Okay, so now you’ve written your story. You’ve found your focus (or theme), you’ve shown instead of telling, and you found a balance of action, dialogue and description. You even got critiques so you edited, revised, and polished your story so it shines. Now what?
Now you need to submit. Sound scary?
Everyone has a fear of being rejected. But at some point you’re going to have to let your “baby” go. Stories need to be submitted or you’ll never know how good you really are. There are very few things in this world that are for sure: death, taxes, and if you don’t submit, you’ll never get accepted.
After having submitted stories and being accepted, I was told by one editor that I needed to learn how to write. Well, you’re learning every day of your life, so maybe I had some things to learn, but I knew I was a good writer. This editor just didn’t see my potential. Or maybe it wasn’t that. Maybe I was writer number 100 to submit a story that just wasn’t quite what that editor was looking for. Maybe he/she was just having a bad day. I’m still submitting and getting bummed over rejections and overjoyed at acceptances.
Even big name writers like Stephen King and J. K. Rowling were rejected before they struck gold. Classics such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were rejected at first too. We wouldn’t be enjoying any of these authors had those writers let the fear of being rejected stop them.
You have to learn to take an editor’s comments with the proverbial grain of salt. If an editor says something general like your story didn’t work for her, don’t take it personally. Do you like every story that’s ever been written? On the other hand, if an editor makes a specific comment, learn from it. Nobody’s perfect, and we all make mistakes. If the editor has taken the time to say a section of your story is in the wrong tense or you have a word spelled wrong, pay attention.
Once you’re past that fear and you’ve decided to submit, what’s next?
Some places tell you there’s no need for a cover letter or that you can include one if you wish. For them, you don’t have to worry about what goes into one. Others ask for specific things. Pay attention and make sure you put those things in. If you don’t, you may be rejected before the editor ever gets to your story. So what else goes into a cover letter, if they don’t tell you what to include?
In general cover letters need to be as short as you can make them. They need to be polite. Most often they need to include your name, your story’s name, and the word count. (This is for a short story. For a book you may need to include your plans for marketing and promotions. Also, certain publishers and/or editors may require you to include any experience you have for your book or article.)
Don’t worry about a bio yet. If one is required, include it, but if it’s not asked for, don’t bother including it. It won’t impress anyone! Also don’t mistake a query letter for a cover letter. A query letter can be long or short, but is generally used to inquire about being represented by a publisher, or to propose a story idea. A cover letter is, more or less, a short introduction. Something such as the following works well:
Attached is my 754-word sci-fi fantasy, “Elmer Takes an Elf To Space”.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
John Q. Public
This is all I, and many other editors, prefer to see in a cover letter. It introduces the story without overkill, gives the necessary info, is polite, and states the author’s name. (Sometimes contact info is also requested. For a book, you’ll want to include a brief description; usually one paragraph will do). One more thing – don’t forget to address the proper editor. If there’s more than one or you don’t know his/her name, “Dear Editor(s)” works just fine.
Here are some other hints:
1. If you’ve never had a story published, don’t mention it. Often, you don’t need to mention it if you have. But if your story is a reprint, you definitely should mention THAT!
2. Don’t send art with your manuscript unless you’re an artist.
3. Mentioning that your children loved your story isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just won’t mean much to an editor. He/she certainly doesn’t love you as much as your kids do.
4. Spelling, grammar and punctuation DO count!
You may be wondering about multiple submissions and simultaneous submissions. Should you do them?
If you send more than one story to the same market, that’s a multiple submission. Most ‘zines don’t allow it except for poems, but a few will take multiple story subs.
If you send a single story to several different markets, that’s a simultaneous submission. Again, most markets don’t allow it. But some do, and some even encourage it.
You can and should do them AS LONG AS THE MARKET ALLOWS THEM. If the market you’re submitting to says no, and you’ve already done it, then you’ve lost the game before you’ve even begun because you didn’t follow the rules.
Now that you know the difference between multiple and simultaneous submissions, cover letters and query letters, and now that you know what to put in a cover letter, you don’t have any excuses. Why are you still here reading? Go submit something!