Submitting your work for publication is not that different from applying for a job. You want to put your best, most professional foot forward. However, the important thing in submissions is the writing itself. While you want to strike the right tone as you introduce yourself and your work, cover letters shouldn’t eat up too much time. How do you do it?.
Format the Letter Correctly
Save your creativity for the body of the letter , or better yet, for your writing. Stick with the standard business letter format. Everything is flush left, with one line between paragraphs. Unless you have letterhead, which is not necessary, type your address followed by the date. Space down a line and list the name, title, and address of the person you’re writing. It is important to address your letter to the CORRECT person—always a person, not “Dear Editor”. That smacks of a generic letter, in other words, “you haven’t done your homework”; therefore, the editor will not spend his/her time reading your work.
And as with anything you submit, use standard white copy paper; type, don’t hand-write; and absolutely no illustrations.
Keep It Short
As with a job application cover, letters should not exceed one page. In your first paragraph, explain what you are sending. This can be as straightforward as: “Enclosed please find the first three chapters of my novel, ‘The Choice is Yours’ about a game show contestant with a lifelong disability.” If you have a genuine reason for submitting to this publisher, share it, but only if you can do so while sounding sincere.
Other First-Paragraph Info
If the journal prefers to be informed ahead of time about simultaneous submissions, address that issue briefly by saying something like, “I have submitted this to two other publishers and will let you know immediately if any are accepted elsewhere.” And if you’ve been invited to re-submit, definitely remind the editor that he or she has seen your work before.
Second Paragraph: A Short Bio
Briefly introduce yourself to the editor. If you studied writing or have published before, state it here. If you haven’t, that’s fine, too. You just want to provide a context for what they’re about to read.
Close Your Letter Politely
Thank the editor for reading your work, and close with the standard “Sincerely,” or “Best regards.” Leave four lines for your signature and then type your full name. For mailing, use a business-sized envelope. If your printer can handle envelopes, type the address, but it’s also fine to address the envelope by hand. Again, use the editor’s name here, either above the journal name or below the address. If you put it below, write, “Attn: [Insert Editor’s Name].”
Include an SASE, maybe
Finally, be sure to include an SASE if the publisher requests that you do so. Much now is accomplished by email. However, if the publisher requests paper copies, you may need to submit an SASE for a publisher response. (It’s perfectly acceptable to fold the SASE in three so that it will fit easily.) To save postage, you might also request that they not return your story to you, writing in a postscript: “Please recycle this story rather than returning it to me.”
The writing is the important thing. You can have the best cover letter ever, but it won’t get you anywhere without a great story to go with it.