For those of you who are shy and don’t like bragging about your publishing credits for fear of being impolite, stop being shy! Literary journal editors and literary agents WANT to hear about that stuff! A query letter and a cover letter are like job interviews. Proving that you’re a qualified writer helps you–and your short story–get the job! And, if you’ve been following along, and read my last post about how to win writing contests, talking about your past publications boosts your chances. (Unfair to the brand new writer, maybe. But they are like recommendation letters, illustrating your past quality work and dedication to writing). As Brevity: a journal of concise literary nonfiction encourages in their blog, yes, you CAN and you SHOULD tell people about your accomplishments!
Here’s my example bio paragraph of a query letter and/or cover letter:
I recently graduated from Bloomsburg University with dual degrees in Creative Writing and History. My writing has received the 2009 and 2011 Bloomsburg University English Department Award for Creative Non-Fiction, the 2009 Fuller Fiction Award, the 2011 Savage Poetry Award, and 2nd place in The Baltimore Review’s 2011 creative non-fiction contest. I have had work appear or forthcoming in Inside Pennsylvania, The Stillwater Review, and The Honors Review.
This is the appropriate way–the way that editors expect–you to present yourself. The facts, without inappropriate bragging embellishments like “I am a super talented writer,” or “you’ll love every word I blessed the page with.” After the introductory paragraph with information such as the title, genre, word count, and brief summary of your short story submission, you slap in this form biography paragraph.
The Formula for a Biography Paragraph in Your Query Letter:
Your credentials (usually only mention this if you majored in writing somewhere or majored in whatever topic you’re writing about and furthers your credentials. Bonus points if you have an MFA from a renown writing program). Any awards your writing has won. Where you’ve been published before.
Throwing out a question to any readers out there: do you add anything else personal in your cover letters and query letters? How much is too much personal information? Any recommendations for what to put if you have no publishing credits or haven’t won a writing contest yet?
Jumping off of a recent discussion over at storynomad’s blog, should female writers sign their query letters and cover letters with gender ambiguous pen-names for the sake of upping their chances at getting published? I don’t like to think that the literary world is still dominated by stereotypes and ruled by the “good ol’ boys,” but the percentage of male writers being published in literary journals over female writers is startling, according to the 2010 statistics by Vida.
But, according to Nobel Prize winner VS Naipaul, it doesn’t matter whether women use male pen-names or not anyway because he has super reader radar that can identify the gender of the writer based on the quality of the writing. According to him, if it the writing isn’t nearly as good has his own, it’s obviously a woman’s creation. Even Jane Austin pales in comparison to his dazzling writing talent. I highly recommend reading the appalling article. Would love to hear your opinions on the matter, so feel free to share!
On a personal note, it’s Sunday so normally I’d be lamenting the lack of postal service. I’ve been so busy today though, moving in to NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute, meeting my new roommates, walking through a street fair that conveniently occurred below my dorm window (where I bought a bonsai tree!! Here’s crossing my fingers I don’t kill it) that I didn’t have time to mope.
But, for consistency, I shall post my ongoing literary magazine submission waits:
- Painted Bride Quarterly (date submitted: January 4th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 1 non-fiction)
- Cicada (date submitted: February 16th; what submitted: 2 poems)
- matchbook (date submitted: March 7th; what submitted: 1 short short fiction)
- The Susquehanna Review (date submitted: March 14th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 2 non-fiction)
- Zahir (date submitted: April 25th; what submitted: 1 fiction)
- Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle (date submitted: May 11th; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
- Brevity (date submitted: May 19th; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
- Owl Eye Review (date submitted: June 1st; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
- Palooka (date submitted: June 1st; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
- storySouth (date submitted: June 1st; what submitted: 1 fiction)
- Weave magazine (date submitted: June 1st; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)
While you’re waiting, write, submit, and water your bonsai trees! I watered mine today :]