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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

From the archives...

Found while continuing the archaeological dig in my office, looking for something else: the complete manuscript for Will Write For Food: Twenty Years of Short Stories by Bruce Bethke. The book was to be a (nearly) complete collection of the short stories I saw published in various magazines between 1980 and 2000, but then the publisher sobered up and canceled the project.

Twelve-plus years later I have somewhere between little and no interest in resurrecting this project and releasing it through Rampant Loon Press, but do think the introduction I wrote for that book remains relevant today. Ergo, here it is. 
Short-story writers commonly make two very serious mistakes. The first happens after they’ve just finished writing a story and are preparing to submit it for publication, when they suddenly feel the need to write a “cover letter.” This cover letter typically details all the interesting background information the writer feels the reader needs to know in order to fully appreciate the story, but in fact serves only to provide prospective editors with an excuse to reject the story without actually reading it.
No editor has ever bought a lousy story because it was preceded by a brilliant cover letter. Untold thousands of great stories will languish forever unpublished, though, because they habitually arrive on editors’ desks wearing really ugly cover letters.
The second serious mistake typically happens years later, when the writer, having enjoyed some measure of critical and commercial success, is invited by a publisher to prepare and submit a “Complete” or “Best of” short story collection. At this point few writers can resist the temptation to write an “Introduction,” which essentially amounts to being an even bigger, fatter, and more long-winded cover letter recapitulating the writer’s entire career.
For your reference, after many years of writing and selling short stories, here in its entirety is what I have found to be the most effective cover letter:
Dear [editor_name],
Here is my latest story. I hope you enjoy it.
Kindest regards,
Bruce Bethke
And with that said:
Dear Readers,

Here is my short story collection. I hope you enjoy it.
Kindest regards,
Bruce Bethke

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