Cover letters are the first impression a writer makes on an editor at a literary magazine. I’m going to tell you how to write one, so you don’t ruin your chances of getting published before the editor has a chance to read your work.
A cover letter to a literary magazine may be the simplest thing you can write, and yet writers often overcomplicate the process and make the wrong impression. I’m going to tell you a secret that will help tremendously when writing your cover letters. The cover letter serves a function, which is to give the editors the information they need at a glance. That’s it.
Cover letters are far different than query letters you write to a literary agent or publisher. There’s no explanation of what the story is about, and there’s hardly anything, if anything, about you in the letter.
Let’s start with what information goes in a cover letter.
- Genre: This lets the magazine know that you’re piece is in a genre that they publish. A horror magazine isn’t going to waste their time reading a romance, so this is a quick way for them to make sure you read their guidelines, are familiar with their publication, and are submitting a piece that they would print.
- Approximate length of piece: This let’s the editor know that the length of the piece falls within their guidelines. Round to the nearest hundred words, or if it’s poetry, you’ll put the number of lines.
- If the piece is being submitted simultaneously with other publications: Only put in a line for this if you plan to submit to other publications simultaneously. Again, pay attention to the magazine’s guidelines. There are several publications that do not allow simultaneous submissions. If you do not plan on submitting to other publications at the same time, omit this line.
- A short list of where your work has been published: If you’ve been published in several publications, only list three (preferably within the same genre as the magazine where you’re currently submitting). If you have not been published, omit this line.
- A brief thank you: Editors go through hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions every month. A thank you is always appreciated.
- Contact information: This makes it easy for an editor to respond to your submission.
Before beginning your cover letter, do your research on the name of the editor(s) of the publication. It is important to address your cover letter to a person, and shows that you took the time to track down who would be reviewing the piece. Keep in mind, there are several magazines that have multiple departments, so select the correct editor.
Here’s an example of a cover letter.
Many magazines are now accepting submissions only online, so if you are sending your submission via email, start the email at “Dear” and the rest of the letter will be the same.
Now that you have the general idea of how to write a cover letter for a literary magazine, let me give you some tips about things NOT to include, along with some additional advice.
- Do not put “To Whom it May Concern:” because no one will be concerned if that is the salutation of your letter.
- When you put Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms. in your salutation, make sure that you have the correct gender. Many editors use their initials. If you absolutely cannot discover this information online, then drop the Mr. or Ms. and just put their full name.
- In the event that you cannot discover the editor, put “Dear Editor:” in place of a name.
- Check your letter for errors. Editors will notice them, and it will create a bad impression.
- Do not list every place your work has ever been published. Select three publications that may be relevant. If you want to make a point that your work has appeared in several publications, put something like “My work has previously appeared in . . . among others.”
- If you do not have any publication credits to list, don’t worry, but don’t point it out either.
A cover letter should be clean and simple. Many magazines separate the cover letter from the story, so your piece will be judged on the quality of the piece and whether it’s a good fit for the magazine. In other words, you don’t want your cover letter to leave an impression.
If you’re drafting your cover letter, you may find these posts useful:
Best of luck with submitting your work!
Tell me your success stories with submitting to literary publications. Are there any lessons you learned about submitting, the hard way? Are there any struggles that you’ve had or are having with preparing a story for submission, or with submitting a story to a literary magazine?