• How Not to Write a Cover Letter

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 4 comments

    Two submission cover letters I’ve come across in the past two weeks serve as good advice on how not to get your manuscript the attention it may deserve.

    Enclosed please find the attachment- a short story entitled: “[name withheld]” comprising approximately 9600 words, for your kind consideration for publication in your magazine. If the article is found to cross the stipulated limit of 7000 words, it may please be edited judiciously.

    Where to begin? Well, how about with some math. The author seems aware that our word limit is 7,000. He also seems aware that his story is 9,600 words. He just doesn’t seem to be certain whether or not 9,600 is more than 7,000. If he had been, he wouldn’t have sent the piece, for our guidelines state clearly, “Short stories and self-contained novel excerpts should be 7,000 words or shorter.”

    He follows by saying that if it just does so happen that his piece is too long, the responsibility is on me to edit the piece “judiciously.”


    /dʒuˈdɪʃəs/ Show Spelled[joo-dish-uhs] Show IPA



    using or showing judgment as to action or practical expediency; discreet, prudent, or politic: judicious use of one’s money.


    having, exercising, or characterized by good or discriminating judgment; wise, sensible, or well-advised: a judicious selection of documents.

    As compared, I guess, to the willy-nilly slapdash haphazard [choose your own] way I usually edit pieces.

    Even if he hadn’t sent in a story beyond our word count (which = automatic rejection), and even if the story hadn’t been sent to me in blue font with a red title (I was so annoyed I had to open the document and see it for myself), I would’ve been biased against this piece before even reading the first line, based wholly on the “judiciously” comment. Don’t tell an editor to do his/her job well.

    And don’t (do not do not do not) belittle an editor’s publication to him/her in a cover letter:

    I’m working on a science fiction type book that is probably prophetic.  (I’ve done prophecy before, not on purpose, it’s just how things have turned out several times and this one has that feel about it.)  From what I’ve read on your site, it’s probably a good deal more serious than anything you currently publish.  Is there any point to me sending you an exerpt?  If I don’t sound like your kind of writer, can you suggest anyone I might try?  I’d really appreciate it.

    I don’t even have the time to count how many things are wrong with this email. But #1, of course, is that the writer decided to tell me that her “probably prophetic” sci-fi story is “more serious than anything [I] currently publish.” Wow, right? And then she has the stones to ask me to do her research for her and suggest a couple of venues for her piece.

    Fringe works through Gmail. Those of you who use the program are familiar with the labeling system. This query letter caused me to form a whole new category in our archive, which we’re now calling the “Idiot Box.”

    So if you want your email to be sent to the Idiot Box, denigrate the editor’s publication, ask him/her to do your work for you, tell him/her how to do that work (or his/her own work), and totally disregard the magazine’s guidelines.

    Oh, and misspell “excerpt.”

    An editor of another lit mag saw an “exerpt” from one of these (I posted them on my Facebook account) and wrote “Of course. One day, an editor is going to SNAP and every other editor will nod knowingly.”

    Don’t be the cause of an editor’s meltdown. Read the guidelines, do your research, and write a polite cover or query letter. Don’t poke a sleeping bear.

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    Brad Green

    Ha ha! Funny stuff.


    LoL! I like that they deliberately sent you an over-the-limit piece, but tried to get you to “do your job” to edit it down. Balls, man. Big brass ones.

    I’d like to see the ones that belittled the magazine, though. Those are always a laugh and a half, as they make you question the author’s sanity. (I mean, would YOU submit work to a place you thought sucked? Very strange tactic.)

    David Duhr

    Yeah. The only thing about closing FRINGE to submissions for a month is that I won’t be able to find new cover letters to mock until May.

    Thankfully I’m blessed with the ability to find plenty to mock in everyday life.

    Both of you, as litmag eds, might be interested in the big pile of blog drivel I post tomorrow. So come on back.

    Michelle D Keyes

    Rofl – I’m SO glad that I’m professional enough to NEVER do these things nor even consider them as options. I think, even in my cover letter to Reader’s Digest when I was 16, I didn’t commit anything close to these obvious sins. (In fact that letter said something like, “Enclosed in an article about my cat, Muffin. I hope you will consider publishing it. Thanks”.) Not literary genius by any means (I WAS 16 after all and knew nothing about publishing) but at least I was polite and sensible (albeit missing some important facts). So much of this is… Read more »

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