Cover Letters to Literary Journals: What They Need to Include
- Salutation to specific editor
Address your cover letter to the editor of whatever genre your piece is in (i.e., poetry editor, fiction editor, nonfiction editor) If there is no editor for your genre, address it to the editor-in-chief. Most journals will list their staff in the masthead, about us, or contact us sections of their website, though it never hurts to call and ask who you should address your submission to.
Ex.: Dear NAME OF NONFICTION EDITOR,
- A brief greeting and explanation
Here, you want to include the title of your piece and what genre it’s in.
Ex.: I’ve enclosed my nonfiction essay “Title Of Essay” for submission to Title Of Journal.
- Proof that you’ve at least looked at their magazine before (optional, highly recommended)
Yes, you should at least peruse a journal before you submit to it. It’s only polite. Anyway, you’ll get a better sense of which journals your piece will fit in with. If you’ve submitted to this journal in the past and received a personalized note/request for more work (lucky you), this is a great place to thank them.
Ex.: I really enjoyed the essay “Dancing in a Thunderstorm” in your spring issue. I feel like my piece has a similar sense of tension.
Ex.: Thank you for your encouraging note about my piece “Title Of Piece.” As you requested, I’m submitting more work to you.
- list of your previously published works/ short bio
Giving your bio now will save the magazine (and you) some time later. Some magazines will even ask for it up front in their submission guidelines. If I give my bio, I omit the traditional list of credits, because why force the editors to read the same info twice?
Ex.: If you need it, my bio reads: “Jon Radcliffe is a construction worker in Cooltown, West Virginia. His writing has previously appeared in the pages of CoolLit Mag and Big Honkin Journal. Follow him on Facebook and visit his website, JRadcliffe.com.”
Don’t be afraid to say that this would be your first publication if it is – magazines love discovering new talent.
- Notice that this is a simultaneous submission (if it is)
First, make sure to check that your magazine accepts simultaneous submissions. Most do (I don’t even waste my time submitting to mags that don’t).
Ex.: This is a simultaneous submission. I will notify you immediately if this work is accepted elsewhere.
- Thank-you and sign-off
Reading submissions is a thankless job, usually on a volunteer basis. Be sure to thank them for their time.
Ex.: Thank you for your time and consideration.
Note: These are just general guidelines. Be sure to tailor this to your individual needs and experiences. ALWAYS read the submission guidelines for EVERY magazine.
Full Cover Letter Example
Dear Jason Biddleman,
I’ve enclosed my nonfiction essay, “The Way of The Mad Dog” for submission to AwesomeSauce Lit Mag. I really enjoyed the piece “The Big Fat Cat Found a Hat” in your winter issue. I think you’ll find my essay to have a similar reverent feel.
If you need it, my bio reads: “Jon Radcliffe’s work has appeared in CoolLit Mag and Really Awesome Journal. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter, and visit his website at www.JRadcliffewrites.com.”
This is a simultaneous submission. I will notify you immediately if this piece is accepted elsewhere.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
You also might go for a more minimalist approach, as this author claims to have success with in this example.
What Your Cover Letter Should Not Include
- A summary of the piece/explanation of what happensAlso, don’t try to explain the events of your work. Your piece should be able to speak for itself. If it can’t, well, you need to revise until it does.
- Literary Agents often ask for a plot synopsis before agreeing to read a manuscript for a novel. Submitting to journals is different – you don’t have to worry about enticing them to read your work. As long as the journal accepts unsolicited submissions, they will read it. Don’t tell them what happens before they do.
- Requests for feedback, comments, or opinions
- Editors and readers are busy people. They don’t have time to critique every piece that comes their way. If you need feedback, find or form a critique group in your community or online.
- ANYTHING that makes the letter longer than it needs to be. Keep it short.
The Truth about Cover Letters to Literary Journals
The truth is that no matter how great your cover letter is, it won’t affect the chances of your piece getting published. Most journals (especially if you’re submitting online) won’t even read your cover letter before reading your piece.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to write a cover letter. Once the journal has decided to publish your piece, they look at your cover letter to find out more about you. And you want what they find to be precise, polite, and eloquent.