We receive all manner of cover letters.
Some are very business like. The writer simply lists a brief selection of their publications, nothing more, nothing less. Other letters don’t list any publications and instead thank us for taking the time to read their work. We appreciate the appreciation.
Writers who are submitting to multiple markets often include a helpful note that theirs is a simultaneous submission and that they’ll promptly let us know should their work be accepted elsewhere.
Some letters are addressed to M. Bartley Â and/or Roxane. Some just say hello or hi or hey there. Many begin with the all inclusive Dear Editor(s) and once in a while, a writer utilizes his time machine, returns to 1954 and addresses his cover letter Dear Sirs.
Some writers, almost apologetically explain what they do to pay the bills because most of us know that we cannot sustain the lifestyles to which we’ve become accustomed on free contributor copies, $.05/word or $20 a page. There’s always the taint of shame in these confessions. I’m really a writer, they say, but I’m also (and here, you can just imagine the hoarse whisper), an accountant. I’m a dog groomer, but my real passion is poetry or writing short stories. Writers tell us that they work as real estate agents and medical transcriptionists and college professors and kindergarten teachers. We get letters from lawyers and doctors and psychologists and nannies. The one thing we’re always reminded of, is that writers do a great many things to support their writing habit.
Many cover letters are long–very very long. They are long because the writer wants us to know every market they’ve published in and the names of each of creative work they’ve published, each contest where they’ve won or placed, their honorable mentions, and where they received their BA, MFA, MA, MPA, MBA or PhD. A significant percentage of the letters we receive allude to Puschart nominations. Writers tell us about their mentors, the lovely writers colonies they’ve visited, the many languages their work has been translated into, and the names of their weekly writing groups.
These days, many letters tell us about the writer’s blog or other social networking outlet. We do visit, when we have the time.
There are the cover letters that toe the line of trying too hard, the letters that try to be pithy or witty, the ones that say I don’t need to provide you with any relevant information because I defy definition or I am uncomfortable with self-disclosure so I am going to be amusing and evasive.
Writers tell us that they’ve never been published, that they’ve been writing their entire lives or that they have recently started writing again after a long time away.They tell us about novellas and novels in progress or that the excerpt they’re submitting is part of a larger project.
They tell us about where they live be it an apartment or a trailer or a farm house they’re rebuilding with their partner.
Letters from college students tell us about majors and extracurricular activities and how the writer hopes to make it out of their undergraduate experience without losing their mind. We understand.
Sometimes, the cover letter is more interesting and better written than the submission it accompanies.
We are often surprised by how many cover letters simply state, “I am surviving.”
With surprising frequency, we get cover letters where writers explain the significance of their creative work and/or why they write because they want us to understand without equivocation that which they have to say.
The one constant is that the cover letters we read are sincere and plain and true. They are like the maps in rest areas with the bright red star below which you find, in neat black letters, the words YOU ARE HERE. They reflect hope and frustration and ambition and it is all so staggering, it could just break your heart.