be important to the story they’re submitting. For example, if you’re submitting a story about dinosaurs and you’re an honest-to-god paleontologist, they want to know that. I’ve never had to add this to a cover letter. I apparently have no skills or knowledge applicable to my writing. If I were to add this info, I’d keep this it brief. For example:
Please consider my story “Fuzzy Driver” for publication at Howling at the Moon Monthly. My story is about a werewolf who drives for Uber, and I currently work as an Uber driver.
Of course, this does require you to summarize your story a little, which is usually a big no-no unless the publisher specifically asks for that info. I think this definitely falls into that category of “specifically asking for the info.” If they want the personal detail, they’re going to be okay with a brief summary of the core concept as it relates to your experience.
This isn’t nearly as common, but I do see it on occasion, most recently with a market that runs themed issues. In that case, the publisher wanted to know how the story fit the theme. You should be able to get that kind of info across in just a few sentences. Here’s an example of how I summarized a story (more or less) for a recent submission:
Set in the mid-50s, “When the Lights Go On” takes place in a small town near Arco, Idaho, the first in the US to be powered by nuclear energy. The townsfolk have noticed unsettling changes in themselves whenever they turn on the lights.
Even when the publisher wants a synopsis, the story still has to do the talking. So don’t stress too much here. Just make sure the summary is short, gets the core concept across, and passes a basic readability test. I added this summary right below the basic cover letter, like I would with a bio. Remember, DO NOT include a summary of your story unless the publisher specifically asks for it.
Did I miss anything? Have you seen publishers ask for something not listed here? Tell me about it in the comments.