Save Today

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Stephanie “Baker” Lenz

Steve Trevor: I can’t let you do this.

Diana Prince: What I do is not up to you.

Cover letters to Toasted Cheese have recently included sentiments like these*:

My life isn’t exceptional.

You probably won’t publish this.

And these:

I have a unique vision.

I write more than I study.

Most of the cover letters we receive from female** writers are simple, clear, well-written introductions of the author and/or the work and do not include any self-effacing language. That said, when we do get a cover letter with something like “I’m not good enough” or “you won’t like this,” the author is almost always a woman. That’s not to say we haven’t read similar sentiments from male writers but percentage-wise, it’s overwhelmingly found in cover letters from women.

Speaking of percentages, we’re more likely to read a cover letter where the author sets us up for disappointment from emerging writers than from established writers. We’ve always said—and you may have read it in our “what we’re looking for” at any given site, including our own—that we’re less impressed with your credits than with the submission you’re sending. We’ve rejected submissions from agented writers with books (plural) published with major houses. We’ve accepted many pieces with a cover letter that included “this is my first submission.”

This fact of women submitting work to TC while including statements downplaying their experiences or abilities is something we’ve noticed since our beginning. We’ve tried to encourage women writers to take pride in their work, their talent, and themselves but unfortunately lines like these in cover letters continue to come in and, unfortunately, are noticeably on the upswing.

What does any of that have to do with Wonder Woman? I’m glad you read that question.

I’ve been a Wonder Woman fan all my life. I mean all my life. The first episode of the Lynda Carter TV show debuted when I was 3 years old. The second episode aired when I was 4. I had 14 episodes of Wonder Woman under my belt before Princess Leia entered my life (see my previous Snark Zone). In the new film, young Diana imitates the Amazon warriors she sees by punching the air, kicking imaginary villains, and spinning with athletic grace. I leaned over and told my 13-year-old daughter that that was how I spent 1978. I still remember jumping off our front steps and twisting an ankle upon landing. Amazons like me never twisted their ankles. I refused to believe in the pain as I walked away. Oh, it was still there but I couldn’t fight off invisible baddies with a hobbled right foot.

I like Wonder Woman because she pairs vulnerability with strength, both physical and emotional (again, see also: Princess Leia). Diana believes in herself and in others. So do I. Every time we get a cover letter where an author cuts herself off at the knees before I’ve even gotten to the story or poem, I want to write back and tell the author that I believe in her and she should, too.

Sometimes, when it comes from a student, female or not, I get why “this isn’t what you’re looking for” might be in the submission. A teacher has suggested Toasted Cheese as a place to submit and, ready or not, you need to submit by this date. Maybe it’s a way of creating a wall against rejection, another commonality of writers at every level of experience. We’ve written before about writing for publication and accepting criticism and how hard that can be. It’s harder still when criticism of the work is extended to be criticism of the author and nearly insurmountable when an artist expects to be shot down out of the gate.

Worst case scenario: someone outside your head is telling you that you and the things you do are worthless. This can come through in subtle ways too, with phrases like “wasting your time” or “real writer” (another reason I reject the phrase “real book” as a substitute for physical books that aren’t e-books but that’s another editorial). Internalizing those criticisms is common, especially among artists. Know that you’re not alone. It’s easy to say “respect yourself” and “love your work” but difficult for us to put into action. Hopefully at least one writer reading this will back-type over “you’ll reject this” in favor of a sentiment of something at least as mild as “I hope you like this.” Small steps move you forward just as well as leaps do.

In Wonder Woman, Diana experiences the pleasure of eating an ice cream cone, something she didn’t even know existed. She lingers over her first taste and declares it “wonderful.” Although she’s been laser-focused on her personal goals on her mind since entering the world of men, she stops her forward progress to savor the moment and say, “You should be very proud.” The ice cream moment comes from The New 52 comic book series, where Diana tells an ice cream vendor that he should be proud of his achievement. In Justice League: War, she does the same, only putting the vendor at the tip of her sword.

In the film, it’s a big audience laugh and even Steve, her guide to our world and ways, echoes her words. But Gal Gadot doesn’t play her line for laughs (nor does any other incarnation of Wonder Woman in her ice cream vendor exchange). Diana is earnest, supportive, optimistic, and encouraging of others, whether it’s fighting techniques, pub singing, or frozen confections. Not only is strength in her but she enacts it in others like the wind fills a sail (hat tip Marge Piercy).

I’m not sure how we can quell the “I’m not enough” attitude we see in each other, as women, as writers, or both. Maybe we’re drawn to writing to express how we feel about not being enough. But like Diana with the vendor, when I read a submission, I want to say the author: You’re ahead of so many people because you’ve written and you’ve submitted. That’s more than most people ever do. You’re already enough. Your writing might not be ready for us to publish but let us decide. If we pass, it doesn’t mean it can never be enough. Revisions of previously submitted work, particularly after enough time has passed that we know it’s been truly revised, are welcome at TC. Keep writing. You should be proud.

*these lines are paraphrased or amalgamated based on multiple, similar cover letters

**Because Toasted Cheese asks for third-person biographies, we identify writers as male or female based in the pronouns used by the writers. Since third-person bios using “they” (or no pronoun) are rare, these bios didn’t factor into our observations. TC welcomes submissions by authors of all genders and actively seeks work by queer and gender non-conforming authors.


Email: baker[at]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email