How I’m Sure to Have Shot Myself in the Foot

Every time I see a Submittable text box where someone wants me to “insert” a cover letter, I want to throw things and watch them break apart into a million irreconcilable little pieces.

I have OCD, people. There are rules as to what goes where and how. Cover letters belong as the body of an email with supporting materials as attachments, or as an upload in an online submission/application.

And yet time and again there is a rise in cover letters being given text boxes on online forms with no guidelines as to length (specifically word or character counts for which text boxes on online forms always have a limit).

Thing is, I did a little research and came up with a solution for myself that I’ll share below, but I’m frustrated because I didn’t work it out in time for Fairy Tale Review‘s deadline to submit to the Pink Issue. I got to that text box with no cover letter prepared and instead wrote (in reverse order) what I see in the back of every issue of the journal: the writer’s bio and a blurb regarding their view of their story/the fairy tale art form.

I wrote three sentences on that would act as my blurb if published, and I wrote — in third person — my three-sentence writer’s bio. Allow me to share with you what I should have done in two stages.

Stage 1 — Write Yourself a MadLib Cover Letter

That’s right, a form letter wherein you swap out details based on what you’re submitting and where. This will help to reign in any instinct to get too personal so that your letter acts as professional opening remarks introducing yourself and your work. Because it’s a form letter, here’s the general format:

  1. Salutations: “Dear [Editor/Journal],” (it’s better if you can use the name of an actual person who you know will be the one reading/responding to the piece);
  2. Expression of Enthusiasm: Say something about how you’re excited for the opportunity of your work being considered/thankful for the person’s time and consideration (now would be a good time to nudge their memory if you have a personal connection to the person considering your piece);
  3. Introductory Blurb: Let them know about what you’re submitting and maybe the why. Don’t get too detailed about process (unless you have some personal connection to the person reading the letter), just make note of why you think/how it will fit in with their upcoming issue;
  4. Writer’s Bio: No more than three sentences introducing yourself/your credentials if you’re an emerging writer (which you can totally put in your bio), obviously if you’ve racked up some accolades you can work them into your bio; and,
  5. Sign Off: Everyone puts “Sincerely,” because it’s a classic, but it may be worth having a sign off that wholly yours.

Stage 2 — In The Case of Text Boxes: Lob Off the Salutations and the Sign Off

As one slightly further edit here: if you know the name of the person considering your submission, be sure to use their name in the “Expression of Enthusiasm” section.

For my part, looking at these new rules for myself for handling the dang text box, I am missing only the “Expression of Enthusiasm” section. It might not be too bad considering the reading of the work is done blind with no mention of my name on the work itself when it is considered. But we’ll see.

For now, anyone else who hates when text boxes can follow the guidelines above. I know I will.

Also published on Medium.