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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Slushpile Survival Guide

A Tale of Two Cover Letters
The following two cover letters landed in our inbox recently.
Y hallo thar!

I am [name redacted], sent from the far off land of [locale], bringing forth literary enjoyment of difficult-to-categorize ingenuity! Attached, you will find my short story of 4648 words, entitled "Rosie Palm and Her Five Sisters." It tells the bold tale of Sir Collin and his adventures in masturing the dreaded bation, yet being foiled by the young princess Kore! However shall he slay his one-eyed monster while still retaining the affections of the prettiest lady in all the land?

You are about to find out.

I bid thee a toodle-oo,
[name redacted]
Compare and contrast that cover letter with this one:

I am submitting my short story for review in your publication. It's a humorous story with just a touch of self-realization in the main character, Collin.

When Collin meets Kore, his life is changed. He is introduced to an entirely new way of living that even his anti-social past had barely known existed. The most changed however, is his imagination. Suddenly, Kore is popping up at the best moments, but then morphing into the worst things.

This story is not suitable for children based on language and sexual themes, but will have a death-grip on the heart of any geek or geek-lover. [...]

"Rosie Palm" was workshopped in a graduate-level Creative Writing course. MA in progress.

Thanks for your time!
[name redacted]
And now, if you please, kindly answer a simple question: which of these two cover letters is more apt to make you turn the page, and more likely to be willing to give the story that follows it at least half a chance?

"Wait!" I just heard some sharp-eyed reader shout. "Collin? Kore? Rosie Palm? These two cover letters are both for the same story!"

That is absolutely correct, and they are reprinted here with the kind permission of the author. These two letters, taken together, illustrate a vital principle:
The entire point of a cover letter is to get the editor to read your story.
We are only a tiny market, and yet we average ten new submissions daily. Larger markets exceed our inflow by several orders of magnitude. Editors and slush pile readers, like everyone else, always seek to get the most work done with the least amount of effort. Therefore, anything in a cover letter that gives the editor an excuse to reject the story without reading it will be seized upon, more often than not.

Here endeth the lesson. Now beginneth the discussion.
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