Submissions and the Cover Letter

Hi folks,
I’m just about to submit a new story, produced entirely in Scrivener.
I have written a brief synopsis, which I’m quite happy with. Now I need to write that cover letter that (hopefully) will make the editor say, “Wow, I just gotta print this doozie of a story.” Or something like that…

Anyone out there have some suggestions they’d like to push my way?

Many thanks

Is this a short story, or a novel?

I can’t speak for other editors, but for short stories I typically want to see the whole thing, not a synopsis. I didn’t buy fiction when I worked in books, but for nonfiction I wanted a detailed outline and three finished sample chapters.

Cover letters that work all share a few things in common. First of all, they are one page long. They focus quickly and briefly on the identity of your project, why it excites you and why you wrote it, and who might want to read it. They avoid puffy self-congratulation at all costs. They don’t tell the editor why he should like it; he’ll decide that after reading it. They never contain misspellings or grammatical infelicities. If you’ve published previously in markets comparable to the one you’re trying for, mention that briefly. (i.e., If pitching a story to Harper’s and you’ve previously published in The Atlantic, that’s a good mention, as is a “little magazine” of the twee literary journal variety. But a poem published in Knitting Monthly will do more harm than good.) They’re addressed to the actual editor by (properly spelled) name, not just “editor.” (Those submissions typically go into a limbo world, from which they may or may not emerge. If you don’t know the editor’s name, call the house and ask the receptionist who acquired the story they published that you liked so much. Most magazines will have a masthead. You can usually figure out from the masthead who does what. Pick the person who does the manuscript acquisitions work, not the managerial stuff (for which read Publisher, Editor-in-Chief.) Typically, the managing editor handles manuscript submissions, but there might be a manuscript editor, or simply Editor. It’s worth a little detective work to find out who does what, if you want to avoid death by slushpile. And finally, did I mention the letter should be no more than one page long?

No letter is going to convince an editor to print your doozie of a story. All it can convince her to do is read your story, and make her own decisions based on her own analysis.

Ahab’s advice is golden. Read it three times, then read it again.

Above all, be brief, businesslike and mention any experience you have in this field - be it real-life experience of what you’re writing about, or previous sales in a similar market.

Finally, get the cover letter proofread by someone else before you send it out. You’d be surprised how many times simple errors just don’t register with you, because you wrote it - but someone else will spot them right away. :slight_smile:


It’s a short story. I’m submitting the entire piece but thought a synopsis was a worthwhile addition? Should I include the synopsis or is it superfluous?

Thank you so much for taking the time to give such a detailed and incredibly helpful response.

I did write an extended and gushingly grovelly ‘thank you’ but it ran to a page-and-a-half so I deleted it.

Thank you also for ‘infelicities’ - it took me several key strokes to track down its meaning. I’m now better equipped to write that letter and I have a larger vocabulary to do it with.


Thanks Antony, your reply slipped in whilst I was writing mine. More good advice!


A synopsis is superfluous if you’re enclosing the full story. A synopsis would be useful in a book-length treatment, in conjunction with a detailed chapter outline (which, I suppose, is pretty much a synopsis).