Publishing/Editing, Writing

Slush Lessons: Cover Letters 101 – Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot

There are plenty of instructions on how to write a cover letter, but one of the issues I occasionally see is rarely addressed: don’t down-talk yourself (or your story) in a cover letter. From the editor’s seat, if you don’t believe in yourself, why should I? And yet from time to time I see this self-depreciation pop up.

As a writer and a submitter, I’ve often been tempted—out of what I like to think is humility—to down-talk myself. But thankfully, I usually recognize this impulse and stop it before I get carried away. It can’t help your case if the first thing an editor sees is “this story probably isn’t very good” or “you probably won’t want to accept this, but”.

So, for the story’s sake, I’ve learned:

DON’T tell an editor how many times the story has been rejected so far. (That means their publication wasn’t the top of your list, and that you think they publish stuff other people don’t want to pay for.)

DON’T tell an editor how many revisions or drafts this story has been through. (One, it doesn’t matter if you just printed it off or you’ve gone over it for thirty years trying to decide if that comma really should be there; as far as the editor cares, it was perfect the first draft you hammered out. Two, it means the story wasn’t great and has required a lot of work; you don’t want an editor thinking about how much more work it may need.)

DON’T say anything about yourself or the story which involves “I haven’t”, “I’m not”, “this isn’t”, or “you probably won’t.” (Don’t tell an editor what his or her opinion will be, and let them assume you’re a pro.)


Note: I’ve also learned that none of these things will get you rejected; after all, the story must stand on its own. But it will likely get you an email (at least if you submit it to me) that suggests you avoid the self-doubt in your cover letter.

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