cover letter or not?
April 11, 2012 6:16 PM   Subscribe

Should I include a cover letter when submitting a story to a literary magazine?

I'm a budding freelance writer. Really.

I'm about to submit a story to a magazine. I'm following all their submission guidelines religiously. However, they don't mention anything about a cover letter. Do I just put the manuscript in the envelope and mail it? If I do include a cover letter, what should I say? If not, do I include information about myself on the manuscript itself?

I know these are elementary questions, but like I said, I'm budding.

posted by crazylegs to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, write a cover letter. Short and sweet.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:23 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I normally include a bio, basic info about the piece (name, genre, word count), and a little note about how I enjoy the publication and/or something I once read there (brown-nosing!). I rarely even fill a whole page, let alone go over.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:57 PM on April 11, 2012

If the piece is already being addressed to a specific editor (fiction/nonfiction/etc), all you need to put in the cover letter is a brief bio stating where you've been published and what awards you've won, a short thank you for reading, and a note telling them whether or not this is a simultaneous submission. No need to brown nose unless you have really specific ties to the journal (ie. have met the editors, or you REALLY honestly love it). Also, address the editor by name in the letter.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 7:00 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's always best to mention the magazine. This isn't brown-nosing it's letting them know you understand your market. Even niche publications have a particular bent to them. Letting them know you actually believe you're a good fit works wonders. Mentioning a prior related article lets them know you've read the magazine and understand what they are looking for.

Include the cover letter.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:34 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I disagree. Follow the literary mag's instructions to the letter, and don't add anything else. Lit mags often DQ submissions because they don't follow instructions exactly. (Its an easy way to cut down on the slush pile.)
posted by emilynoa at 4:31 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

As with pretty much all writing advice, it varies. Check out this from Duotrope, in which a lot of editors voice their thoughts on cover letters--and you can see the range of responses! Strange Horizons has their own take on cover letters as a data point.

If the story's good, the cover letter doesn't matter so much. But it seems like you do yourself no harm by keeping it to the point: word count, genre (if applicable, and not prohibited as in the above example), any relevant publishing credits, and possibly an indication you know what kind of work the magazine publishes, like a recent story you enjoyed.
posted by xenization at 5:06 AM on April 12, 2012

Your cover letter, while essential, is just going to be skimmed by some unpaid intern eating lunch at her desk. Keep it short and to the point. Humor is good, if you can do it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:41 AM on April 12, 2012

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