Cover Letter Has Me Stumped


Active Member
Feb 2, 2024
Howdy folks.

After a hiatus of several years (it's been a decade since I've submitted anything), I've got a short story I feel really good about and I'm ready to get back on the horse, so to speak, and start submitting to some magazines. I've found a couple I think might be a good place to start, but they need a cover letter. There's no information on what they expect that letter to include, except for your bio.

I'm not good at talking about myself to begin with, and I'm certain that I'm making this a bigger deal than it is - that's anxiety for ya - but I'm completely stumped.

I've written on and off for years, but I've only had one story published and the magazine that did so has since shut down, so do I even list that as a credential? Do I pitch the story? I'm not even sure where to start.

Again, I'm sure I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, but I appreciate you guys letting me get it out and am extremely grateful for any step in the right direction.
Writing a query letter to a literary agent is a crucial step in seeking representation for your manuscript. Here’s a concise outline for a well-structured query letter:

  1. Introduction (Opening Hook):
    • Briefly introduce yourself, including your name and any relevant writing credentials.
    • Mention the title of your manuscript and its genre.
    • Address the agent by name (if possible) and express why you’re querying them specifically.
    • Example: “Dear Agent [Name], I’m writing to seek representation for my novel, TALKING TO THE DEAD, a 115,000-word police procedural.”
  2. Synopsis (Book Introduction):
    • Provide a succinct summary of your manuscript.
    • Highlight the main plot points, central characters, and themes.
    • Keep it engaging and intriguing.
    • Example: “In TALKING TO THE DEAD, Detective Jane Lawson investigates a series of mysterious murders that lead her into the dark underbelly of the city.”
  3. Author Bio (Cook):
    • Share relevant information about yourself as a writer.
    • Mention any previous publications, writing awards, or relevant experience.
    • Keep it concise and focused on your writing journey.
    • Example: “I hold an MFA in Creative Writing and have published short stories in literary magazines.”
Remember, a query letter should be one page, approximately 500 words, and sent to a specific literary agent. Quality matters more than quantity, so focus on making each word count.
There's some really good advice on this in these threads:
I would list any credentials you have, even old ones. And in my limited experience, the exact format of the cover letter (if not detailed in the submission guidelines) isn't hugely important. Just make sure it follows the basic outline as described above, is free of errors, and has a good elevator pitch.

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