An Editor-in-Chief’s Guide to Cover Letters
by Amanda Hamilton, Editor-in-Chief of Blue Monday Review
Personally, I detest cover letters. I’m not sure if I’m in the majority or not here for literary magazine editors, but cover letters honestly do nothing for me. More often than not, they turn me against an author rather than in favor of them.
Tell Us Your Intention
On the rare occasion I read a cover letter and am left intrigued by the piece, it’s because the author has actually written to me about the piece itself. Many times I’ll read a story or poem and think something along the lines of, “Wow, that was awesome. But what the hell did I just read?” Then it’s a huge treat if I glance at the cover letter and there’s a nice description of the intention behind the piece. I can’t tell you how many times that’s changed a “Maybe” vote to a “Yes” vote — or at least to a “Not this time, and here’s why” as opposed to just “No.” It’s important to note we don’t always need this (and summaries are usually unnecessary and kind of gross), but author intentions are fascinating to me and I always like to read them.
Make Us Feel Special
It can also help if you make it clear you submitted to us on purpose. The internet is amazing because you can do everything so much faster than ever. But the downside is: it’s so much easier to be sloppy and lazy on the internet. “Carpet bombing” — when you email the same submission and cover letter en masse without regard to the individual publication — is often really easy to spot and is a total turn-off.
I’m not saying you have to have an in-depth understanding of Blue Monday Review before you can submit, but if you must tell us how much you “appreciate this publication’s mission,” it’s a little more convincing if you give us some clue you at least skimmed through our submission guidelines. It makes us more inclined to start a professional relationship with you. We won’t feel like just another publication credit in a future cover letter.
Less is More
And that’s kind of it, for us. A list of publication credits is cool but literally never sways our opinion on your submission — same with where you graduated, studied, showed in a gallery, etc. That’s all great for you and is fine to include, but it won’t affect our opinions in the end. As far as your bio goes, we will ask for one upon publication but in the meantime, we can take it or leave it. Sometimes we can really leave it. Weirdly personal notes (like mentioning you escaped your mother via C-section) and overly braggy notes (such as comparing yourself to big-name authors like Nabokov and Cheever) are big ol’ turn-offs for us. Keep it short and to-the-point and we’ll love you better for it.
The Takeaway: Write your cover letter like another human is going to read it.
Don’t waste our time by overdoing it, and reach out to us as a publication and as editors so we can know where you’re coming from. And for goodness sake, be nice — we’re on your side, we promise!