Today’s guest post is from Elise Holland, co-founder and editor of 2 Elizabeths, a short fiction and poetry publication.
When submitting your short-form literature to a magazine or journal, your cover letter is often the first piece of writing an editor sees. It serves as an introduction to your thoughtfully crafted art. As such, it is significant, but it shouldn’t be intimidating or even take much time to write.
As editor at 2 Elizabeths, I see a variety of cover letters every day; some are excellent, and others could stand to be improved. There are a few key pieces of information to include, while keeping them short and sweet. In fact, a cover letter should only be a couple of paragraphs long, and no more than roughly 100-150 words.
A little research goes a long way
Seek out the editor’s name, and address the letter to him/her, as opposed to using a generic greeting. Typically, you can find this information either on the magazine or journal’s website, or in the submission guidelines.
Read the submission guidelines thoroughly. Many publications will state in their guidelines the exact details that need to be included in a cover letter. With some variation, a general rule of thumb is to include the following:
- Editor’s name (if you can locate it)
- Word count
- Brief description of your piece
- If you have been published previously, state where
- Whether your piece is a simultaneous submission (definition below)
- Your name
Terms to Know
The term simultaneous submission means that you will be sending the same piece to several literary magazines or journals at the same time. Most publications accept simultaneous submissions, but some do not. If a publication does not accept them, this will be stated in their guidelines.
Should your work be selected for publication by one magazine, it is important to notify other publications where you have submitted that piece. This courtesy will prevent complications, and will keep you in good graces with various editors, should you wish to submit to them again in the future.
The term multiple submission means that you are submitting multiple pieces to the same literary magazine or journal.
Cover Letter That Needs Work
Here is a collection of poems I wrote that I’d like you to consider. I have not yet been published elsewhere. Please let me know what you think.
Bio: John Doe is an Insurance Agent by day and a writer by night, living in Ten Buck Two. He is the author of a personal blog, LivingWith20Cats.com.
What Went Wrong?
John Doe didn’t research the editor’s name. A personal greeting is always better than a simple “Dear Editor.” Additionally, John failed to include the word count, title and a brief description of his work.
There is no need to state that John has not yet been published elsewhere. He should simply leave that piece of information out. (Many publications, 2 Elizabeths included, will still welcome your submissions warmly if you are unpublished.)
John included a statement asking the editor to let him know what he/she thinks about his work. Due to time constraints, it is rare that an editor sends feedback unless work is going to be accepted.
Unless otherwise specified by the magazine or journal to which you are submitting, you do not need to include biographical information in your cover letter. Typically, that information is either requested upfront but in a separate document from the cover letter, or is not requested until a piece has been selected for publishing.
Cover Letter Ready to Be Sent
Please consider this 1,457-word short fiction piece, “Summer.” I recently participated in the 2 Elizabeths Open Mic Night, and am an avid reader of the fiction and poetry that you publish.
“Summer” is a fictitious tale inspired by the impact of a whirlwind, yet meaningful, romance I experienced last year. In this story, I gently explore the life lessons associated with young love, with a touch of humor.
This is a simultaneous submission, and I will notify you if the piece is accepted elsewhere.
Thank you for your consideration.
What Went Right?
In this letter, John includes all pertinent information, while keeping his letter clear and concise. In his second sentence, John also briefly states how he is familiar with the magazine. While doing this isn’t required, if done tastefully, it can be a nice touch! Another example might be: “I read and enjoyed your spring issue, and believe that my work is a good fit for your magazine.”
I hope these sample letters help you as you send your short works to magazines and journals for consideration. While you’re at it, I hope you will check out 2 Elizabeths! We would love to read your work.
Posted in Getting Published.
Elise Holland is co-founder and editor of 2 Elizabeths, a short fiction and poetry publication. Her work has appeared in various publications, most recently in Story a Day. Through 2 Elizabeths, Elise strives to create value and visibility for writers, through writing contests, events, and more!
The dreaded cover letter. How important is it? Do editors even read them? What makes them effective?
The first thing I’ll tell you is relax. Cover letters shouldn’t stress you out, because they’re relatively simple to write. An effective cover letter is mostly professional, a little personal, and concise.
It’s important to note that I’m writing this solely from my perspective as an editor of a short fiction literary magazine. Different editors and types of organizations (agencies, for example) may have different requirements or expectations. So here’s my advice that you can take or leave on cover letters:
Do your research.
Make sure you’re following their guidelines. Maybe they include specific cover letter guidelines—agencies especially tend to have very specific guidelines.
You should also know what kind of fiction/poetry/essays the publication produces. This means you’ve actually read the stories or poems to see if it’s a match for the kind of style and content you have. Not researching or reading their magazine isn’t just a waste of the editor’s time; it’s a waste of your time. If you’re blindly sending out submissions to magazines, the chances of getting published will be far slimmer.
Lastly, you should address the correct editor by name. It’s okay to use “Dear Fiction Editor” if you can’t find the staff listing, but most sites/magazines do have this. Whether you address by name is not make-or-break, it is the story that matters, but it does show that you’re a writer who cares and did your research.
Be concise and professional.
I once received a cover letter that was two pages, front and back. Most of it was a listing of every single publication, award, recognition, and praise they’d ever received. I couldn’t help but wonder, if s/he was so prolific, why were they submitting to a small press magazine?
Your cover letter should be simple and to the point. Refrain from excessive listing of credentials and publications, but you should list those that are significant and well-known. Don’t delve into your life story or why you decided to become a writer. We’re all very happy for you, but it’s the fictional story we want to read more.
Being professional means you recognize the amount of work that goes into the publication you’re submitting to and that their time is valuable. Thank them for accepting unsolicited manuscripts or reading your story. Let them know a SASE is included and the best way to reach you should they want to contact you.
Add a personal touch.
I know, I said don’t tell your life story. But there’s nothing wrong with a personal touch that’ll make you stand out. Obsessed with UFOs or breakdancing? All right, cool, let us know in a brief line.
Another way to add a great personal touch is to talk about why you admire the publication, and be specific. I often get letters that say “I love the fiction you publish.” Well that’s great, but why? You could be copying and pasting that on a number of cover letters. Make it unique and honest.
Don’t give a story synopsis.
This is where the difference between agencies and publications becomes clear. Agencies are looking for a synopsis. Most literary publication editors are not. I don’t want a “preview” or “teaser” or anything else. I just want the story. Story synopses can create an impression or expectation of the story before we’ve even read the first word. Good short stories are truly difficult to describe in a single sentence, because they should be about so much that you can’t contain it in a single sentence—that’s why you wrote the whole story, right?
Remember rules have exceptions.
There’s always exceptions to the rules, including these. I recently received a cover “letter” that was actually a hand-drawn and illustrated greeting card. Inside the author had a handwritten note about how much he liked the stories in Carve and that it had inspired him to write. He felt it was very important that he send his work to us to give him some kind of validation.
We didn’t accept the story, but I was very moved by his honesty and the time that he must’ve spent illustrating the card. I sent him a hand-written note back, thanking him and encouraging him to continue writing. I also included some comments on what did and didn’t work in the story.
I realize not every organization or publication may take the time to respond as such. But that’s a risk you take when you send off your submission to the publications you wish to see your work in.
Are cover letters even read?
I don’t know the answer for every publication, but for us, yes. I usually read them first, while Kristin will slip it behind the story and just dive right in. Maybe some readers at other magazines just scan for recognizable names or publications—we just don’t know how it works everywhere.
But what I do know is that when you keep your cover letter brief and to the point, it conveys a sense of professionalism the readers and editors will likely admire. And that can only mean good things. Maybe you’ll get just another form rejection letter back, or maybe not. Ultimately, it can’t hurt to take the time to do a proper and professional cover letter. The most it’ll cost you is a little time, and the return on that investment may end up being great.
Give us an example!
Here’s a great example from someone we just published in our summer 2012 issue: Adrienne Celt. (Read “The Eternal Youth of Everyone Else.”)
To the fiction readers of Carve Magazine,
I really admire Carve for not only choosing gorgeous fiction, but also presenting it so gorgeously. I’m not sure what the future holds for literary journals - online? e-readers? boutique print? - but you guys are doing great work on all fronts. I hope you enjoy the attached story - “The Eternal Youth of Everyone Else.”
Currently, I’m an MFA candidate at Arizona State University, where I’m also the Editor of International Prose for Hayden’s Ferry Review. I was recently a finalist in the Esquire/Aspen Writers’ Foundation Short Short Fiction contest, and my novel-in-progress was shortlisted in the 2011 William Wisdom Competition.
Thanks very much for your time and consideration!
Note that instead of addressing the editor, she recognized we have a large staff of readers and addressed them all. Nice move. The rest is concise, professional, and with a personal touch that gave us an ego boost. That’s how you write a cover letter!