As part of our series on submitting in the lit journal world, your friendly neighborhood nonfiction editor, Ashely Adams, is going to talk to you about cover letters! In my experience, this is something that gives newcomers to the literary journal field a lot of anxiety, probably because the only common interaction we get with cover letters is those meaty beasts we send in with job applications. Well, as it turns out, cover letters for literary journals are not quite so demanding (in fact, it’s strongly advised you do not type out a full page, single-space spread about your work ethic, company loyalty, and problem-solving skills). That said, what should a cover letter for lit journal submissions look like?
Below is one of my personal cover letters. I’ve found this format, or something close to it, generally works for most places. That said, make sure to consult the journal’s guidelines, as they may ask for specific information, such as requesting no cover letter, etc. As a caveat, nothing said here guarantees an acceptance, and a lot of places will forgive small mistakes for a strong submission, but starting off on a good foot can help build a positive future relationship with a journal!
Dear Kolleen Carney Hoepfner and Joey Gould,(1)
Thank you for considering the attached poems, “Theia”, “The Rings of Saturn”, “Venera 4”, and “Coronal Mass Ejection,” for publication at Drunk Monkeys. (2),(3)
Here is a short bio:
Ashely Adams is an MFA candidate in nonfiction at the University of South Florida. Her work has appeared in Heavy Feather Review, Fourth River, Permafrost, OCCULUM, Luna Luna Magazine and others. She really likes space. (4)
These pieces are a simultaneous submission. If accepted somewhere else, I will withdraw it immediately. (5)
Thank you once again for your consideration.
Sincerely, Ashely Adams
1. When at all possible, make sure you address an actual person. The best thing is if you can find the editor(s) for the genre you’re submitting to. Sometimes, especially at big journals run out of academic institutions, you may only find an editor-in-chief and/or managing editor. It’s totally fine to address them, although I personally like to make a little note like “So-and-so and the Journal’s Team” to acknowledge the reading staff working through the slush at the big journals. Your submission probably won’t get dumped if it just says “Dear Editors,” but the few minutes it takes to find a name will be much appreciated. The only thing I would not to do (besides putting a wrong name and/or misspellings) is “Sirs or Madams” because it’s exclusionary to nonbinary people and pretty dated overall.
2. This is a poetry cover letter, but it's pretty close to what I use for prose with the genre swiped out.
3. You don’t want to be overly familiar, but before the bio is a good space if you have some sort of personal statement you want to give the editors. For example, I’ve thanked a journal for a nice meeting at AWP or if I really enjoyed a piece they published. If you do this, keep it brief, no more than a sentence or two.
4. The bio should be pretty short and focus on your major publications and relevant professional experience. Now, what do you do if you’re just start out and have few publications, if any at all? In this case, your professional experience might be what you focus on. It’s also okay to say something along the lines of “this would be my first publication”. Again, just keep it short and relevant!
5. Most lit journals take simultaneous submissions these days. Some places will ask you to signal that so they know that if it’s something they want, they should accept it sooner rather than later. Check the journal's simultaneous submission policy to be safe. (For example, journals focusing on speculative fiction tend to not accept them.)