A commenter just mentioned they were looking for advice on writing a cover letter for a Viable Paradise application. So I thought, why the heck not: here's the cover letter that went along with my successful application.
Above all, I believe applications are primarily chosen based on the quality of the writing sample you submit. So I wouldn't fret overly much about the cover letter. I wouldn't be surprised or offended to discover my cover letter had been tossed aside or skimmed at best, depending on the size of the workshop's slush pile.
The key notes to hit in my opinion are: be polite, briefly describe your writing sample, the type of writing you do, any past workshop experience, and why you are interested in VP (or whatever workshop you are applying for) in particular. If there are any other instructions on required information to include on the workshop's website, follow the instructions.
The first bits are me being polite. Note that the title of my WIP is not "Title", but I'm still feeling a little shy about it, so I took it out of this post, along with certain resume details. :-)
Please find enclosed my submission for Viable Paradise 2008.
Below is the description of the work. I chose not to do a hook-summary as I would for an agent or editor query. Mine was a novel excerpt, but others submitted short stories.
The submission consists of two chapters from my fantasy novel, Title. I am now working on its second draft, and probably the third by the time the week of Viable Paradise arrives. Title is my second novel. My first was a young adult fantasy, currently making the rounds of agents and editors.
This next paragraph's all about my prior workshop experience and why to please-oh-please let me in to VP.
I am interested in attending Viable Paradise because I value the in-person feedback and focused, immersed experience that it promises to provide. Also, my novel is at just the right stage to benefit from outside feedback. My workshop experience consists of an online mentorship at the University of British Columbia's Booming Ground Creative Writing Program, and half-day master classes at the Surrey International Writers' Conference. I am a member of Marsha Skrypuch's KidCrit writing group on the CompuServe Books & Writers community. I have been workshopping chapters of Title with KidCrit because I found their feedback on my first novel very valuable, and it has been for this one as well. But as the group's focus is not SF/F, and Title seems to be skewing towards the older end of YA or even adult fiction, I feel the instructors at Viable Paradise will give me feedback from different perspectives that may be just as valuable to my education as a writer.
Very brief paragraph about me.
When I'm not writing I work three days a week as a software engineer for Local Large Game Studio, a video game maker. In the past, I've worked for Renowned Animation Studio, where the most important thing I learned was that the story means everything. I live in Vancouver, BC, Canada, on my sailboat.
Me being polite again.
Thank you very much for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
I suppose it's safe to admit now that I had not actually read any of the instructors' work prior to submitting my application (to my knowledge - I don't know which authors I'd read prior might have been edited by the editors on the list). I was worried about this, but for me, the workshop was all about getting feedback and criticism on my WIP, and learning something, not about rubbing shoulders with big-name authors (although I did get to do the shoulder-rubbing, and it was really fun! Ahem. Shoulder-rubbing in the metaphorical sense, I mean. Not that the other kind isn't fun either...). After getting accepted, I promptly went out and tried to buy at least one work by each of the instructors, although here in Canada that wasn't possible in all cases. This was also so I could be polite at the workshop. Us Canadians. You know. Polite. :-)