Say you’ve got that story edited and ready to go. You know where you want to send it, but you’re having trouble writing that all-important cover letter — the one that almost every press requires or says, “would be great but not entirely necessary.”
The good news is that writing a cover letter is simple and takes about fifteen minutes after the first dozen or so tries. Ideally, you’ll want to write your cover letter in a word document and save it so you can copy and paste instead of starting all over each time. You’ll still need to make minor tweaks every draft to make sure it aligns with what your sending and what the publication is looking for.
A cover letter is the thirty-second elevator pitch that helps give the editors a brief idea of who you are as a writer. It might be tempting to write about any old thing, but the idea is to give presses who they’re doing business with. Every submission is a transaction — a deal that could be accepted or denied. Any experience you have as a writer should show up in your cover letter, even if it’s some award you won all the way back in high school.
As far as style is concerned, cover letters should be written in the first-person, with actionable verbs and few, if any, contractions. You want the language to be clear and concise, almost notational. This is NOT the place for abstract debate. Allow your work to speak for itself and keep your comments to your submitted pages. They’ll get the idea.
Let’s start at the top of the document with the greeting. The greeting is where you will do just that; greet the editors. The trick is to do it professionally. We generally tend to put the name of the publication in the greeting and address it directly to the editors. Like this:
“Dear Nervous Ghost Press Editors…”
Always follow the greeting with a comma and at least two line breaks, meaning skip a line and then start the body of the letter.
An effective cover letter includes an introduction to your submission, a brief history of you as a writer, and a closing paragraph, usually a thank-you for reading your work. Any more than this and the cover letter will become too wordy. Remember: your cover letter is your elevator pitch. It should be short but to the point.
The intro should be short, but can be about anything; I sometimes talk about the weather or how I’m feeling, but don’t be fooled. Publications aren’t picking up your poems and stories because of how you felt the day you sent them out. So, if you’re into pragmatism and don’t like to waste time, simply talk about what you’re sending. A sample intro paragraph starts like this:
“Hope all is well. Enclosed are three poems for your consideration.”
The intro should also inform the editors of any other materials you’re sending along, including bios, author photos, artwork, or contact information. Add this into the intro paragraph after you’ve introduced your work.
You can also use this portion of the cover letter to let the editors know if your work is being simultaneously considered elsewhere. You don’t have to do this, but it’s a courtesy to the editors and never hurts to include, when applicable.
The second paragraph of a cover letter touches briefly on who you are as a professional writer. This may be the only chance for the editors to really get to know you, so be sure and list any publication credits, accolades, or other pertinent information you think the editors might want to know. Don’t be shy. Really let them know who you are.
“I recently graduated from XX university with a XX in XX. My work has been featured in XX, XX, and XX, with work forthcoming in XX. I was the XX winner of the XX award and was short-listed by XX for their XX contest.”
This may be difficult for writers just starting out; however, the body is where you can get creative. Writers without contest wins or publication credits can outline their academic careers or professional lives outside of writing. No academic history to speak of? This portion of the cover letter is also a great place to talk about current projects. Tell them about the book you’re writing or about a poem you just outlined. As your writing career evolves, so will this portion of your cover letters.
The closing is usually just a line or two thanking the editors for reading your work. Remember the editors are taking time out of their lives to read your writing, so this portion needs to be cordial. Maybe even wish the editors luck in the selection process or good fortune in their endeavors. An example sits below:
"Thank you for taking the time to consider my writing. I enjoy the publication and wish you nothing but the best for the upcoming issue.”
Body complete, all you need to do is write a goodbye, whether “sincerely” or some other professional-sounding outro, followed by the name you want to be published under. List contact information directly after your name (no line breaks). After this is done, skip a line and enter your bio. Having a bio ready shows preparedness and a professional attitude.