Starting again: do I mention published work from a "previous" life?
March 16, 2010 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I have published two short stories in my life, and that was twenty, and twenty-five years ago. Do I mention these in my cover letter to the fiction editor? I mean, yes, it is my publication history, and as it happens, both journals still exist, but this is still ancient history. To complicate matters, one of these stories was published under my married name, which I am no longer using. I have never mentioned the dates of publication in my cover letters so far, of course. I'm just wondering if editors check up on these things in some way that could easily leave me looking like a liar.
posted by uans to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As someone who has never published any short story so far (but has come close, in my defence), I would unhesitatingly answer "yes".

Just say in your cover letter: "I had two stories published many years ago: 'Story X' in 198x and 'Story Y' in 198y." No need to explain the name business...I don't think most editors have enough time to audit such information.

Any edge you can use, you should use. Remember, though, IANAPW (not a published writer).
posted by hiteleven at 8:17 AM on March 16, 2010

On 2nd thought, scratch the dates, as you suggest, but mention the published stories.
posted by hiteleven at 8:18 AM on March 16, 2010

Do I mention these in my cover letter to the fiction editor?

What's the purpose of the cover letter? Are you submitting new work to a literary journal? If so, by all means mention the publications if you want to, but don't sweat it. No one will check them, and in any case it's not uncommon for writers (especially women) to have published under more than one name.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:22 AM on March 16, 2010

Your old name is essentially a pseudonym, and there's not any shortage of that in the writing business. Though I can't vouch for an accepted style, you can write "title (writing as oldname)".
posted by crapmatic at 8:25 AM on March 16, 2010

Are you still proud of those stories? If so, then YES of course mention them.
posted by applemeat at 8:29 AM on March 16, 2010

There is no downside to mentioning them. There are no repercussions for not mentioning them. It's a cover letter accompanying a story submission, not a résumé.
posted by mcwetboy at 8:34 AM on March 16, 2010

I'd say yes, particularly if this is a well-known journal/magazine. Like, The New Yorker is a big deal no matter how old the publications are.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:58 AM on March 16, 2010

Best answer: I'm not sure what venue you're submitting new work to, but from what I've seen and heard working at medium-circulation literary magazines, the process went like this: 1) scan cover letter to make sure writer isn't established (New Yorker, published novel, etc), 2) read first few pages to decide if the story is the kind of thing we publish, and if it's got some sort of hook, 3) if 2 goes well, read the entire story, and if it holds together, give it to another editor who will also read it carefully.

There wasn't really a place in that process for the fine distinctions that you're considering with regards to your cover letter -- all the thinking on our parts was saved for the stories that made it past step 2, at which point we'd already read some of the work, and no longer needed to rely on the cover letter. I would assert that it is 100% impossible that a literary magazine (and again, I don't know who you're submitting to) of any size would check things like discrepancies between maiden and married names, or check anything at all about a writer's publication history. It's just not that important: they'll take your word for it unless you're claiming to be a Nobel laureate.

So you're off the hook! Submit away, using whatever combination of credits and self-descriptions that pleases you best.
posted by Valet at 9:03 AM on March 16, 2010

Yeah, the only reason I wouldn't mention a publication is if the magazine was no longer in operation, but you mention that both of them still exist, so you should be fine. When I read submissions, the only time I ever checked up on a person was if they made truly, truly grandiose claims but seemed unprofessional in other ways--like, "I'm a two-time Pulitzer nominee!!!" typed in purple Chiller, or something.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 9:42 AM on March 16, 2010

Response by poster: One of them: West Coast Review, now calls itself West Coast Line. In my cover letter I refer to West Coast Review--should I be adding "now called West Coast Line" ?
posted by uans at 9:52 AM on March 16, 2010

I'm with valet here-- the editor is going to be too busy to check. So give him/her the info needed-- yes, you've had two stories published.
My story (title) was published in West Coast Review (now West Coast Line). Also, writing as (old name), I also had (title) published in (journal).

The story's the thing-- the story that you're trying to sell now. If it's right for them, and they have room, they won't actually care all that much if you're previously published (unless you're a big name). The previous publication will make them read a bit more quickly, maybe, but if they like the story, they'll like the story, and if they don't, they don't.

Best of luck!
posted by pippin at 10:00 AM on March 16, 2010

I wouldn't sweat it at all. I've had stories published and I have guest-edited online literary journals and so I know what I'm talking about when I say:

You're way overthinking the cover letter. Cover letters that are really good (meaning the author is very established, not that it's full of zingers and bon mots) will get a story read more charitably. A very bad cover letter (which can occur in many different ways, all obvious) will get a story a very quick read before being rejected. The great mass of cover letters don't matter. Include the stories, don't include them, whatever. Be professional and brief so they can get to the story, which is awesome, right? If it is, they'll publish it.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:32 AM on March 16, 2010

You'd simply say something like, "my work has previously been published in West Beaverton Literary Review and Hanging Chad Quarterly."

Why would you feel the need to provide any more information than that in the first place. All you want to do here is make the editor more likely to read your manuscript by claiming that other editors have bought your work in the past. It's not a resume.
posted by Naberius at 11:11 AM on March 16, 2010

One of them: West Coast Review, now calls itself West Coast Line. In my cover letter I refer to West Coast Review--should I be adding "now called West Coast Line" ?

Something like, "...May 1988 issue of the West Coast Review (now West Coast Line)..."

"now" can be "now published as," "now called," or whatever you like. I'm not sure if there's a convention for this. IANA English teacher.
posted by rhizome at 12:48 PM on March 16, 2010

Best answer: I edit a literary magazine. Things I want to see on your cover letter, in order of importance:

1) A contact e-mail address
2) A phone number and address
3) Your Name
4) The date you're posting the submission
5) The names of the included stories.

That's all I want, really.

Things that won't hurt to mention but don't really matter:

*) Mentions of previous publications and prizes
*) Word count of story.

Things I'd rather not see:

0) Description of the plot or theme of the story
0) Any wackiness.

If it looks like a proper letter (formatted correctly etc) and contains the top five items, your stories have as good a chance of appearing in the magazine as anything else. I admit, if you mention a Pulitzer and a chapbook published through Faber&Faber we'll look at your work with interest, but most magazines worth their salt pride themselves on being conscientious toward submissions from first-timers and old hands alike.

Some of the best stories I've read have come with a three-sentence cover letter.

Go kick some ass!
posted by Cantdosleepy at 6:40 PM on March 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

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