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Old 01-28-2013, 05:13 AM   #1
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Referral for short fiction subs

This feels like a stupid question, but I've never subbed a short story to anything but AW, so I haven't had to write a cover letter for it.

I was at a convention last year and read a story I had entered in an AW contest years ago. An award-winning author was at the reading and told me to submit it, and he gave me two magazines he thought it'd be perfect for. He's been published in one of them.

When I write the cover letter, should I mention the referral? I know in a query letter for a novel I would, but I've never done a cover letter.
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Old 01-28-2013, 05:16 AM   #2
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I don't think I would for a short story submission to a magazine.
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Old 01-28-2013, 05:21 AM   #3
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I don't think I would for a short story submission to a magazine.
Agree with the pussycat.

For the most part, your story will sell itself or not.
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Old 01-28-2013, 05:36 AM   #4
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You might sneak in a casual reference if the other writer has written for those magazines (without mentioning that you talked to the other writer at a convention).

I met Michael Connelly at a convention. He told me "Good luck". I don't think I'll be using that for anything. Robert Crais used to be a friend on Facebook (before he got too many friends); he Liked one of my posts. As did Neil Gaiman. I'm using those two as references! :-) Just kidding.
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Old 01-28-2013, 07:08 AM   #5
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That sounds more like a "here's some places to try" and less like an actual referral, so I wouldn't mention it. Short cover letters are very bare bones. They don't need to know why you sent it to them or what the story is about.

The exception would be if they don't take unsolicited submissions. Then you mention it in your "would you like to see my story?" letter.
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Old 01-28-2013, 04:41 PM   #6
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... nope. B/c besides what's been mentioned, you'd also be putting that author on the spot with the editor. You'd really sorta have to check in with them first to find out if it'd be okay to mention them. Editors are also some of the most ethical people on the planet. All they are concerned about are the stories by and large. And that's a good thing, overall, giving everybody a fair chance. G'luck.
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Old 01-28-2013, 08:59 PM   #7
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The only time you should mention a "referral" for short fiction is if an editor at the venue asked you to send work/that specific piece.
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Old 01-28-2013, 09:43 PM   #8
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I guess it wasn't such a stupid question I would have expected everyone to say "of course you mention him! It gets you past the interns!" The shortness of the cover letter was the only reason I was hesitating, and I see that I had good reason to feel that way.

I suppose it felt different from the average "Try these magazines" because he sought me out in the halls later to ask if the story had been published and to make the suggestions. If it had come directly after the reading, I wouldn't have felt as much like it was a referral. He did write for one of them, but not the other.

Thanks, guys!
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Old 01-29-2013, 01:16 AM   #9
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Yes, definitely mention that the writer suggested you send the story to that editor. The story will still have to speak for itself, but such a referral can get a story past a first reader, or to the pile set aside for a later, more careful reading.

Do not kid yourself for a second about "fair chance". There's a good chance every submitted story gets read, but that's where the fair chance stops. A good referral will get your story read faster, and will get your story past the first readers at many publications. It will also mean the editor will start reading with high hopes, rather than with the very low hopes that usually come from reading general slush.

It may have been Kristine Kathryn Rusch who wrote about three levels of slush. Level one is all the famous writers out thee, the geniuses who always write a great story. They go in one pile. This does no mean the editor will automatically buy all those stories, but she knows they will all be good, worthwhile read.

Level two is writers the editor may have heard of, that have been published here and there, that may have sent her good stories in the past, even if they weren't quite good enough to buy. These are the writers who show serious promise.

Level three is everyone else.

Anything you can do to get yourself out of the "everyone else" stack and into the writers with promise stack is a good thing. If I see a referral like that, which really isn't a referral at all, just a suggestion of where to send the story, with the implied thought that it is good enough to send, that story goes into the second category, which means it will be set aside for a closer read.

"Good luck" is meaningless. When a pro writer reads a story, tells you to submit, and says where, you're an ijut of you don't mention this in a cover letter. It's one of those things that won't sell the story, but almost certainly will get it read faster, and with a better frame of mind.
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Old 01-29-2013, 02:11 AM   #10
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Unless the magazines specify a cover letter, I wouldn't use one at all.
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Old 01-29-2013, 08:18 AM   #11
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Old 01-29-2013, 08:26 PM   #12
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Unless the magazines specify a cover letter, I wouldn't use one at all.
If you have nothing to put in a cover letter, it doesn't matter. If you do have something worth putting in a cover letter, you're just making it much, much harder on yourself by not including one.
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Old 01-31-2013, 01:18 AM   #13
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For the magazines I am looking forward to publish in, they usually mention they don't care about cover letter. A paragraph, at most, if you want to mention previous published stories of your own, but I guess they don't care much about big introductions.

They will just go straight to the story, I guess
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Old 01-31-2013, 05:43 AM   #14
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For the magazines I am looking forward to publish in, they usually mention they don't care about cover letter. A paragraph, at most, if you want to mention previous published stories of your own, but I guess they don't care much about big introductions.

They will just go straight to the story, I guess
That's sort of the point. Introductions, or a sentence that says "Please find enclosed" are pretty much useless, though some magazines always want to see a cover letter because what isn't in the letter speaks volumes.

But if you have good credits, or a good referral, or anything else that sets you apart from the average new writer in the slush, it can, and very often does, make a difference.

Getting you story past first readers is a BIG deal, and the right cover letter does this. Having the editor read your story with high hopes is also a BIG deal.
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Old 02-11-2013, 09:05 PM   #15
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Unless the magazines specify a cover letter, I wouldn't use one at all.

I would like to respectfully take this advice and flip it 180 degrees.

Alway, always have a brief, polite, and topical cover letter to every submission until or unless you are explicitly told otherwise in the submission guidelines (which, I should note, I have never seen happen in 5 years of submitting short fiction to all levels of spec fic publication). Provided it is in fact brief, polite, and topical--part of the reason you should do cover letters often is so you'll be able to perfect yours through practice--there is no way it can hurt you. And from what I've heard, editors enjoy being acknowledged as human beings and can find the complete lack of even a "hello, here's my story, thank you" quite off-putting.

You'll want to state the title of your story so it can be found easily if the attachment is misplaced, the length and genre of the story to show it fits the editor's needs, and its previous publication history if it has one. Not to mention, if you have a previous publication history, you'll want to brag that up!

Cover letters are awesome and quite painless after the 30th or 40th go around! Write yours today!

[This message has been brought to you by the Cover Letter Council.]

As for OP's specific encounter, unless the author said "Mention me in your cover letter," I wouldn't take it as an invitation to do so. However, it does sound very encouraging that you were tracked down after the reading was over! Keep it in your memory to boost your esteem when you feel down! And submit to those markets!
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Old 02-11-2013, 09:54 PM   #16
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An award-winning author was at the reading and told me to submit it, and he gave me two magazines he thought it'd be perfect for. He's been published in one of them.
See, now I'm the type who would mention it -- especially since the 'award-winning' author published a story with the magazine. Mention it as briefly as you mentioned it above. And I always include a cover letter, not explaining my story, just giving the title and wordcount, and brief bio of previous print publications only.

Good luck.
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Old 02-11-2013, 10:31 PM   #17
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As for OP's specific encounter, unless the author said "Mention me in your cover letter," I wouldn't take it as an invitation to do so. However, it does sound very encouraging that you were tracked down after the reading was over! Keep it in your memory to boost your esteem when you feel down! And submit to those markets!
It has nothing to do with an invitation to do so, and that isn't what you say in the cover letter. You just tell the simple truth, that X writer suggested this magazine would be a good fit.

If a writer doesn't take advantage of such things, he can safely bet that a lot of other writers in the slush will.

I have mixed emotions about cover letters. Many writers don't understand that a cover letter with something worth saying is important, but that many editors also judge a cover letter by what it doesn't contain. This is why many magazine editors ask for a cover letter.

If I look at the cover letter, and if it says nothing worth reading, this tells me the writer has not been previously published, and that story either gets a shorter read, or gets shunted over to the "read it when and if I find the time" stack.

If an assistant reads such a cover letter, chances are I'll never even see the story,
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Old 02-12-2013, 12:03 AM   #18
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And from what I've heard, editors enjoy being acknowledged as human beings and can find the complete lack of even a "hello, here's my story, thank you" quite off-putting.

You'll want to state the title of your story so it can be found easily if the attachment is misplaced, the length and genre of the story to show it fits the editor's needs, and its previous publication history if it has one. Not to mention, if you have a previous publication history, you'll want to brag that up!
This is rather my feeling. It's nice being addressed, and not having a cover letter at all feels lazy. (Like, was it really that hard to type the three sentences needed to create one?) It's not instant reject bad, but I do like getting one.

Plus, I get 12 submissions at a time. It's nice having the name (and pen name if it differs!) and story title in one place, since they do sometimes get separated. (Which can be rather frustrating if there's no cover letter, the email header has the real name but no story title, and the story only has the pen name on it.)

I'm torn on the previous publication history. Listing a few places you've been published is great. None doesn't really hurt that much, though, as stories *do* tend to sell themselves, or fail on their own merits. But listing 200 publications + dates + titles + payments (oh, yes, about 10% do this) drives me batty. It may be a weird personal thing, but I seriously look for reasons to reject these people.

(It doesn't help that these 200 are rarely places I recognize. Why writing, "I've published over 200 short stories to various markets including <<list top three>>" is that hard, I'll never know.)
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Old 02-12-2013, 12:57 AM   #19
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Mine generally go:

Dear Editor,
I would like to submit my X,000-word genre short story, "Title," for consideration in Blah Magazine. The story is attached/included/appended below.

My recent publications include Blah, Blah, and Blah.

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Old 02-12-2013, 02:24 AM   #20
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This is rather my feeling. It's nice being addressed, and not having a cover letter at all feels lazy. (Like, was it really that hard to type the three sentences needed to create one?) It's not instant reject bad, but I do like getting one.

Plus, I get 12 submissions at a time. It's nice having the name (and pen name if it differs!) and story title in one place, since they do sometimes get separated. (Which can be rather frustrating if there's no cover letter, the email header has the real name but no story title, and the story only has the pen name on it.)

I'm torn on the previous publication history. Listing a few places you've been published is great. None doesn't really hurt that much, though, as stories *do* tend to sell themselves, or fail on their own merits. But listing 200 publications + dates + titles + payments (oh, yes, about 10% do this) drives me batty. It may be a weird personal thing, but I seriously look for reasons to reject these people.

(It doesn't help that these 200 are rarely places I recognize. Why writing, "I've published over 200 short stories to various markets including <<list top three>>" is that hard, I'll never know.)
I did not know that 10% statistic. Wow! (Suddenly I feel much better about my own cover letter...) But, yeah, generally I just list either my 3 most recent pro sales, or the 3 pro & semipro that are most similar in genre and style to the market I'm submitting to, or the 3-4 sales I'm proudest of at the moment. No need for a complete accounting...after all, you never know when an editor has contacts in the IRS who might be wondering if you've paid self-employment tax on all those sales. *cough*
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Old 02-12-2013, 02:38 AM   #21
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I have no idea whether it's universally 10%. But out of the ones I get, it's hovering around that mark. (The best one was someone who sent me maybe 200 names of stories + the markets + the dates...but all the markets and dates were the same. It was like, "Dude, I get it. You self-published your short stories.")

The other great sin seems to be "let me write a summary of my short story in the cover letter". (Which is also around 10%, although for whatever reason, my last batch of submissions is at 90%.) I feel like typing back, "This is not a query for a novel..." to each one of them. (And, TBH, that's more likely to bias a slush reader, anyway, and it's pretty easy to go, "Well, that idea sucks. Why even bother reading the story?")

There's some other weird stuff too, like the people who send long pleas to buy their story. (Either a sick relative or that they're about to give up all hope and stop writing, usually.)

Cover letters are fascinating things. Most do it right, but sometimes...just...sometimes...
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