The Onion has done it again, this time with a piece that perfectly captures a recurrent feature of editorial life: the gormless cover letter. What you have to understand is that they’re only exaggerating a little. These are quotes from some real ones:
— I think you will find this a cut above the kind of junk Tor usually publishes.From an agent:
— Projected literary reviews are as follows
— Dear Mr. or Ms. Patrick Nielsen Hayden:
— p.s. These are not my best chapters.
— [Title] is a book written by an author whose style calls to the less than stellar readers … those who are in a lower percentile of reading ability. This client’s writings are the filler for that market.Somewhere towards the middle of a very, very, very long outline:
— Chapter Fifty: The backstory is now complete.And my favorite:
— What I am sending now is an EXTREMELY DIFFERENT VERSION of a novel that I sent to Tor Books in April 2001 (it was rejected). I am sending you this altered manuscript now because THIS VERSION INCLUDES MATHEMATICAL PROOFS THAT REVEAL THE SECRET OF THE UNIVERSE and THE REJECTED ONE DID NOT. Furthermore, I made drastic changes in the story line, which is why I feel that this is worth consideration.I actually like that one. If it should happen that mathematical proofs which reveal the secret of the universe (though not, alas, in the first three chapters) aren’t enough, he’s also beefed up the story line. I cannot disapprove.
I’m perversely fond of the bad cover letters. I collect them. They fascinate me because no matter how many I see, I still find them unimaginable: What could the authors have been thinking?
For instance, we see submissions where the author has enclosed copies of rejection letters from other houses. Sometimes they also send copies of letters from agents who’ve declined to represent them. Why do they do this? No idea. None at all.
Your basic cover letter is such a simple thing: Get in, get out, and shut up. Here’s a no-frills model:
Dear Editor:See? Dead simple. If your material doesn’t speak for itself, no cover letter ever written will make up for it. In the meantime, saying anything more complicated just gives you more chances to get into trouble.
Enclosed are the first three chapters plus an outline of my 85,000-word science fiction novel, Voodoo Robot. It is [insert here a one- or two-sentence summary of the basic setup and story arc]. This is my first novel. [OR: I have the following publication credits.] [Optionally, and only if EXTREMELY pertinent: In addition, I have the following related credentials or experience. For example: This is my first SF novel, but on the other hand I am Geoff Landis.] I also enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope. [OR: You need not return the manuscript.]
Thank you for considering my submission. I look forward to hearing from you.
[your name here]
Unless, of course, you have a knack for being charming and graceful, in which case you’re allowed. Here’s an old favorite—the other kind of favorite, the good kind—from a time when we regarded our mail with less suspicion:
Dear [Editor],Perfect courtesy! Such delicately expressed sentiments! I’d be hard put to say which we admired more, the letter or the chocolate truffles; but the truffles are long gone, and the letter is with us still.
Enclosed is a copy of my manuscript, [Title], and a box of Chocolate Truffles for your enjoyment. I do not expect that a box of chocolate will make you want to publish my manuscript, but I do hope that it helps my manuscript get read faster.
P.S. [My friend the big-name author whom you edit] says “hello”.