Back to Basics: More Cover Letter Components

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.

1) Short Bio

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.

2) Relevant Experience

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.

3) Story Synopsis

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.

Evolution of a Short Author Bio

About two years ago, I wrote a blog post outlining how to write a 50-word author bio, or at least how I write one. I mentioned in that post that an author bio is a living thing and should change and grow as you change and grow as a writer. Well, let’s take a look at that bio-building process and see how my 50-word bio has transformed in the last two years (and how it might change again in the future).

Like last time, my short author bio will include the following elements:

  • Basic details
  • Accomplishments
  • Where to go/buy

Basic Details

The who, what, and where. Like I said in the first post, keep potentially sensitive data out of your bio. No need to give all the identity thieves in the world a head start by plastering your phone number and address all over the place.

Here are my basic details in 2016:

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington.

And, uh, here are my basic details now:

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington.

Yep, I still live in the same place, so no changes here. I guess I could say something like novelist instead of freelance writer, but with only two novels under my belt and a lot more short story and gaming credits, writer just feels more accurate.

Also, like I said in the first post, I’ve decided to reveal the city I live in. In a big city like Seattle, I don’t feel like there’s much risk there, but I could make it more vague by saying something like the Pacific Northwest.

Accomplishments

This is where you let folks know about the cool stuff you’ve written and published. Like everything in this bio, you should keep it short and to the point. List a few of your more prominent publications, awards, and the like.

My accomplishments look like this in 2016:

His short fiction has appeared in The Devilfish Review, Evil Girlfriend Media, and The Molotov Cocktail.

Here’s what I’ve been going with recently:

His second novel, Aftershock, was recently published by Privateer Press.

Obviously, the big change from 2016 to 2018 is I’ve published a couple of novels with Privateer Press. I chose to mention the second and most recent novel because it implies I’ve written more than one without, you know, listing them both. Now, when I publish the third novel this year, I might go with something like: He is the author of the Acts of War trilogy. That would also leave me plenty of room if I wanted to list another significant publication.

Yeah, I could have listed some of my more recent short story publications, a few of which are with pro markets, but I think the novel is more significant. It also allows me to trim some words I’ll use elsewhere.

Where to Go/Buy

If folks like your work enough to actually read the bio at the end of your story, definitely give them a link to click so they can check out more of your stuff. Blogs, websites, even things like Amazon author pages are all possibilities.

In 2016, my where to go/buy looks like this:

Learn more about Aeryn and his work on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.

Here’s what it looks like now:

Aeryn occasionally offers dubious advice on the subjects of writing and rejection (mostly rejection) on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.

Yep, it’s essentially the same, but did you notice my oh-so-clever and self-deprecating humor? Doesn’t that make you feel sorry for me/want to check out my blog? 🙂 All kidding aside, I think injecting a little of your personality into your bio is a good thing. But a little dab’ll do ya. Like any of the sections in a 50-word bio, keep it short.

The Finished Bio

Okay, let’s looks at the final product.

Here’s 2016:

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington. His short fiction has appeared in The Devilfish Review, Evil Girlfriend Media, and The Molotov Cocktail. Learn more about Aeryn and his work on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.

And here’s 2018:

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington. His second novel, Aftershock, was recently published by Privateer Press. Aeryn occasionally offers dubious advice on the subjects of writing and rejection (mostly rejection) on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.

My 2016 bio is 37 words long, and my 2018 bio is 38. So I’m still well under the 50-word limit. That gives me plenty of room to expand in the future, and I’ve earmarked those extra words for the accomplishments section when I have something else I want to share/point folks at.


How has your author bio changed over your writing career? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Protocol: Short Author Bio

As often as not, short fiction publishers may ask you to include a brief author bio along with your cover letter. It can be a tricky thing to get right, and there are a lot of opinions on what should be included. In this post, I’ll give you my opinions and show you how I constructed one of my author bios. Like my previous posts on cover letters and withdrawal letters, this post is based on my experiences and should not be taken as absolute gospel. This is what has worked for me; it might not work for you.

Let’s get to it. Author bios, like all things in submission land, demand we follow the guidelines all the way and exactly as requested. With most publishers, the only hard and fast rule is the bio’s length. Here’s a typical author bio guideline.

We also require a brief biography (50 or so words) and a list of previous publications.

Pretty straightforward, right? Don’t go over 50 words, and give them a list of previous publications (which you could probably include in the bio). I’ve found that 50 words seems to be the typical requested length, so I’ll be constructing my bio with that assumption.

The short author bio, in my opinion, should be written in third-person and have the following components:

  • Basic details
  • Accomplishments
  • Where to go/buy

Basic details: This is the necessary who, what, and where. No need to go crazy here. You don’t need more than your name, what you do, and maybe where you’re from. Keep any potentially sensitive data as far away from your bio as possible. Don’t give your address, your phone number, or anything like that. In other words, don’t lay out the red carpet for identity thieves.

Here’s my basic details:

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington.

Yep, basic. That’s my who, what, and where. Some folks might balk at listing the city they live in, and I get that. So, as an alternate, I might vague it up and say: Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. Personally, I’m okay with folks knowing which city I live in (please don’t make me regret that).

Accomplishments: Time to brag a bit and let folks know about your writerly accomplishments. Keep it short, though. I don’t think you should list more than three things. What might those things be? Notable publications (stories, novels, articles, etc.) should be top priority. Membership in professional writing organizations, like the SFWA, are good too. Applicable education, like a degree in English, literature, or creative writing, might be something to include, especially if you don’t have anything else, but I’ll admit, I don’t often see it in author bios.

What if you don’t have any accomplishments yet? Just omit this part of the bio. When you do have something, you can always go back and add it. Author bios are ever-evolving things; they grow and change as you do.

My accomplishments look like this:

His short fiction has appeared in The Devilfish Review, Evil Girlfriend Media, and The Molotov Cocktail.

I tend to list publications that can still be found and read online, in the hope someone will actually read my bio and go looking for my work. This section will almost certainly change in the near future, as my list of publications grows and diversifies.

Where to go/buy: If someone reads your story or interview or whatever, likes what they see and actually bothers to read your bio, you definitely want to give them a link to click. Your website, your blog, or your Amazon author page are all possibilities, just as long as they give an interested reader access to more of your work. Personally, I think you can include up to two links here, like your website and your blog, for example.

And my where to go/buy looks like this:

Learn more about Aeryn and his work on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.

For the moment, I’m using my blog. It’s currently the most practical place to send folks interested in my work. Like most things in this bio, that could change, and I might add another link down the line.

Okay, let’s put it all together and see how it looks.

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington. His short fiction has appeared in The Devilfish Review, Evil Girlfriend Media, and The Molotov Cocktail. Learn more about Aeryn and his work on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.

This gives all the important info, and since it’s only 37 words, it leaves me plenty of room to change or add stuff in the future.

As I said at the beginning of this rambling post, these are just, like, my opinions, man, so if you have thoughts on author bios, I’d love to hear them in the comments.