Why don’t they simply judge each story based on its own merit? Why do they want your publication history? Of what relevance is it to the story itself?
I ask this because a suspicion has been growing in my mind for quite some time that many of these magazines, especially the ‘elite’ ones, are not really as open to submissions by new authors as they pretend, and that the ‘open submissions’ thing is mostly a promotional gimmick. Articles such as this appear to support my suspicions.
Let me give a concrete example of the sort of thing that makes me to wonder about this: I once wrote a novella (just below 20,000 words) which was a horror story with elements of science fiction. To be clear, I am not the only one who believed that it was a pretty entertaining and well written story. In addition to beta readers, a certain editor and book publisher that I sent it to said that he and his staff loved it.
Now, here’s the interesting thing: At the same time, I sent the same novella to Asimov magazine, but with a different title. To my surprise, I got a form rejection email a few days later. No explanation whatsoever given.
Note that I have a tendency to write extremely brief cover letters when sending to magazines. I don’t bother to include bio - unless requested - or publication history (even though I have some) because I see them as irrelevant.
The only explanation I can think of is that once the editor of the magazine saw the length of the story, she immediately decided that there was no way she was giving that much magazine space to an unknown author with no publication history, and so she ditched it. I doubt she actually read it.
Because of things like this, it is hard not to suspect that many of these magazines tend to overwhelmingly favor submissions by people with strong literary pedigree, to the detriment of new authors, in spite of their pretenses to the contrary. Perhaps because it helps them cut time, and because such people tend to have a ready-made fan base, which these magazines tend to value. And that is why they demand these cover letters. Otherwise, why do they need them?