How to Write the Perfect Cover Letter for your Lit Journal Submission

aaaaThe world of writing and publishing is a cold, dark place, we know that better than most here at the minnessota review. Sure, your story or poetry packet is perfect, you know that! Your mum knows that! Your girlfriend cried when she read your Haiku series about your first date. But how do you convince the editor of your favourite literary journal of its publishability.* Don’t worry! We’re in the know, and we’ve got your back. Obviously the cover letter is the make-or-break of this situation. Here’s how to write one that’ll get you published everywhere you submit.

First, assume the editor is a man. Editors like bravery, leaps of faith, and let’s be real, almost everyone in a position of power is male so you’re just hedging your bets. Don’t bother looking up the editor’s name or anything, sometimes that kind of thing is hard to find out, or you have to work out whether to address the managing editor or the fiction editor or like, maybe there are readers… nah, you got this, ‘Dear Sir,’ and you’re well on your way to the cover-letter zenith. The peaks of cover letter perfection.

That’s another thing; you want to show off your skills at, like, metaphor and stuff in your cover letter. Maybe describe the first time you read this particular journal in some poetic way: ‘The first time I read Crack the Spine it was like the clouds had cleared from the literary sky of my heart. I could finally see the sun, and the sun was your esteemed publication.’ Sure, it’s wordy, but it really says something about how well you understand the publication to which you’re submitting your very best work. And anyway, if you really want to get published don’t you need to be wordy? There’s a lot to explain. For example you have to sum up what the editor is about to read. Of course you don’t want too many spoilers, so focus on themes.

Everybody loves themes, or even better, motifs! Those haikus? Maybe they ‘ruminate on themes of love, loneliness and discovery, using motifs of modernity* and combining a Plathian sense of the figurative with the depth and movement of Classical epic.’ Obviously comparing yourself to massive figures or movements like this is a good idea – if you want to stand amongst the greats you’ve got to muscle on in there. Make those associations early.

So now the editorial team is primed for your poetry what else do they need to know? Who it is they’d be publishing of course! This is almost certainly going to be the start of a long and fruitful literary relationship, so they need to know that you’ve got some chops. What you like to read, how accomplished and frankly legit you are, that you’re a decent guy and volunteer at an animal shelter. Don’t hold back here. Really be sure to include everything. Did you win a poetry prize in grade school? Hell yeah you did! You won that prize. You were so promising so early. That’s important. You work at a call centre? That cube-ennui, that informs your work, man! You wouldn’t be your writing-self without it. It might seem like a whole page on non-writing related facts about yourself is too much, but do you know what? Life is writing. It’s all relevant. Didn’t you see a leaf hit a windscreen this morning on your way to Starbucks? Didn’t it give you a great idea for a sestina? Yeah it did. Inspiration comes from the strangest places… knowing that makes you a real writer. And the editor’s got to know you’re a real writer to be in the correct mind set to really fully conceptualise the meaning within your poems. They’re kind of complex.

Once you’ve explained carefully who you are you’re almost done. You’re basically a shoe-in. You’ll want to sign off politely of course, but come on, you and Mr Editor are pretty close now. He knows about that time you found your mum’s special back massager, and the ways the incident rippled throughout your romantic life well into your twenties! So it’s cool to acknowledge that you’re getting published. Something like:

Thanks so much for reading! I assume I’ll be hearing from you soon.

And you will, man, you will. Because you just nailed the cover letter.

* well, I say favourite; you’ve looked at a few back issues free online, and you like the graphic design… you’re not a millionaire. Who subscribes to print copies of anything these days.

*The first two are about Tinder, obviously


One thought on “How to Write the Perfect Cover Letter for your Lit Journal Submission

  1. I’ll reverse-engineer this humorous blog entry to assume that Minnesota Review editors have received, shared and chuckled over, way too many bad cover letters. My own guess is that editors want cover letters that do not characterize the work being offered, but give a sense of who the writer is, especially if relevant to the themes and content of the work (e.g. poems or stories about prison might seem more attractive to the journal if the writer has some experience with a prison). What has intrigued me ever since I started sending out poems was the puzzle about the extent to which editors are influenced by a cover letter’s mention of “prior publications.” Does a legitimate mention of having been published in a dozen A-list publications change the editor’s attitude or expectation when reading the actual manuscript, for better or worse? I assume, hesitantly, that such a cover letter would lead some editors to want to like and accept the manuscript, while other editors might be turned off, preferring manuscripts whose cover letters suggest that the writer is a veritable rookie, young and yet undiscovered. What is your thinking about this? What sorts of cover letters do Minnesota Review editors like to receive — and what sort do they write themselves when sending out their own manuscripts?

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