Thursday, September 22, 2011

Submissions: Cover Letters

Many of my students wonder how to write the cover letter to send along with a submission to a literary magazine, so I thought I'd devote a post to that aspect of submissions even though it is not that important. And that would be the main thing to keep in mind: Unlike a cover letter you send along with a resume when applying for a job, you're not selling yourself, or your work, with the cover letter you send with your writing. The beauty of this process is that your writing sells your writing. You could even do entirely without a cover letter, although that might be discourteous.
So a cover letter for a submission is really a matter of courtesy. Keep it simple, keep it short. I once witnessed an editor hold up his favorite cover letter; it had one sentence on it:
"Dear Editor,

I herewith submit my [short story/essay] XYZ" for your consideration.

Sincerely, Joe Shmoe"

If you don't want to go with that short short version, feel free to use my cover letter template. Here are a few general pointers: 
  1. Address the editor by name if you can find out from the masthead who it is. If you're sending nonfiction, try to find out who the nonfiction editor is. I once heard an editor say that it's nice to know that you know who they are and that you've done that extra bit of work to find out and are not just mass mailing them. But if the editor's name isn't clear from the masthead, don't waste time on this. Just say "Dear Nonfiction Editor."
  2. Don't explain what your piece is about. It should speak for itself. This is not a query letter trying to sell a book, or pitching a magazine article.
  3. Give a few details about yourself. This is really the only purpose of this cover letter. The editors might like to know who you are as writer. If you have publishing credits, mention a few, your most recent, preferably. Don't give a whole list of every place you've been published. That comes across as pompous.
  4. Don't worry if you don't have publishing credits. Just say how long you've been writing, and what you've been writing, or what topics you're particularly interested in. Editors love discovering new talent, that's one of the highlights of running a literary magazine.
Feel free to use my template for cover letters. And do let me know if you have any other questions regarding cover letters!


  1. Your template was great! Thanks so much for this advice and demonstration of a cover letter.

    Do you have a post on query letters?

  2. Anjuli - glad you found this helpful. Unfortunately I don't have a post on query letters, I don't do them often enough (yet) to have any expertise.

  3. I've been loving your posts, Annette - you've become such a great resource to me, so generous with your knowledge and experience. Many thanks!

  4. nerkasalmon - I'm glad my posts have been helpful to you, and hope they will continue to be. Thanks for letting me know and for letting me find your own stunning blog.