Write a Cover Letter for a Fiction Submission

As of late, I have been revising and submitting my fantasy short story, The Ravenous Flock, to fantasy magazines for publication. However, with every submission comes a cover letter. Usually, the submission page of the particular magazine’s website will tell you what sort of information to include in your cover letter, but 90% of the time they always want prior publication credits (if you have any), and subject matter expertise qualifications (if you have any).

As a side note: If you are having trouble finding magazines to submit to, I recommend going to the Writer’s Association that you want to join (SFWA, RWA, etc) and look at their membership qualifications. They usually have a list of magazines that they consider as qualified publication sources to become a member of that Writer’s Association.

If you are like me and don’t have prior publications (yet), it is hard to develop an impressive cover letter. But, if you are a fantasy writer and studied Medieval History as your emphasis in college, then that is the subject matter expertise that you should definitely include. But if you have neither, writing a cover letter can seem dry. (Also, please see my prior blog about writing an author Bio with no experience here).

When composing the cover letter, the salutation is very important. Always write “Dear [name of Editor in Chief]”. Personalizing the cover letter is critical to help you stand out among their slush pile (much the same way as a personalizing a query letter to an agent). To find the Editor’s name, it can sometimes feel like a treasure hunt. Most of the time, you can find it on the magazine’s website under the “About” page, however, once I had to view a free preview of their magazine to find the Editor’s name. In the event that you cannot find a name, you should resort to using their title: “Dear Editor,”.

Even though it is stating the obvious, it is important to describe your intentions in the body of the letter. In my opinion, it says something about your skill to be able to fit it all into one sentence. For example: Please consider my unpublished 5,000-word original fantasy manuscript, “The Ravenous Flock,” for publication at [name of magazine].

Remember to thank them for their time and for their attention/consideration. Be sure to end with “Sincerely” or “Respectfully” or “Regards” or any other polite sign-off. Always leave your full name, website (if you have one), and contact info such as phone number and email. But as I mentioned before, this is a rather short and dry letter that is all business and no creativity. I’ll leave the creativity up to you, as that can be considered risky. I chose to add humor to my most recent cover letter (below), but I cannot recommend it for everyone.

Dear [name of editor],

Attached, please find my unpublished 5,000-word original fantasy manuscript, “The Ravenous Flock,” for your reading pleasure. Oh! And please consider it for publication at [name of magazine] too.

Respectfully,

-Adrian V. Diglio

But be sure to check out these other sites that helped me craft my cover letter.

  • Underdown.org http://www.underdown.org/covlettr.htm
  • About.com http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/thebusinessofwriting/tp/coverslettershowto.htm
  • Streetdirectory.com http://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/16061/writing/writing_a_cover_letter.html
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Being an Unpublished Author with a Website & Cover Art

After asking a couple literary agents what their thoughts were on an unpublished fiction author having a website, I got mixed results. One said, “You will need it at some point.” Another said, “It’s not necessary.” But the third is what convinced me that it is a must-have. She said, “Agents and Publishers like to see that you are ‘publishing-ready’, and having a website shows you’re committed to becoming published, that you’re invested. Consequently, they take you a bit more seriously.”

That was all I needed to convince myself that I must have a website… but what do I put on the website? Should it be dedicated to this one book/series? Or should it be dedicated to me as an author? What artwork do I put on the website (it can’t just be all text)? So I did some research to see what other fantasy authors have done with their websites. Terry Brooks http://terrybrooks.net/ made his to support himself as an author and all of his books. Christopher Paolini http://www.alagaesia.com/ made his just to support his series. I decided that I would make my website about me as an author, so that it’s flexible enough to support all my future books, but currently, it just supports my novel and the proposed future Black Smith series.

I knew I needed artwork, so I commissioned Natalie Salvo for the task, and I must say, it was everything I could have hoped and dreamed. (If you need cover art, you should hire her too! See my Contact page for details). Getting the cover art was not solely done for the website, of course. I whole heatedly intend for it to be my actual book cover (unless a publisher strong arms me otherwise). But, what it really allowed me to accomplish was a professional web-presence, and a never-ending marketing campaign. Every photo, avatar, and icon across all social media and the entire web became my book cover. In addition, once a reader sees the cover, it brings their imagination to life. They can visualize my characters around a common baseline; considering my characters are of an entirely new race of creatures known as elkin, it can be useful.

I recommend that any aspiring author should do the same. I have already begun to experience the benefits of having a website and cover art; though however small, it does not belittle their significance: 1) Beneath my signature when querying agents, I can post a link to my website. 2) On every website that requires membership, I am able to provide my website URL and picture of my cover art for widespread marketing. 3) After reading a query letter, a curious agent will click my link, see the incredible art that was born from my imagination and even be able to read a sample chapter (my prologue). 4) Begin capturing a following early on, so that as THE SOUL SMITH nears publication, I have a much wider audience to tell. 5) I can elaborate on my Bio, where the guidelines of a query letter prevent me from telling my story. 6) It has created a future haven for fans of The Soul Smith. It will be a place where I can reward my fans with additional info (like providing them the short story that I am writing), and keep a record of news on the developments for the rest of the series.

There has only been one drawback. When it was time to submit my full completed manuscript for consideration, I debated heavily as to whether I should put the cover art on. In the end, I erred on the side of caution and held true to the traditional manuscript format. All too often, I’ve heard agents warn authors not to try to deviate from the “rules”. Anything that you do to make yourself stick out is just a red flag to them. You simply just have to wow them with your voice and your writing alone.

The last benefit that it provides is it supports my backup plan (which I hope I will never have to implement). I have all the tools necessary to self-publish, but that is my very last option. If I don’t get an agent this time, I will publish my short story in a magazine, join SFWA, enter my short story in contests, and then put all that in my bio. Then I’ll query more agents. If I still don’t get a favorable response, then I’ll query publishers directly. If I am still unsuccessful, then and only then, will I self publish. My dreams are too big to rely on self-publishing. I want to create an audio book, I want to sell supplemental books that detail the world and contain my short stories… I can see The Soul Smith on the big screen, I can see action figures, video games, board games, replica swords, and other merchandise. My book will be a success, it’s just a matter of how much.

Should I add an Epilogue?

Of the many articles I have read about querying an agent, many of them stress the fact that the novel you pitch should be able to stand on its own as a single novel. Reason being, is that your novel shouldn’t depend on any sequel for its strength. It should have an ending all its own, as opposed to an ending that feels more like a pause-point because the true ending is in the sequel. In fact, it is even recommended to mention in a query letter that “your novel can stand on its own, but you have outlines drafted for the sequels.” Additionally across my smorgasbord of blog-readings, I have found that while waiting to hear a response from a query, that is the best time to begin composing your next manuscript.

As I developed the story arc for my novel, it became apparent to me that the world and unique pantheon I had created supported a much larger over-arcing story line. As with almost any movie or book ending, I realized that the ending to THE SOUL SMITH should have some ambiguity to support future planned sequels. It’s just good business. GAME OF THRONES didn’t even attempt an ending, it was the true definition of a pause-point between novels.

So without ruining the ending of THE SOUL SMITH for anyone that plans on reading it, I left a few pearls that would make any reader beg for more. However, is that the level of closure a reader will want if I am never to write the sequel?

No. After finishing a self-contained novel, a reader will want a full, complete story that instills a sense of accomplishment, of closure, of fulfillment. All of which would be addressed in an Epilogue. So, should I add an Epilogue? Even though I keep it in my back pocket, my answer is no. I will do everything possible to ensure that my “Epilogue” will be the seven books I plan to write after THE SOUL SMITH to complete The Blacksmiths series.