How to write a covering letter

When you send your poems for submission to a magazine, you will generally have to include a covering letter.

Some magazines will tell you what they want from your covering letter, others won’t. If they do tell you, stick to their suggested content – editors want to know that you will be easy to work with, and following their advice is a good start!

Some magazines accept postal submissions, others accept email submissions. However you are submitting your work, keep the covering letter short and polite. If you are writing a letter, make sure you format it correctly. If you are writing an email, you don’t need to worry so much about the layout, but don’t become too chatty!

As well as checking what the editors want from a covering letter, check all the submissions guidelines very carefully. How many poems do they want? Do they specify formatting? Do they want the poems in the body of an email or as an attachment?

Below are some guidelines if you are starting to send out your work.

Do

– DO see if you can find the editor’s name. If you can, address the letter to them. And make sure it’s the current editor!

– If you can’t find the editor’s name, DO say ‘Dear editor’ or ‘Dear editors’.

– DO keep it short – editors are often very pushed for time.

– If it’s an email, DO include your name in the subject line so the editor can easily find your message in their inbox if they are looking for it again.

– If it’s an email, they will have your email address. There’s no need for any other contact details. If it’s a letter, DO give a postal address and email address in the top right hand corner.

– If you are submitting by post, DO include your name and postal or email address on each poem. That way, if the poems get separated from the covering letter, the editor will still know who to contact.

– DO give your full name and the names of your poems. Pay attention to whether they have asked for your poems in the body of an email, or as an attachment. If your poem has unusual formatting which gets lost in the email, paste it in the body of the email and include an attachment as well, and explain why you have done this.

– You could include a very brief biography, e.g. ‘I am a poet from Newcastle currently studying at university.’

– You could also give a brief publication history – don’t include everything, just 2-4 places you have been pleased to see your work published. Don’t worry if you haven’t been published anywhere yet – if the editor likes you work, they will be pleased to discover a new talent!

– If you have read and enjoyed the magazine before DO say so – and you could list a couple of poems or a feature you particularly liked. (It’s a good idea to read any magazines you’re submitting to, as it will give you a sense of whether your work will fit).

– DO thank the editor for their time.

– If you are accepted, DO send a short email thanking the editor/s for their decision. You can be excited and enthusiastic – it’s nice for editors to feel like they have made someone’s day!

Don’t

– DON’T say ‘Dear Sirs’! There’s no reason why an editor should be a man.

– DON’T meander off the point – the editor just wants to know who you are and what your poems are called.

– DON’T act like you expect your poems to be accepted – and don’t act like you expect your poems to be rejected!

– If you are rejected, you DON’T need to respond. If you feel like you should, keep it to a short email thanking the editor/s for their time. You could also say you are looking forward to reading the magazine/ book/ website etc. Careful not to sound reproachful – sending rejections is a horrible job and that will just make the editor feel uncomfortable.

– DON’T be disheartened if your poem is rejected – editors are just people with subjective tastes, and if they have rejected your poem it doesn’t mean it isn’t a good piece of work! It just means it wasn’t to their taste. Send it out somewhere else instead.

 

Good luck with your submissions! You can find ideas of places to send your work on our list of Poetry Opportunities.

4 thoughts on “How to write a covering letter

  1. If submitting by letter is it also acceptable to use a letterhead (with name, adress and contact details in bottom centre)?
    Instead of a plain sheet with the adress at the top right-hand corner.

  2. “In particular, tell us who your target audience is and provide a rationale for why we are the best publisher for your work.
    An outline of the entire work and an estimate of the length of the prospective manuscript.
    Please be sure that your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address are on the submission “

    This is what the guidelines say but I am really disturbed with the thought with how to write it. What about potential audience what am I supposed to write? I am doing this for first time and if only I get an example of how this thing as a whole is to be written that would be great. For now rest all points are clear except for the above mentioned 3. I want to know how to write about potential audience and why the publisher is best to publish me.
    Also there is nothing stated in the guidelines if it has to be attachment or e mail text what way do I do it? The who thing with attachment?
    Publisher Guidelines from Andrews Mcmeel

    Please do clarify this and i would be really thankful

    I appreciate your commitment towards poets

    Love

    1. Hi Ajay,

      Thanks for your comment. If you have questions about a specific job, it’s always best to ask the employer directly – we don’t want to give you bad advice!

      Our best guess? By ‘potential audience’ they might mean is your work aimed at young children, young adults, adults etc.; men, women etc.; LGBTQ audiences; audiences who like dogs; audiences who are also fans of X Y Z other writers… any indication of who you have in mind when reading your work!

      We would guess they would prefer a cover letter as an attachment but hopefully it won’t matter too much. Do get in touch with them and ask.

      Best of luck!

      Young Poets Network

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