The feeling of submitting a piece of work to a literary journal is unique—the excitement of having your work read, the terror of the possibility of a rejection letter, the pure joy of the possibility that your work is accepted. In this rush of feelings and deadlines, it is easy to forget one of the most important things: a cover letter.
A cover letter is the first impression a submitter makes on the reader, or as Michael Nye, Editor of the Missouri Review says, sending a cover letter with your submission is “like wearing a suit to an interview.” This is often the most terrifying piece of submitting: instead of letting the submission do all the work, the author has to explain himself first.
When writing a cover letter, there are a few things you should remember:
- Address it to an actual person. It is easy to put “To whom it may concern” at the top to achieve an impersonal tone, but it is better to be as specific as possible. For the Mochilla Review, this would be “Dear Marianne Kunkel, chief editor.”
- Thank them for taking time to read your submission, while including the name of your work.
- Keep it simple. This is not the time to describe where you got the idea, nor is it the time to list all of the journals, by name, that you have been published in. If you have been published in one or two, be proud and list them. If you have been published in more, list the most important two and add “and others”. Last, if you haven’t been published, don’t worry! There are hundreds of un-published writers that get published every day; list this as one of your qualities as well.
- Keep it professional. It is important for your cover letter to be grammatically correct and look nice. It is not important to be catchy in this letter; let your writing show your talent.
- Personalize it with a line about something you have read in previous issues of the journal, or a piece of previous correspondence you have had with this specific journal.
It takes less time to create a cover letter than it does to write a new submission, and it can allow your piece of work to stand out from the other submissions the editor has read.
For an 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].
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Good luck and keep writing,
Copy-editor of The Mochilla Review