I swear to you, the hardest part of writing is not actually writing the story, but putting together the cover letter to the editor/publisher whom you want to BUY your story. I have spent weeks working on a piece, gotten it all polished and perfect, and then turned around and realized, “Oh crap! I have to write a cover letter too?”
Cover letters are quite frequently an editor’s or publisher’s first introduction to a writer, so they have to be done right. You have to include all the pertinent information in the letter without being too wordy and you have to sell your story in 50 words or less. After a few years of writing cover letters, I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of it, but still, every time I go to submit a story, it’s the same damn thing. I stare at the computer, its glowing screen blank except for the words, “Dear Editor…” and my mind is completely empty.
Part of my problem is that I quite frequently write stories that are not the norm. While I haven’t actually written the story in the cartoon above, I have written very similar tales. Imagine trying to sell an editor of a sci-fi erotica anthology on a story about an alien who collects and swaps genitals at flea markets for fun and profit. Or get them to buy a story about plants having sex in a Victorian garden, then devouring the gardener whole when he figures out what’s up. Yeah, that’s kind of tricky to explain in a cover letter. Still, I somehow manage to sell my stuff, and I continue to sell more stories every year so I must be doing something right.
My one bit of advice about cover letters? Don’t be an ass. Simple, polite, and concise always work best. I now know plenty of editors and publishers and have heard them gripe about cover letters enough to that you should never, ever start your cover letter with, “Dear Editor, I am submitting my masterpiece for your consideration…”