03/21/2012 11:04 am ET

Writer Wednesday: Amp Up Your Cover Letter

From Writer's Relief staff:

At some point, all writers have zero publication credits. Although we have no evidence, we suspect that even Stephen King came out of the womb credit-less. The best advice we can give to unpublished writers is to submit, submit, submit until that first credit comes your way. But until then, we have come up with a list of steps you can take to make your writing bio stronger and demonstrate that you are serious about your craft. Although some editors and agents will weigh your writing sample more heavily than your bio, we have seen that a stronger writing bio generally results in more publication success. So, what are you waiting for?

Can Writing Groups Really Help Me?: Even Alex Trebek doesn’t have the correct answer for you, but writing groups have multiple benefits and cater to your specific genres. Do you write romance? Check out Romance Writers of America. Do you often dabble in sci-fi? Check out the SFWA. Are there workshops conducted in your area that can help you improve your writing technique? When you finally find a writing group to join, not only do you now get to put its name in your bio to show editors and agents that you are serious about your writing, but you’re also given access to many useful resources and networking opportunities.

You’re Never Too Cool For School: Even if you don’t have many publishing credits (yet), taking a class online or at your local community college attests to your dedication to becoming a professional writer. Think about it. Wouldn’t you want to work with someone who is diligently committed to his/her craft? Picture this sentence in your cover or query letter: “I took a class at the University of XYZ.” That’s certainly more relevant to editors and agents than “I enjoy scuba diving, baking cakes, and taking long walks on the beach.” Plus, who knows? Maybe a key editor/agent has some affiliation with the class you took.

Everyone Who’s Anyone Will Be At The Party: And by party, we mean writing conference. Not only are conferences a solid place to network, but you’ll be able to mention them in your cover or query letter. There are also often impressive keynote speakers and fellow writers to workshop with and learn from at conferences. Again, mentioning that you have attended writing conferences in your cover/query letter shows that you are a writer dedicated to improving your craft. You never know what connections an editor or agent may have with an event you attended or someone you worked with. If your budget allows, go and enjoy! Check out our conference listings on our Writer Classifieds.

Pass It On: By volunteering for the spring cleanup at your local library—or getting a reading group together at your local school—you can express and deepen your love for literature. Although volunteering at your local book drive shouldn’t be emphasized in a cover/query letter quite as much as a publication credit in The New Yorker, it is relevant and says a lot about your character. Editors and agents are people too; they can appreciate someone with a passion for literature and community.

Remember: While there’s no substitute for reputable publishing credits, demonstrating that you’re serious about your craft might help your cause. It goes without saying that you should only do these things if you can implement them with honesty and true dedication to your craft rather than just to fill out your writer bio. Publication credits are sometimes the most indicative of the quality and marketability of your writing—but we’ll let you in on a little secret: Not only will these tips help you build up your bio, but they will also help you improve as a writer and widen the scope of your writing network.

Read more at Writer's Relief