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3 Elements of a Good Cover Letter
As a general rule, the perfect cover letter will accomplish three things:
- An introduction: Introduce yourself and the work you are presenting.
- A respectful tone: Show proper respect for the literary journals, magazines, or publishing houses to which you are submitting.
- Context: Present your poetry submissions in the proper context.
How to Write a Cover Letter for a Poetry Submission
The most important thing to poetry publishers is your actual poetry, not your biography. When writing a cover letter to accompany your submission to a literary magazine or publishing house, keep the following pointers in mind:
- Stay on topic. Don’t turn your cover letter into a comprehensive rundown of your resume. If you’ve had some recent publications, mention them in the context of a short bio. But don’t unload a list of your degrees, GPA, and personal referrals. If you do possess an advanced degree like an MFA, it may help your case—but the thing that matters most is the quality of your poetry.
- Make it easy to contact you. Make sure your pitch letter includes contact information such as your full name, email, phone number, and any relevant social media accounts.
- Link to your past work when possible. If you’re making an online submission, link to your published work if the submission form allows it. Ideally, these links will fit somewhere on the application other than in the cover letter itself. If you have to mail submissions, include paper copies of past published work along with the poem you’re submitting for consideration.
- Be direct. Address the editor directly with a respectful tone. You can typically find an editor’s name in the publication masthead, and it can help to include it in your query letter. If you don’t know the editor’s name, start your letter with “To Whom It May Concern,” which is more standardized than a salutation like “Dear Editor.” If you’re making simultaneous submissions to multiple publications, double-check to make sure you’ve paired the correct names with the correct publishers.
- Follow the rules. More important than knowing an editor’s name is respecting a publication’s submission guidelines. This starts with confirming that your poem or collection of poems is even submittable under the magazine’s parameters. A magazine or journal's website typically contains a section for how to submit, and as a submitter, it’s on you to follow their rules. For instance, some publications accept submissions year-round and others may request that poets only submit during certain times of the year. The very best cover letter won’t do you any good if you’ve irritated the editor or submission manager, so treat their rules with respect.
- Recognize that you may have to pay. The top contemporary poetry magazines and journals do not charge poets to submit, but a smaller lit mag may ask for donations to help stay afloat. The places you’re most likely to encounter a submission fee or reading fee are poetry contests.
- Accept that book publishers are harder to approach. Larger book publishers may abide by the traditional publishing practice of only taking submissions from agents. If an agent is presenting your work, you don’t have to worry about a cover letter. If you don’t have an agent, you can approach small presses or self-publish your first book of poems. In this way, the process of submitting a poetry book is no different than trying to submit a novel or short fiction like a novella or short story.
Poetry Cover Letter Example
If you’re submitting a poetry cover letter for the first time, err on the side of brevity. Keep your word count lean, use a standard font like Arial or Times New Roman, and steer the topic toward your actual creative writing, avoiding small talk and unctuous praise of the reader. With these guidelines in mind, a good poetry cover letter might look like this:
To Whom It May Concern:
I am a poet based in New York, and I write to offer two poems—“Forgotten Items” and “Step-by-Step”—for submission in Harper’s Magazine. I am a regular reader of the magazine, and it would be a tremendous honor to have my poetry published within its pages.
I began writing poetry as a teenager and have contributed a number of poems to literary journals including the Dayton Quarterly and Kenyon Review. I also have a self-published poetry collection that was issued in 2018 and received top reviews in several alternative weeklies. You can access my poetry online at my personal website.
If you review my submissions and consider them among the best poems you’ve received for your upcoming issue, I hope you will see it fit to include them in the magazine. Thank you for your time.
If you keep a template for this sort of letter in your files, it won’t take you a lot of time to make submissions as opportunities arise. In terms of response time from the publisher, it can vary from a few days to many months. Sometimes you think you’ve been passed over entirely only to find an offer for publication nearly a year after you first submitted. As with all creative writing, the key is persistence. Most inquiries will end in rejection—they do for every writer—but if you believe in your work and are committed to success, keep submitting. If your poetry writing is truly strong, trust that eventually an editor will recognize that and reward it with publication.
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