Kiini
Ibura
Salaam

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KIS.list

Vol. 36, Cover Letters

Posted on 6 September 2003


New York, NY

It strikes me as interesting that powerful writing in one genre doesn’t necessarily translate into powerful writing in another. While I consider my short stories and essays to be powerful, my skill in writing plays is weak and I am still struggling with novel writing. What brings about this rumination on genre writing is a recent attempt to write a cover letter.

I’m currently looking for a job. A girlfriend, aware of my search, emailed me a wonderful work opportunity. I was intrigued by the job, but not all that enthused about writing a cover letter. In this electronic age, obtaining a job through postings seems impossible—especially during this fatal economic climate in NYC.

Looking for a job calls up all the defeatist thinking hiding out in my body. I have never received a response to an online application, even when I thought I was perfect for the job. So when confronted to responding to another job online, all my negative preconceptions go parading through my head. “They won’t respond,” I think. “This is a waste of time.” “I’ll never get an interview.” “Only person-to-person contacts yield results.” I’m sure all this angst, uncertainty and lack of enthusiasm influenced my cover-letter writing efforts.

I put off applying until the final hour. A few days before the application was due, I wrote the cover letter. Focusing on the job skills the position required, I filled the letter with assurances addressing each point listed in the job advertisement. Then I sent the letter to my friend for feedback.

To my friend’s credit, she didn’t say the letter was horrible. She took a diplomatic path instead. She patiently explained that employers receive thousands of resumes. Consequently, I needed to write a cover letter that was unique and direct enough to get my resume noticed. I knew this, of course. A brief perusal of any cover letter writing guide will tell you this. What I didn’t know was that my cover letter was long, monotonous, and lacking in examples to bring my work experience to life. Most importantly, the letter did not speak specifically to the company I was applying to.

This is the same problem I have with pitching my writing to publications. I don’t speak specifically to the magazine I’m pitching. You’d think as a writer I’d have the persuasive power of the word under control, but I don’t. It takes a particular mind to know exactly how to position a product (or a person) to a company. I don’t possess one of those minds.

My cover letter read like this:

I am so and so.
I do such and such.
I have experience with this and that.
I would love to blah, blah, blah.
I look forward to hearing from you.

This long list of “I” sentences was my attempt to detail exactly how I was qualified to perform each of the skills the employer was seeking. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong.

My friend, having waded through tons of resume cover letters in the past, explained that everyone wrote cover letters like mine. There was nothing specific in the letter to distinguish me from anyone else.

We went through the letter point by point. My friend pointed out how repetitive my letter was and noted where I could use specific examples to prove the relevance of my work experiences to the position. She organized my letter into sections:

  1. why I’m writing/what’s my interest in the company
    [she recommended I visit the company’s website and read up on their mission.]
  2. who I am as a writer/how my writing interests gel with the company
    [she suggested that I describe what types of writing I have experience with, what themes and topics I write about and where I’ve been published.]
  3. what I can offer to the company
    [draw specific examples from my work experience]
  4. what I plan to give the company/what I plan to get from the company
    [insert words and descriptions that market what’s unique about me.]

In each of those paragraphs I retained the “I” statements, but I maintained a focus on the company instead of me. I was amazed in the difference between my first letter and my second one. It was night and day. Wow, I thought, if this is the way I’ve been writing cover letters, no wonder no one calls me for an interview. My mind was blown.

I have not heard from the company, so I don’t yet know if my cover letter drew the attention it was intending to draw. But when I think of the lessons I learned with this cover letter and apply it to my pitches, I have a better understanding of why none of the publications I pitched the KIS.list to seemed interested. The KIS.list pitch letters were all about me and didn’t make any specific connections between the KIS.list and the various publications.

I don’t get another chance to pitch the KIS.list to the particular magazines I previously pitched it to, but I do get a chance to write better pitches next time. Let’s pray I keep my friend’s tips in mind.

Be well. Be love(d).

Kiini Ibura Salaam

==KIINI’S ACCEPTANCE/REJECTION O’METER==
: : : September 2002 – present : : :

Acceptances:
Publications: 3
Grants/fellowships: 0
Residencies/workshops: 2

Rejections:
Publications: 1
Grants/fellowships: 1
Residencies/workshops: 1

==KIINI’S ACCEPTANCE/REJECTION O’METER==

My rate for acceptances and rejections for this year is a little off because I’m not submitting much, and when I do, it’s usually because it was solicited. All that to say, I have an essay accepted to an anthology on love and relationships. That raises my acceptances to 3.

Kiini’s Rate of Acceptance/Rejection
August 2001 – August 2002

Publications: Acceptances = 6; Rejections = 6
Grants/Fellowships: Acceptances = 0; Rejections = 1
Residencies/Workshops: Acceptances = 0; Rejections = 4