By now, if you’ve been following my Submission Bonanza! series, you should have picked the pieces you want to send to magazines and compiled a list of magazines that you want to submit to. It’s time now to write a cover letter to send along with your submissions. As Michael Nye, Editor of the Missouri Review says, sending a cover letter with your submission is “like wearing a suit to an interview.” Don’t let your submissions to literary magazines show up naked!
It’s easy to feel stressed about this part of the process of submitting to literary magazines: the cover letter (duh-duh dun….). It’s understandable because this can be the first impression that you are giving to the editors of the magazine. We definitely want to put our best foot forward and present ourselves as professional, competent writers.
But also, keep in mind that you are not being judged on your cover letter. Editors want solid writing. So make a nice, neat little cover letter and spend the majority of your time stressing about whether you should put that extra comma in your new creative nonfiction piece.
So here are some things to think about when writing a cover letter:
1. Follow the guidelines of the literary magazine.
This seems self-explanatory, but a lot of literary magazines ask for different kinds of information in the cover letter. Some of them want word counts or genre. Others want a short bio about you. Some even ask for no cover letter at all. If you are submitting simultaneously, you’ll also need to note that. Make sure you follow their specific guidelines.
2. Address the letter to a person.
This is not a “To Whom It May Concern” letter. It’s pretty easy to find most of the staff at a literary magazine under their masthead. Some magazines even tell you in the submission guidelines who to address it to. Be as specific as possible. If you’re submitting poetry, address it directly to Ms. Sally B. Poetryeditor. If you can’t pinpoint a specific name, you can address it to the editor.
3. Keep it short and simple.
Don’t forget, a lot of editors are reading hundreds or thousands of these. This is not a query letter, so you don’t need to describe your piece to them. You don’t need to tell them how you came up with the idea or list the twenty-seven other literary magazines you’ve been in. For example, the Colorado Review suggests this cover letter:
Enclosed is my [fiction/nonfiction/poetry] submission “Title of Manuscript.” Thank you for considering it for publication in Colorado Review.
[*If submitting via mail] I’ve included an SASE for [response only/the return of my manuscript].
Full Contact Info
4. Keep it professional.
Naturally, you want to make sure that the grammar and punctuation are flawless and that it is in a professional format. But also, you don’t need to be cute or catchy to get the editor’s attention. Let your writing do that. That’s what they are looking for.
5. Add a short bio (Optional).
Some magazines ask for a short bio or you may feel that it’s in your best interest to include one. This should only be a line or two of relevant information. Don’t tell your life story, just one or two tidbits that are interesting or pertinent. Don’t include a whole list of the hundreds of places you’ve been published. Just pick 3-5. Also, if you haven’t been published, don’t be ashamed to include that too. As Nye suggests:
If you’ve never been published before? Say so. “If accepted, this would be my first published story.” All literary magazines love being the one to publish a writer for the first time, so acknowledging this possibility can only help.
6. Add a note about what you read in the magazine or how you know the magazine (Also optional).
If you want to personalize it a bit for the magazine, some editors might like to know that you did actually take the time to read past issues or that you have had past correspondences with them. But again, this step could be optional.
In the end, I really like this bit Nye’s advice really calmed me down:
A professional cover letter is all we ask, and even minus that, if the work is excellent, we don’t really care. We want to publish the best work we read, regardless of whether or not you’re an emerging writer or an established one.
So don’t stress too much about your cover letter. Get it done, and make it professional, so you can get back to your craft.
So, the goal for this week:
Make a template of your cover letter and bio. Have them ready and at hand when you want to submit. I personally made a template that had all the information I could possibly want to send to and editor (word counts, genres, bio, etc) and then cut or edited from that for each literary magazine. Once this work is out of the way, you’ll be nearly set to start submitting!
Need more help?
You can read Michael Nye’s article on The Art of the Literary Magazine Cover Letter.
You could also look at advice about what not to do by Michael Kardos at Writer’s Digest.
Or take a look at this sample cover letter from The Review Review.