Friday, March 29, 2013

Entry # 144 - "Cover Me! - Submission Letters"

Photo Credit - Jan Bowman - May 2012
Muriel Rukeyser is reported to have said something like, “A writer should never submit to anyone! So I don’t submit. I offer.” 

So - what should be included in a good cover letter when you “offer” your work to a literary journal?  Your cover letter is your introduction to a journal editor. Most editors say, "Keep your submission cover letter simple."  Send a short single page letter consisting of no more than two-paragraphs.  Tell them the title, word count, type of work (fiction or non-fiction or poetry), include your name and how to contact you. You can write a brief bio of a couple of sentences at the bottom of the letter that lists prior publications, if it’s relevant. But avoid telling about papers you wrote for college or grad school - and please don't tell them your personal life story. That's guaranteed to get your story or essay rejected rather than read. And don’t summarize what you’ve sent them. They’ll figure it out. It’s what they do! They read, and decide if your work is ready and suitable for their particular journal, and whether they have space for it. 

When sending out work that seems ready for publication, it helps to remember that as a writer, you should read a range of literary journals. Think about how your work fits the genre, style, setting, narrative style, length, or theme of a particular journal.
 Photo Credit - Jan Bowman - May 2012
Send your work to publications you enjoy reading. Many good publication samples can be found at your local library, book store or online. Subscribe to 2-4 of your favorites and develop a target list of 5-10 markets that you’ll send your work. Send your work out to those markets first to see if you are a good fit. Your goal is to have your work published in one or more of them in a set period of time of  - perhaps one-to-two years.

In addition, various Writers’ Market Books provide lists of magazines that you never imagined existed. Check deadlines and guidelines. Editors will say that they’re looking for a reason to say no, because they get thousands of manuscripts each year. So be sure to follow guidelines. If they set a 5-page limit, don’t send 10 pages - they won’t read it. If you use font sizes of less than 12 - they won’t read it.  So pay close attention to posted guidelines, as well as the “needs” and “advice” sections in these listings.  Send your work to the appropriate editor and make sure they still work there.  Colleges and universities have regular staff turnover. 
Send a brief cover letter.  Good luck!
Photo Credit - Jan Bowman - May 2012
About Jan Bowman

Jan Bowman’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications including, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes and others. Glimmer Train named a recent story as Honorable Mention in the November 2012 Short Story Awards for New Writers. Winner of the 2011 Roanoke Review Fiction Award, her stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Best American Short Stories, a Pen/O’Henry award and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at or

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