Cover Letters for Literary Magazines

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. A brief thank you: Editors go through hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions every month. A thank you is always appreciated.
  6.  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:

Manuscript Formatting

Duotrope

The (Submission) Grinder

 

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?

11 Comments


  1. // Reply

    Following the instructions very carefully for Clarkesworld Magazine’s online submission process, my cover letter resulted in one substantive sentence, the salutations, and my contact info. That was all. If I’d added anything else, it would have violated their instructions. This was actually a relief. Ten or so years ago when I was submitting by paper, the process was much more painful. I LOVE ONLINE SUBMISSIONS.

    Another good post.


    1. // Reply

      Thank you, Kecia. The importance of following a literary magazine’s guidelines can’t be stressed enough.
      I love that almost all magazines have switched to online submissions. Some magazines no longer even require a cover letter, but most still allow one to be submitted whether it’s in an email or through providing a space to add it in their online submission form.
      I can’t believe how many literary magazines have switched over to either include an online version, or many have even switched to exclusively putting out an online version within the past five years.
      Thank you for reading and commenting. I enjoy our conversations. 🙂


    2. // Reply

      I forgot to mention that Clarkesworld Magazine is one of the most challenging magazines to get published in. They’re currently listed as No. 6 of the Most Challenging magazines on Duotrope, and I’ve seen them in the top two before. They’re acceptance rate is 0.19 percent. You write amazing sci-fi pieces though, so I hope yours gets accepted. And if you do, after I scrape my jaw off the ground, I’ll probably be in awe of your forever. And if not, just know that you’re an incredibly talented writer.
      That was the first place I submitted “Alger’s Dimension,” but I should have known it wasn’t a good fit. My story is sci-fi/horror, but really soft on the sci-fi end.


      1. // Reply

        I haven’t submitted yet, but researched them because of their reputation. I wanted to keep that quality of work as my goal as I write.


        1. // Reply

          That’s one of the best approaches, Kecia. By reading a magazine you get a sense for more than the genre they publish, you also get the feel of the magazine and what type of stories they are most likely to accept.
          At some point, I would like to write a piece with a certain magazine in mind, as opposed to the way I’ve done it in the past where I write a story and then try to find a magazine that would make a good fit for the story.


  2. // Reply

    This is great, thanks for writing this. I’ve been sending out mag subscriptions as a sort of mini-query (if that’s possible). Most of them end up looking something like you have prescribed, but I didn’t really have a formula for it yet. Now I do. thanks so much. Think I’m going to link this page on my “Resources” list, so don’t let your website go anywhere. 🙂


    1. // Reply

      Haha Thank you so much. I’m am thrilled that you found this useful. And no worries, I plan on having this website around for a long time. 🙂


  3. // Reply

    Some very good advice. I learned some of this during my Freelance Writing class with Penn Foster, so it was a nice rehash.


    1. // Reply

      Thank you. It’s a great thing to have as a template, and takes the thinking out of that part of the submission process. I remember the first time I wrote a cover letter for a magazine, it was so nerve-wracking. I was afraid I would mess it up somehow.
      Now I have a cover letter template that I start with each time. It’s a good way to make sure you don’t inadvertently leave information in the letter that is specific to another publication or about another story.


    1. // Reply

      Thank you for stopping by and reading, Russell. And you’re right, less is often more.

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