Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker: Howdy!

by | July 10, 2013 | Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker | 3 comments

it isn’t the most important thing to do before sending off a story
(that’s reserved for writing the story itself), drafting an effective
cover letter/email is probably right below it.

So here is a quick
sample of what to do and NOT when putting together a cover letter to go
with your story. That being said, remember that I’m just one of many
(many) editors out there, each with their own quirks and buttons to
push. Like writing the story itself, practice and sensitivity is will
teach you a lot, but this will give you a start.

So … Don’t Do What Bad Johnny Don’t Does:

Dear M. (1),

is my story (2) for your collection (3), it’s about a guy and a girl
who fall in love on the Titanic (4). I haven’t written anything like
this before (5), but your book looked easy enough to get into (6). My
friends say I’m pretty creative (7). Please fill out and send back the
enclosed postcard (8). If I have not heard from you in two months (9) I
will consider this story rejected and send it somewhere else (10). I
am also sending this story to other people. If they want it, I’ll write
to let you know (11).

I noticed that your guidelines say First
North American Serial rights. What’s that (12)? If I don’t have all
rights then I do not want you to use my story (13).

I work at the DMV (14) and have three cats named Mumbles, Blotchy and Kismet (15).

Mistress Divine (16)
[email protected] (17)

Don’t be cute. If you don’t know the editor’s name, or first name, or
if the name is real or a pseudonym, just say “Hello” or “Editor” or

(2) Answer the basic questions up front: how long is the story, is it original or a reprint, what’s the title?

What book are you submitting to? Editors often have more than one open
at any time and it can get very confusing. Also, try and know what the
hell you’re talking about: a ‘collection’ is a book of short stories by
one author, an ‘anthology’ is a book of short stories by multiple
authors. Demonstrate that you know what you’re submitting to.

You don’t need to spell out the plot, but this raises another issue:
don’t submit inappropriate stories. If this submission was to a gay or
lesbian book, it would result in an instant rejection and a ticked-off

(5) The story might be great, but this already has you
pegged as a twit. If you haven’t been published before don’t say
anything, but if you have then DEFINITELY say so, making sure to note
what kind of markets you’ve been in (anthology, novel, website and so
forth). Don’t assume the editor has heard of where you’ve been or who
you are, either. Too often I get stories from people who list a litany
of previous publications that I’ve never heard of. Not that I need to,
but when they make them sound like I should it just makes them sound
arrogant. Which is not a good thing.

(6) Gee, thanks so much. Loser.

(7) Friends, lovers, Significant Others and so forth — who cares?

Not happening. I have a stack of manuscripts next to me for a project
I’m doing. The deadline for submissions is in two months. I will
probably not start reading them until at least then, so your postcard is
just going to sit there. Also, remember that editors want as smooth a
transition from their brain to your story as possible; anything they
have to respond to, fill out, or baby-sit is just going to annoy them.

Get real — sometimes editors take six months to a year to respond.
This is not to say they are lazy or cruel; they’re just busy or dealing
with a lot of other things. Six months is the usual cut-off time,
meaning that after six months you can either consider your story
rejected or you can write a polite little note asking how the project is
going. By the way, writing rude or demanding notes is going to get you
nothing but rejected or a bad reputation — and who wants that?

When I get something like this I still read the story but to be honest
it would take something of genius level quality for me to look beyond
this arrogance. Besides, what this approach says more than anything is
that even if the story is great, you are going to be too much of a pain
to work with. Better to find a ‘just as good’ story from someone else
than put up with this kind of an attitude.

(11) This is called
simultaneous submission: sending a story to two places at once, thinking
that it will cut down on the frustration of having to wait for one
place to reject it before sending it along to another editor. Don’t do
it — unless the Call for Submissions says it’s okay, of course. Even
then, though, it’s not a good idea because technically you’d have to
send it to two places that think it’s okay, which is damned rare. The
problem is that if one place wants your work, then you have to go to the
other places you sent it to tell them so — which very often results in
one very pissed editor. Don’t do it. We all hate having to wait for
one place to reject our work, but that’s just part of the game. Live
with it.

(12) Many editors are more than willing to answer simple
questions about their projects, but just as many others will never
respond — especially to questions that can easily be answered by
reading a basic writing book (or reading columns like this one). Know
as much as you can and then, only then, write to ask questions.

This story is automatically rejected. Tough luck. Things like
payment, rights, and so forth are very rarely in the editor’s control.
Besides, this is a clear signal that, once again, the author is simply
going to be way too much trouble to deal with. Better to send out that
rejection form letter and move onto the next story.

(14) Who cares?

(15) Really, who cares?

Another sign of a loser. It’s perfectly okay to use a pseudonym but
something as wacky as this is just going to mark you as a novice. Also,
cover letters are a place for you, as a person, to write to the editor,
another person. Put your pseudonym on your story, don’t sign your
cover letter with it.

(17) Email address — this is great, but
it’s also very obviously a work address, which makes a lot of editors
very nervous. First of all, people leave jobs all the time so way too
often, these addresses have very short lives. Second, work email
servers are rarely secure — at least from the eyes of prying bosses.
Do you really want your supervisor to see your rejection from a Big Tits
In Bondage book? I don’t think so.

Do What Johnny Does Does:

Hi, Chris (1),

was with great excitement (2) that I read your call for submissions for
your new anthology, Love Beast (3). I’ve long been a fan not only of
werewolf erotica (4) but also your books and stories as well (5)

been published in about twelve websites, including Sex Chat, Litsmut,
and Erotically Yours, and in two anthologies, Best of Chocolate Erotica
(Filthy Books) and Clickty-Clack, Erotic Train Stories (Red Ball Books)

Enclosed is my 2,300 word original story, “When Hairy Met
Sally” (7). I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it
(which is a lot) (8). Please feel free to write me at
[email protected] if you have any questions (9).

In the meantime best of luck with your projects and keep up the great work .(10)

Molly Riggs (11)


(1) Nice; she knows my real first name is Chris. A bit of research on an editor or potential market never hurt anyone.

(2) It’s perfectly okay to be enthusiastic. No one likes to get a story from someone who thinks your project is dull.

(3) She knows the book and the title.

She knows the genre and likes it. You’d be surprised the number of
people who either pass out backhanded compliments or joke about
anthologies or projects thinking it’s endearing or shows a ‘with it’
attitude. Believe me, it’s neither — just annoying.

(5) Editing
can be a lonely business, what with having to reject people all the
time. Getting a nice little compliment can mean a lot. It won’t change
a bad story into an acceptable one, but making an editor smile is
always a good thing.

(6) The bio is brief, to the point, and
explains the markets. You don’t need to list everything you’ve ever
sold to, just the key points.

(7) Everything about the story is
there: the title, the words, if it’s original or a reprint (and, of
course if it’s a reprint you should also say when and where it first
appeared, even if it’s a website).

(8) Again, a little smile is a
good thing. I know this is awfully trite but when the sentiment is
heartfelt and the writer’s sense of enjoyment is true, it does mean
something to an editor. I want people to enjoy writing for one of my
books, even if I don’t take the story.

(9) Good email address (obviously not work) and an invitation to chat if needed. Good points there.

Okay, maybe it’s a bit thick here but this person is also clearly very
nice, professional, eager and more than likely will either be easy to
work with or, if need be, reject without drama.

(11) Real name —
I’d much rather work with a person than an identity. I also know that
“Molly” is not playing games with who she is, and what she is, just to
try and make a sale.

There’s more, as said, but this at least
will keep you from stepping on too many toes — even before your story
gets read. If there’s a lesson in this, it’s to remember that an editor
is, deep down, a person trying to do the best job they can, just like
you. Treat them as such and they’ll return the favor.

M. Christian

Calling M.Christian versatile is a tremendous understatement.
Extensively published in science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and even non-fiction, it is in erotica that M.Christian has become an acknowledged master, with stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and in fact too many anthologies, magazines, and sites to name. In erotica, M.Christian is known and respected not just for his passion on the page but also his staggering imagination and chameleonic ability to successfully and convincingly write for any and all orientations.

But M.Christian has other tricks up his literary sleeve: in addition to writing, he is a prolific and respected anthologist, having edited 25 anthologies to date including the Best S/M Erotica series; Pirate Booty; My Love For All That Is Bizarre: Sherlock Holmes Erotica; The Burning Pen; The Mammoth Book of Future Cops, and The Mammoth Book of Tales of the Road (with Maxim Jakubowksi); Confessions, Garden of Perverse, and Amazons (with Sage Vivant), and many more.

M.Christian's short fiction has been collected into many bestselling books in a wide variety of genres, including the Lambda Award finalist Dirty Words and other queer collections like Filthy Boys, and BodyWork. He also has collections of non-fiction (Welcome to Weirdsville, Pornotopia, and How To Write And Sell Erotica); science fiction, fantasy and horror (Love Without Gun Control); and erotic
science fiction including Rude Mechanicals, Technorotica, Better Than The Real Thing, and the acclaimed Bachelor Machine.

As a novelist, M.Christian has shown his monumental versatility with books such as the queer vamp novels Running Dry and The Very Bloody Marys; the erotic romance Brushes; the science fiction erotic novel Painted Doll; and the rather controversial gay horror/thrillers Finger's Breadth and Me2.

M.Christian is also the Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks, where he strives to be the publisher he'd want to have as a writer, and to help bring quality books (erotica, noir, science fiction, and more) and authors out into the world.


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Nothing succeeds in making a point like good examples! Well done.

    I do respectfully disagree with two relatively minor aspects of your advice.

    1) I'm not sure I'd greet an editor by his or her first name if we had never communicated in the past. When I edit, I'm happy to work with authors on a first name basis, but I appreciate getting a cover letter addressed "Dear Ms. Sarai" from strangers. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but it's always better to be too polite in my opinion than risk seeming rude.

    2) I never use my real name in cover letters. I'm moderately paranoid about my privacy, for good reason. I'm not going to share my real identity until I'm very sure that a) it's necessary (i.e. upon acceptance) and b) the editor/publisher will put as much effort into maintaining my anonymity as I do.

    I will agree that a letter signed "Mistress Divine" would make me smile, but as an editor, I also appreciate others' need for privacy.

    One more thing that you didn't mention. If I got a cover letter asking me to explain First North American Serial Rights, my mind would go "Bing! Amateur!" That wouldn't necessarily keep me from reading or accepting the story, but in general, if you can sound professional – do so.

    Thanks for a great post.

  2. Senta Holland

    I agree with Lisabet Sarai – privacy is important. There is a reason why many Erotica authors have pen names and the secret needs to be protected.

    I'm actually really afraid of cover letters because many editors seem so easily offended… I'm sure I've made lots of inadvertent mistakes by not knowing what a specific editor likes in a cover letter, and it's worrying that I've given my story a bad start that way. I can always only hope that my story will convince the editor, if he/she still reads it.

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