Cover letter dos and don'ts for litmag submitters
Last updated 6/24/2023
Many literary magazines ask for a cover letter with your submission, whether on Submittable or in an email body.
Thankfully, unlike the kind you write for a job app, these cover letters are much simpler. In fact, you'll be able to draw up a template in fifteen minutes or less.
In this article, we cover the dos and do nots of submission cover letters.
The greeting or salutation of a letter is the very first line where you address the recipient. You're likely used to a spectrum of greetings in everyday emails for school or work.
When it comes to cover letters, remember that this isn't a back-and-forth between you and a friend. Choosing an appropriate greeting shows an understanding that this is a professional exchange.
• Begin with a formal greeting like "Dear."
Dear Mr. Jones,
• Use informal greetings like "Hey," "Hi," "Good morning/afternoon"
But who to address after the "Dear"? There are a few options to consider.
Most publications have a webpage where they list their editorial staff. Look for pages titled "Masthead," "Staff," "Editors," or sometimes an "About Us" section.
Often you can find the name of the editor for the genre you're submitting to. So, for fiction, you'd be looking for the "Fiction Editor."
• Address a genre editor. Be sure to use their appropriate title (Ms./Mr./Mx./Dr.). Don't assume gender based on a name! Usually reading the staff bio indicates the editor's pronouns.
• Take care to spell surnames correctly. You can copy and paste from the staff bio to be sure. These details communicate professionalism.
Dear Ms. Washington,
• If you don't find someone you're comfortable addressing from a website, don't worry. In this case, know that it's okay to address the collective editors of a publication.
Dear Paris Review Editors,
• Address a generic recipient. Editors and readers are taking the time to review your work. So take the time to address them specifically! It's only polite.
Dear Editorial Staff,
To Whom it May Concern,
• As with any professional exchange, refrain from using first names.
The letter body will be the longest part of your letter. Let's go over the must-haves first.
• Let the editors know your submission title and category. This may seem like redundant information, but it can help with organization. This is especially true of email submissions.
I am submitting my short fiction, "My Story Title," for your consideration.
• Most journals don't accept reprints. But if they do, certainly mention if you are sending a previously published piece.
Please consider my short fiction "My Story Title," for reprint. It previously appeared in Somewhere Else Review in Spring 2019.
• In most cases you're likely submitting unpublished work. It's still nice to mention publication status so there's no confusion.
I am submitting my unpublished short fiction
• Are you submitting somewhere that accepts simultaneous submissions? Or do they want exclusive consideration? Either way, affirm that you know the requirements are and are operating in good faith.
This is a simultaneous submission and I will immediately withdraw should this piece be accepted elsewhere.
I am not submitting this piece simultaneously and will await your response.
• Always thank the editors a their time and consideration!
• If you have a meaningful connection with someone on the staff or the journal itself, say so! Be brief and give context.
I connected with you at AWP last year where we spoke about...
I've read every issue of This Magazine since I subscribed two years ago.
• If you are an under-represented or marginalized voice, feel free to identify yourself. The cover letter is the best place to identify yourself. Also mention if your submission falls into an "#OwnVoices" category.
This is an #OwnVoices submission from a Chinese-American perspective.
• The cover letter is not a summary of your submission. Your submission should speak for itself. Do not summarize the plot or themes of your story.
My story is about a young boy who experiences poverty for the first time...
• The cover letter is not a place to be self-congratulatory. You are submitting work for the editors' consideration. Let them determine if the story is a good fit, or if you accomplished XY or Z.
You'll like my story because it matches your magazine's aesthetic and demonstrates complex character development.
• You do not have to make up a reason why you're submitting to a particular journal. Don't say you're a reader or a longtime fan if you're not. It's insincere and unnecessary.
A writer's bio is the "About the Author" blurb you often see under a published piece. Most journals will ask for your writer's bio in the cover letter. Even if they don't, this is an appropriate place for those personal details.
This is potentially the only "creative" part of a cover letter. You have the option to curate whatever details you like. Here are some things commonly included in a writer's bio:
1. Where you live
2. Where you went to college or where you're currently enrolled
3. Your job
4. Your family
5. Your previous publications or awards
• Write your biography in third person (unless otherwise instructed).
• Represent yourself as best you can! This is a snapshot of you, the writer.
• Go on and on. A bio should run between 2-4 sentences unless a journal instructs otherwise.
• If you are extensively published, don't list every previous publication. List only your top three by name.
And now that we've gone through the hard parts, all that's left is signing off. Like the greeting, the goal here is remain polite and professional.
• Sign off with a professional closing like "Sincerely." You may also choose to thank them again for their time.
• Sign your full name and include your contact information underneath.
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
• Sign off with a casual closure or nickname.
Have a good one,
Sample cover letter
Now that we've gone through the full structure of the cover letter, let's put it together.
Below is an example of a brief cover letter. If you're still nervous about writing one from scratch, try using this as a reference.
Dear This Magazine Editors,
Thank you in advance for your time. I am submitting my unpublished story "My Title" for your consideration. It is a flash fiction of approximately 500 words. This is a simultaneous submission and I will immediately withdraw should the story be accepted elsewhere.
Jane Doe graduated Brown's MFA program in 2018. Currently, she writes out of a studio apartment in Philadelphia with her daughter and their dog. Her work can be found in journals like That Review, Another Journal, and Somewhere.
At the end of the day, remember that a cover letter shouldn't be too much pressure! Many editors have deemphasized the importance of the letter and won't hold a typo against you. But it's still an opportunity to present yourself and your work. With any luck, this guide will have made it easier for you!