Works of Richard Marsden

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Writing Hints Blog

Cover Letters - Short Stories 4

Posted by rmarsden on August 18, 2010 at 6:55 PM

Today I'll discuss something that is fairly easy for the short story market, and that's the cover letter. We'll talk about novel cover letters later. On a side note, I already had a book-deal for my short stories and today I was just offered a contract for my sci-fi novel by a small-time press. I'll let you all know if I accept or not when we discuss getting novels to market.


Back to cover letters.


The cover letter is either a physical letter you send with your manuscript to a magazine editor, or it is your email to an editor if their magazine accepts electronic submissions. Magazines and venues that accept short stories will have on their website information on how to submit work. Submissions or Submission Guidelines or Writers' Guidlines are the headings I usually see. There will be instructions that usually ask for a standard cover letter. There are exceptions: keep reading!


The letter is one page and looks like the following...


Richard Marsden

5214 N. Blah Blah Avenue

Phoenix, Arizona 85013

Phone Number

[email protected]



Recent Prior Publications:

Short Story, “A Taste of Valhalla” by Hungur Magazine, May 1st 2010.

Short Story “Spirit of Nationalism” by Pseudopod, February 12, 2010.

Short Story “Beneath the Veneer” published by Zombonauts, Dec 15 2009.

Short Story, “Man of Moldania”, published by Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, July 1st 2009.


Brief Bio: Richard Marsden was born in Canada and currently is a resident of Arizona. He has been fencing with the rapier for fifteen years, dabbles in economics and holds a Masters Degree in Land Warfare courtesy of AMU.


Dear John Johnson,

Please consider my 5,200-word, previously unpublished manuscript, “Ninja vs Bear,” for publication at Adventure Times.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Richard Marsden


Now here are some tips.


1. List of prior publications - Only put in what you are proud of! If it made a lot of money that usually means the market was tough to crack into, so put it up. If you are writing to a fantasy magazine be sure to have prior fantasy stories. If you are writing to a horror magazine be sure to have prior horror stories.


Do not list more than 4 prior publications on the cover letter.

Some editors specifically ask that you do NOT list prior publications. Do as they say. Part of the slush process is throwing out stories because the author didn't follow the cover letter instructions.


Do not list works from a forum, fan-ficition, etc. If you don't see the publisher listed in or on, then don't list the work as a prior publication.


Don't feel you have to list anything at all! If you are just getting started as a writer don't list anything.


If you ARE a member of a professional 'guild' like SFWA (Science Ficition Writers of America) or HWA (Horror Writers of America) go ahead and list that under your publications. If you are a member then you already know all this!


2. Brief Bio - Editors sometimes specifically ask for a brief bio. Use mine as a template. A bio needs to be short and contain what you want to share with the world. Notice I slipped my wesbite in there? Some editors specifically ask you do NOT post a bio. Obey their rules. Other editors as the bio be placed at the end of your submission, or at the bottom of the cover letter. Again, follow their rules. While it isn't fair that an editor may not read your story because you posted a bio and were told not to, it's part of the system they have to work through the slush pile.


3. Dear EDITOR - You should try and use the editor's name if you know it. Digging around a magazine's website can help you there. Standing out in the tough markets means going the extra mile, so research and find out an editor's name. can help you there. If all else fails, "Dear Editor," will do.


4. WORD - You can round if you like, but I just highlight my manuscript from the title to the last word of the story and use that as my word-count.


5.TITLE - Note the title has " ". So "Awesome Story" would be the correct format.


6. MAGAZINE - Be sure to use the publication's full title and check for spelling. Some publshers have fancy, and/or cute titles.


7. I don't describe my story? - Not unless asked to provide some information. I've had a few times where the editor asked that I give some details about my submission.


8. Simultaneous Submission - If you are submitting your work to multiple editors, first be sure they allow Sim-subs. If they do, and you are submitting to multiple editos mention it in your cover letter with the added line:

"This is a simultaneous submission and I will alert you if the manuscript needs to be withdrawn."

Be sure to honor this. The moment you story is picked up, email all the other editors to let them know your story is withdrawn. Do not tell them why, simply write,

"Please withdraw "TITLE" from considertaion"

Thanks for your time,

Your Name


9. Snail Mail - If you are mailing your cover letter with your manuscript, then you need to include a self addressed sealed envelope (SASE) and the following:

"I have enclosed a SASE for reply and do not need my manuscript returned, as it is not the original copy."


10. Previously Published - Some publications don't mind if you send them a previously published piece (check submission guidelines), so long as the contract has expired. (They last one month to two years usually). When sending a previously published piece, mention where and when it was published.

So let's see a cover letter with everything.


Your Name

Your Address

Your Phone Number

Your Email



Recent Prior Publications: List no more than 4, include professional guilds.

Brief Bio: Make sure it is short and that you include your website or however else you like to get attention as an author!



Please consider my WORD-word, previously published manuscript, “TITLE,” for publication at MAGAZINE. The manuscript first appeared in MAGAZINE on DATE. This is a simultaneous submission and I will alert you if the manuscript needs to be withdrawn. I have enclosed a SASE for reply and do not need my manuscript returned, as it is not the original copy.


Thank you for your time and consideration.


Your Name




Most likley your cover letter will be much shorter and some editors want it that way, so don't worry!


Good luck!



Next we will discuss formatting the actual manuscript, how to submit it and tips. Just as the cover letter may have pitfalls to help clear out the slush pile, the same goes for the manuscript itself!

More Exceptions:

Some places have automated submission forms and don't want a cover letter. Such places are rare, MOST still ask for a cover letter.

Some publishers just do things 'different'. Black Library for instance has its own set of rules when it comes to submissions for both short stories and novels.

Categories: Short Story Advice

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