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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.