Posted by Rebecca Williamson, GD Managing Editor for 9.1
As a fellow writer, I understand that submitting your work can be scary. You’ve probably revised and edited many drafts. You’ve poured countless hours into making sure each word, each punctuation mark, is perfect. All writing, even if it’s fictional, is personal. Now that I’m on the other side of the submission button, I’m recognizing that there’s more to submitting your work than just pressing the button once you have your final draft. One thing that writers need to consider is their cover letter.
A cover letter should be a short statement of a few paragraphs to go alongside your work. The cover letter is meant to briefly introduce yourself and thank the staff in advance. When submitting to Gandy Dancer, it’s very important to list the SUNY school that you attend in your cover letter since we only accept submissions from students attending a SUNY school. Aside from that detail, this template could be used to submit your work anywhere.
Below is a fictional sample letter I wrote.
Dear Rebecca Williamson and Sara Devoe:
Thank you for considering “Writing Cover Letters,” a 25-page essay, for your magazine.
This essay is a simultaneous submission. If it’s accepted elsewhere, I’ll be sure to alert you and withdraw the piece.
I am a sophomore at SUNY Geneseo studying English (Creative Writing). When I’m not writing, I enjoy working at my school’s radio station.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you!
Now, here’s the breakdown of the “dos” I included in this letter.
- Address the letter to the editor if you can find their name. Seeing a personal greeting last semester made me smile. Not all publications have this information available, but some simple research should reveal the answer.
- Include the title, genre, and page count of the piece. This shows the editors that you have adhered the submission guidelines such as Gandy Dancer’s page limit and font. Every magazine is different, though. Some may ask for word count, so make sure you’re checking the guidelines before you submit.
- Thank the editors or readers for their time. It’s not necessary, but it’s a great gesture.
- Indicate if the submission is a simultaneous or multiple submission. A simultaneous submission means that you sent the piece to other magazines. A multiple submission means that you sent more than one piece for consideration. Gandy Dancer allows writers to submit once in each of our four categories: fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and visual art.
- Introduce yourself! As mentioned above, please tell us which SUNY school you attend. You can also share your class year, major, and other publications or awards that you’ve won. If you haven’t been published anywhere, it’s up to you whether you want to indicate that or not. To spice up your letter, you can also include an interesting fact that you feel comfortable sharing.
- Acknowledge that you look forward to hearing from the magazine. Across many industries, in any letter or email, this is seen as a professional courtesy.
- Be aware of your tone. You don’t want to be arrogant, but some confidence is appreciated. It’s also important that you don’t be too quirky or cute. If you’re unsure, keep the letter professional.
- Bonus: Include a brief sentence about why you like the journal or magazine you’re submitting to.
- Tell us a summary of the submission. It may lead to preconceived notions about the submission. Some magazines and editors appreciate a brief synopsis, but one or two sentences is different from including the entire plot or detailing the themes of a piece.
- Overshare in your biography. While you should list your publications, if you have more than five, then you might name a few of the magazines and convey that there also others. This also means that if you choose to share a quirky fun fact, you want to make sure it’s something that you would tell in a job interview.
- Ask for feedback. Editors are busy and often have their own writing to do. There simply isn’t time to offer feedback to all those who submit work. That’s what writing groups and workshops are for.
Aside from these tips, the most important step is proofreading. If there’s a typo in your cover letter, it suggests that the writing that follows will be sloppy, too. A cover letter is only a few paragraphs, and it should be less than 200 words. Pay attention to the details.
Think about your cover letter as fondant. It may make the cake look pretty, but it’s how the inside tastes that matters the most. Overall, your writing is what the readers or editors will be judging.