#WriteTip: How to Write a Submissions Cover Letter

Jeri Walker
Need help writing that book blurb, bio, or newsletter? Give your book the attention it deserves. Book your copy edit, manuscript critique, or proofread today. Make every word count.
Jeri Walker

@JeriWB

Word Bank Writing & Editing. Affordable Rates. Incomparable Quality. Make Every Word Count. FREE initial consultation or sample: critique, proofread, copyedit.
#LitChat: Eccentric Writing Habits of Famous Writers (Infographic) https://t.co/s752NNJ5a3 - 3 hours ago
Jeri Walker
Jeri Walker
Jeri Walker
Exclusive promotional discounts are offered via Word Bank's email list. Subscribe via the sidebar widget or top bar to receive twice monthly posts and the quarterly newsletter to take advantage of these offers.

As if submitting short stories, creative nonfiction, and magazine articles to publications that practice editorial discretion wasn’t daunting enough, the task of how to write a submissions cover letter inevitably rears its ugly head. Yes, ugly. Presenting ourselves in a concise manner that draws attention to our accomplishments is akin to pulling teeth to many. So think of this post as the Novocaine that will take the edge off this often daunting process. 

 

Once you’ve made up your mind to submit your work to publications with editorial discretion, it’s necessary to write a brief cover letter. Keep in mind this type of letter requires a different approach than a query letter you would write when submitting a book to a literary agent or publisher, though each bears similarities. It’s also likely the body text of your submissions cover letter will need to be pasted into a content management website like Submittable. In any case, it’s a good idea to have a fully formatted letter (preferably in PDF form) that can be attached to e-mails or printed and sent via snail mail.

 

When it comes to how to write a submissions cover letter, the process is pretty straightforward. Such letters should contain basic elements an editorial staff would expect to see accompany such submissions. A strong letter serves as a calling card to set the stage, but a shoddily written or rambling letter is a definite turn off. For example, when I read submissions for The Idaho Review at a pace around 25 stories a week, some cover letters would go on at length about the person’s life story or include a wildly quirky personal anecdote. Even worse, is including pictures of some sort. The flip sides were one-liner intros written in haste without forethought upon submitting.

 

The crux of the importance if how to write a submissions cover letter is that every editor has differing views on their merit. I never read an author’s cover letter first. I saved it for last, though I still found reading covers letters after the fact helpful. What mattered most to me was the quality of the story, and I wanted to encounter the story without any knowledge of the writer’s background. Some journals do admittedly give preference to writers with more publishing cred or to writers who “know someone who knows someone.” Such is life.

 

Picture of ink pot and quill

 

How to Write a Submissions Cover Letter

A submissions cover letter should be short and sweet. Getting to the point can be difficult when an author is so much more than just their writing background. Yet, keep in mind that writing and your potential publication is indeed the name of the game. A cover letter serves the purpose of briefly introducing yourself and your work to the literary journal or magazine. The tone should be professional and modest.

The Salutation

Take the time to find out the full name of the journal’s editor, and use that name in the address and opening line. Nothing screams form letter more than starting off with “Dear Editor.” Even worse, is addressing an editor as a Mr. when they just might be a Ms. Do your homework. If you absolutely can’t find the editor’s name after concentrated effort, at least go with “Dear Fiction Editor” or “Dear Nonfiction Editor.” If the letter is sent via snail mail, go with block business letter format.

Speer Morgan, Fiction Editor
The Missouri Review
357 McReynolds Hall
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211

 

Dear Dr. Morgan:

 

Journal Specifics

It’s generally a good idea to mention something specific about the publication in question. Perhaps you enjoyed a recent piece that was published, or you find them to be a good fit for your submission for whatever reason. If you find you have nothing specific to say, at least state that title and category of the piece you are submitting. You can read more about The Missouri Review here.

I have always admired The Missouri Review’s track record for publishing the work of emerging authors. Please consider my short story “Beauty Shop Baby Talk” for publication

 

Brief Bio

This bio should focus on your background as a writer, not on other work experiences or your life history. While it’s always best to establish past publication credit, don’t be afraid of stating you have not been traditionally published before. Everybody has to start somewhere! While I’ve a strong background in all things literary, I’ve admittedly been dragging my feet when it comes to submitting pieces for publication. It’s time to change that.

I currently work as a freelance editor, both under contract and with independent authors. While I’ve self-published a few short pieces, I have not been published traditionally before. The changing landscape of publishing has rekindled my neglected writing aspirations. I hold an MA in English Education and a BA in English with an emphasis in writing. I’ve taught college composition and high school English, including designing and implementing a creative writing curriculum.

 

Submission Status

While many journal accept simultaneous submissions, many do not. Be sure to check before you send your piece in. Also, if submitting via snail mail, be sure to include an SASE for notification purposes. Believe it or not, some publications still operate that way.

My story is a simultaneous submission. I will contact you immediately if it is accepted elsewhere. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind Regards,

Jeri Walker

 

That’s really all there is to it when it comes to how to write a submissions cover letter. While that brief little letter can be pesky to write, it’s well worth the effort.

 

 

Do you have any tips to add to how to write a submissions cover letter? If you’ve read cover letters for literary journal or even job applications, what do you look for in a good letter?

 

 

Photo Credit: Ink Pot by asafesh.

 

Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2016.

Author: Jeri Walker

Need help writing that book blurb, bio, or newsletter? Give your book the attention it deserves. Book your copy edit, manuscript critique, or proofread today. Make every word count.

Share This Post On

51 Comments

  1. Good tips for the cover letter. I’m getting a little more comfortable with writing cover letters but still find them a little painful. Do you think it’s important to include story word counts in the cover letter?

    Post a Reply
    • Donna, I don’t think it adds much to a cover letter to add the word count, but it can’t hurt much either. Writers who do so are generally the ones who actually follow and read the guidelines anyway. Aside from that, it’s readily apparent in programs like Submittable or upon opening a Word document if the piece falls into recommended guidelines.

      Post a Reply
    • Jacquie, indeed. My blog posts have proven a popular drug of choice among many writers. Just joking…

      Post a Reply
  2. This is brilliant Jeri. I really had no clue as to what I should include in publication sub letter. I think the format of submit table makes it even more unclear as to whether to include – even the editors name was not obvious to me.- duh!!
    Next time I send one in I’ll be checking back on this post I’ve now bookmarked.
    Thanks so much:-)

    Post a Reply
    • Kathy, one downside of electronic submission of cover letters is indeed how it weakens the clarity of what parts and how much of a cover letter to include. While I still saw many regular length cover letters when I fielded submissions, there was definitely a greater tendency for authors to write only one or two sentences (if even that much) with their submissions.

      Post a Reply
  3. Thank you for this excellent advice Jeri. So professional and concise! I have always been very uncomfortable with cover letters though I have taught letter writing to high school students for almost 25 years. Would you believe that! Well, when it comes to our own work, we tend to get over cautious and confused…an unnecessary pain. This post would be so helpful for all aspiring writers. Love you for being so helpful.

    Post a Reply
    • Balroop, glad I can be of assistance. I know that feeling all too well of how we tend to get overly cautious and confused of our own work and create all kinds of hurdles for ourselves. Hence, one of my primary drives in offering these posts. While it’s great they help others, I am also trying to give myself a kick in the pants to do more submitting and writing in general.

      Post a Reply
  4. Awesome post, I like the way you simply deal with simultaneous submissions. Sometimes the obvious isn’t that obvious. 🙂

    Post a Reply
    • Debra, submitting is such a waiting game so it’s always a plus when simultaneous submissions are allowed.

      Post a Reply
  5. As usual, good advice. I think for most of us we start out thinking how difficult it is to write a cover letter, but, as you say here, they really are quite simple. Thanks goodness I didn’t submit much, but I cringe at some of the things I put in these, often lengthy letters, ten years ago, thinking I was demonstrating my passion for writing in the absence of any experience and being smart and funny, a good substitute. How could they possibly resist?

    Post a Reply
  6. Thank you Jeri for an insight into writing a letter of submission. I did not give this a thought until now. As you have said, it is important that one present themselves in the correct way.

    Post a Reply
    • Phoenicia, I think that is the case a good deal of the time when it comes to cover letters. At least now you have a good example to follow if you ever decide to submit one somewhere.

      Post a Reply
  7. Your advice makes sense Jeri. I believe the challenge of the cover letter applies to all areas where they are required, job applications come to mind. I used to marvel at how creative some people could get in an effort to mask their lack of experience. 🙂 Thanks for the tips and examples.

    Post a Reply
    • Marty, I’ve sat on a few hiring committees in the education field, and could tell such stories about the BS that goes into cover letters 😉 It’s usually quite obvious, so I’m not sure why people go to such great lengths to fluff things up.

      Post a Reply
  8. Super post, Jeri. I think that above all, new writers need to learn to be brief and to the point, as so many times, I think they feel they have to justify everything they have written in their creative piece within their cover letter. I have happily shared your post.

    Post a Reply
    • Doreen, thanks for sharing my post. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head by stating that draw of new writers to justify everything.

      Post a Reply
  9. So glad you included the tip re a SASE! In my writers’ group, we often discuss pitch letters and as you can imagine, everyone has an opinion. These days when almost everything is done by email, it’s actually a great idea to submit by snail mail – you’ll stand out! That’s one thing almost everyone agrees on. Almost.

    Post a Reply
    • Krystyna, I do agree that snail mail can help a writer stand out, but in this day and age, email really does make the most sense and it saves on all those stamps when sending an SASE!

      Post a Reply
  10. Great advice on how to write a submissions cover letter in the United States, Jeri

    Post a Reply
    • Catrina, how would a submissions letter of a European literary journal differ? I recently worked with a client from Taiwan on a resume and cover letter, and she pointed out it’s common to send a one-page autobiography when she’s applied to jobs in her country.

      Post a Reply
  11. You’re right again–I’d rather go to the dentist than write these letters. Which is a reason I haven’t yet written these letters!
    Thanks for giving such a good example of how to write the submissions letter so it gets read!

    Post a Reply
    • Rose Mary, I do hope you write a letter soon to have one on hand. The content really is quite simple. However, when it comes to agent query letters and synopsis writing, those are the ones that make me quake in my boots.

      Post a Reply
  12. Wow, Jeri. This is great! I always wondered how you write a submission cover letter. I heard horror stories about what editors received so I never wanted to try. This really makes the process less stressful. Thank you.

    Post a Reply
    • Sabrina, it does make one wonder what goes through a writer’s mind who submits a cover letter that’s five pages long (I kid you not!), but the majority of letters generally fit basic criteria.

      Post a Reply
  13. Saved for future reference. Great information, and I like how you break it up with examples. Thank you!

    Post a Reply
  14. Thanks for breaking down how to write a submission letter. It is easy as a creative type to overlook the sales and business aspect of getting published. Which is why I imagine editors often get rambling or too brief cover letters. I will refer my writer friends back to this article.

    Post a Reply
    • Erica, good point about the reason behind rambling letters and thanks for mentioned you’ll refer your friends back to this.

      Post a Reply
  15. Sounds good to me. I would think the key points are to be concise and also to demonstrate a knowledge of the publication that you are submitting to. I would think a nondescript letter that has probably been blasted out to multiple publications would be a quick turnoff.

    Post a Reply
    • Ken, form letters are indeed quite the turnoff. If an author can’t take the time to say something original, it doesn’t show much investment on their behalf.

      Post a Reply
  16. As so many submissions are made electronically, it’s critical to have a “grabber” in your subject line. You’ve got to get the editor into your email. Then you’ve got to deliver on your grabber in your first paragraph. With the number of submissions publications received, your submission letter as to really sing.

    Post a Reply
  17. This is always an informative post.
    I have submitted and re-submitted my queries to publishers and agents, it seems I am always learning something new each time I do it.
    Thanks for this great information.

    Post a Reply
    • William, thankfully submission letters for journals and magazines are bit less stressful than the letters we need to submit to agents and publishers. I don’t think there’s anyone who enjoys this part of the process.

      Post a Reply
  18. Great post, dear Jeri… It is very interesting to learn about the subtle mechanisms behind publication. it seems to be Intricate criteria behind- above, and beyond-… which surely might tend to converge sooner or later in order to establish a sort of parameter. The latter, I assume, is a result of acts of certain recurring criteria of admission, until a certain canon is constructed, so to speak… But as you say not all journals give preference to the same characteristics… which is an advantage to a certain extent, as it entails open doors which could remain closed otherwise…
    All the best to you!, Aquileana 😀

    Post a Reply
    • Aqui, great point about how not all journals give preference to the same characteristics. A large part of the submissions process is indeed finding the publication that’s a good fit.

      Post a Reply
  19. I’ve often wondered How to deal with the Mr./Mrs. question. Thanks for this great info from someone who’s been on the other side of the process. And I got a kick out of your point about the SASE. Sometimes it’s the little things!

    Post a Reply
    • Meredith, yes when in doubt as to whether the editor is a Mr. or a Ms., using their first and last name is always a safe bet. I can’t tell you how much mail I get that’s addressed to Mr. Walker even though I spell my name Jeri and not Jerry.

      Post a Reply
  20. Thank you for sharing the kind advice. I liked the simplicity. I have saved the article for future use when I would be sending out letters! Fingers crossed

    Post a Reply
  21. I’ve been wondering how much attention is given to submission cover letters. I mean, they’re going to read your piece anyway, right?

    Your tips are helpful, and harumph, I will try to add more personalization to my letters.

    And you’re right, synopses are still THE WORST.

    Post a Reply
    • Laura, yes pieces do get read regardless. Maybe at times the entire piece isn’t read if the opening doesn’t merit a full read. I’m sure there might be submissions editors out there who would gush more about how they love cover letters, but they are likely far and few between. I just always preferred to read the cover letter last. It’s like a handshake, and a good one performs it function without much fuss.

      Post a Reply
  22. Hi Jeri, thanks for the great advice and guidelines for a submission cover letter. It is nice to get the insider tips from someone on the other end who is actually reading these letters, so we know what catches your attention or gets tossed out.

    Post a Reply
    • Susan, it’s always best to play it safe with such letters and be as professional as possible.

      Post a Reply
  23. Doh! I soooo should’ve read this before Tuesday. I didn’t include a bio. And I addressed the publisher, not the editors by name. Well, I guess I’ll know better for next time.

    Post a Reply
    • Loni, yes thankfully there is always a next time. It’s great that you’re sending pieces in for consideration. Good luck!

      Post a Reply
  24. Ugly! Ugly! Ugly!

    Elizabeth Gilbert said nobody would even look at her work w/ out an agent…

    so the cover letter better be DAMN Kick Ass amazing.

    Great tips, Jeri. You must write a book about all of your knowledge! xxx

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *