How To Write A Cover Letter For Essay Submission

To submit your latest short story, essay or poem, you’ll need a cover letter—which is much different from a query. Use these tips from inside a creative writing program to help your letter make the grade.

While working toward my Master of Fine Arts at The Ohio State University, I did what many writing students (and professors) do: I joined the staff of the university’s literary journal. Reading and evaluating fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction submitted by writers living across the country and beyond proved to be endlessly fascinating. And because I never let on that back in high school I had been voted “Most Disorganized,” I was eventually given an editorship. When I went on to earn my Ph.D. at the University of Missouri, I made sure to work on that university’s journal, as well.

In fact, a great many literary journals, including some of the nation’s oldest and most revered, are affiliated with university writing programs. Part of the mission of these journals is to give creative writing students a hands-on education in literary publishing. But you don’t need to be a student for your work to appear in one. You just need to make it through the submission process.

I’m happy to report that in my 10 years of working on a number of journals, first as a student and later as faculty, not once did anyone ever utter the word “blockbuster.” Nobody based an editorial decision on whether an essayist’s website was getting millions of hits. No one cared whether or not a short story fit neatly into some red-hot “urban paranormal leprechaun bullfighter” genre. All of which is to say that when it comes to submissions, editors of literary journals are concerned with exactly one thing: finding manuscripts that knock their socks off.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that editors are only human. And fairly or not, a poor cover letter on any submission casts a negative light on the writer before the editor even gets to the manuscript’s first page.

So what should a cover letter entail? From reading thousands of submissions over the past decade, I’ve noticed that certain mistakes repeatedly crop up—and that your letter can stand out simply by avoiding these common errors. Let’s take a look at an (entirely fictitious) example:

Fred Murphy
Fiction Editor
Cool Story Magazine
123 Main Street
Anytown, State, Zip
Dear Sandra,1

Did you know that it takes 28 folds to make the perfect swan?2 You will learn that and more after reading “The Secret of Paper Folding”.3  It is a fictionalized account of a boy named Sammy who meets a mysterious old woman who has never before shared her origami secret. It is a story about the importance of friendship, sad but ultimately redemptive, with a cast of unforgettable characters.4 “The Secret of Paper Folding” is based on the true story of a unique lady I met back when I was a young girl.5 I believe that your readers would appreciate the story’s universal themes as well as the lighthearted spirit in which it is told.6

I was born in Norway but raised in Missouri.7 I have worked as an emergency room technician, safari guide, Model T refurbisher, bounty hunter, hand model, ferry captain, lighthouse keeper, ninja and tympanist.8

I am an unpublished fiction writer9 but am hopeful that you’ll select this story for the Pirate’s Booty Review.10

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Jennifer Smith

Let’s turn our attention to the points numbered throughout in red:

1. Is the editor’s name Fred or Sandra? The writer has probably sent this letter to several journals and hasn’t changed the name in all the necessary places. Also, the salutation should include the editor’s full name, or “Dear Professor Murphy” if the editor is a professor, or “Dear Dr. Murphy” if he is a Ph.D.

2. Unlike a query letter to a literary agent, your cover letter to a journal doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) try to grab the editor’s attention. Save that for the work itself. Witty? Snappy? Leave it out.

3. I see this error all the time. I think it’s reasonable for an editor to be suspicious of a writer who doesn’t know the rules of punctuation. The period always goes inside the quotation marks. Be vigilant about your grammar, always.

4. This advice might surprise writers who’ve worked hard summarizing their novels in queries to agents and editors—but, again, a cover letter isn’t a query, and the convention with literary journals is not to summarize the work in the cover letter. Let your submission speak for itself.

5. If you’re submitting fiction or poetry, there’s no need to connect the work to your personal experience. For an essay or memoir piece, you can do it briefly if your experience is relevant, but you shouldn’t feel obligated.

6. Of course you believe readers will like it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be submitting it. Leave this out.

7. Fun fact! But also totally irrelevant.

8. It’s fine to state, briefly, something about yourself—your career, your locale—so that you come across like a flesh-and-blood human being. But I see this jack-of-all-trades thing so frequently that I had to mention it. There’s no need to prove how worldly and interesting you are. Let the work itself reveal your intimate knowledge of the kudu’s mating habits.

9. Because this cover letter doesn’t mention previous publications, I might deduce that the author is unpublished. Still, there’s no reason to highlight this fact.

10. There’s nothing wrong with the sentiment, but what the heck is the Pirate’s Booty Review? (Remember, she’s supposedly submitting to Cool Story Magazine.) Another careless error.

Bearing all this in mind, here’s a revised version:

Fred Murphy
Fiction Editor
Cool Story Magazine
123 Main Street
Anytown, State, Zip

Dear Fred Murphy,

Please find enclosed my short story “The Secret of Paper Folding.”

I live in rural Missouri, where I work as an emergency room technician.

I enjoy reading Cool Story Magazine and am hopeful that you’ll find my story to be a good fit.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Jennifer Smith

Simple, polite, even a little boring? That’s perfect.

A few additional points:

If you’re simultaneously submitting the same work to a number of journals, it’s good form to include a statement to that effect.

Check the journal’s website to be sure you’re writing to the current editor. Many journals, especially those staffed with MFA students, change personnel frequently. When in doubt, “Dear Fiction Editor” beats using the wrong name.

If you’re submitting electronically (more and more publications are allowing this), all of these principles still hold. Keep your cover letter e-mail short, sweet and professional.

All that said, if you’ve been previously published, then go ahead and include where your work has appeared. If you’re in a creative writing program or have won any honors, awards or fellowships for your writing, you might briefly include that information. Will any of this give you a leg up? Not necessarily. It might buy you an extra minute or two of an editor’s hopeful attention—at first—but ultimately the work will stand or fall on its own merits. Which is exactly how it should be.

This article was written by Michael Kardos.

 

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Haven't Written Anything Yet, Writing for Beginners, How to Publish a Book, Get Published, How to Write Poetry, Writing Poetry, What's New, Writing Short Stories & Essay Writing

If you’re looking for solid advice on how to write a strong journal submission cover letter that will convince editors to review your research paper, then look no further! We know that cover letters can impact an editor’s decision to consider your research paper further. As such, this guide aims to explain (1) why you should care about writing a powerful cover letter, (2) what you should include in it, and (3) how you should structure it. The last segment will include a free downloadable template submission cover letter with detailed how-to explanations and some useful phrases.

Sadly, we must admit that part of the decision-making process of whether to accept a manuscript is based on a business model. Editors must select articles that will interest their readers. In other words, your paper, if published, must make them money. When it’s not quite clear how your research paper might generate interest based on its title and content alone (for example, if your paper is too technical for most editors to appreciate), your cover letter is the one opportunity you will get to convince the editors that your work is worth further review.

In addition to economic factors, many editors use the cover letter to screen whether authors can follow basic instructions. For example, if a journal’s guide for authors states that you must include disclosures, potential reviewers, and statements regarding ethical practices, failure to include these items might lead to the automatic rejection of your article, even if your research is the most progressive project on the planet! By failing to follow directions, you raise a red flag that you may be careless, and if you’re not attentive to the details of a cover letter, editors might wonder about the quality and thoroughness of your research. This is not the impression you want to give editors!

We can’t stress this enough: Follow your target journal’s guide for authors! No matter what other advice you read in the vast webosphere, make sure you prioritize the information requested by the editors. As we explained above, failure to include required statements will lead to automatic rejection.

With that said, below is a list of the most common elements you must include and what information you should NOT include:

You should use formal language in your cover letter. Since most submissions are delivered electronically, the template below is in a modified e-mail format. However, if you send your cover letter on letterhead (PDF or hard copy by mail), move your contact information to the upper-left corner of the page unless you use pre-printed letterhead, in which case your contact information should be centered at the top of the letter.

TIP: It’s customary to include any graduate degrees in the addressee’s name.

Dear Dr./Mr./Ms. [Editor's last name]:

TIP: Where the editor’s name is not known, use the relevant title employed by the journal, such as “Dear Managing Editor:” or “Dear Editor-in-Chief:”. Using a person’s name is best, however. Also, websites may be outdated, so call the journal to confirm to whom you should address your cover letter when in doubt.

TIP: Use “Ms.” and never “Mrs.” or “Miss” in formal business letters.

TIP: Never use “Dear Sirs:” or any similar expression. Many editors will find this insulting, especially given that many of them are female!

[Para.1: 2–3 sentences] I am writing to submit our manuscript entitled, ["Title"] for consideration as a [Journal Name][Article Type]. [One to two sentence "pitch" that summarizes the study design, where applicable, your research question, your major findings, and the conclusion.]

e.g., I am writing to submit our manuscript entitled, “X Marks the Spot” for consideration as an Awesome Science Journal research article. We examined the efficacy of using X factors as indicators for depression in Y subjects in Z regions through a 12-month prospective cohort study and can confirm that monitoring the levels of X is critical to identifying the onset of depression, regardless of geographical influences.

TIP: Useful phrases to discuss your findings and conclusion include:

  • Our findings confirm that…
  • We have determined that…
  • Our results suggest…
  • We found that…
  • We illustrate…
  • Our findings reveal…
  • Our study clarifies…
  • Our research corroborates…
  • Our results establish…
  • Our work substantiates…

[Para. 2: 2–5 sentences] Given that [context that prompted your research], we believe that the findings presented in our paper will appeal to the [Reader Profile] who subscribe to [Journal Name]. Our findings will allow your readers to [identify the aspects of the journal's Aim and Scope that align with your paper].

TIP: Identify the journal’s typical audience and how those people can utilize your research to expand their understanding of a topic. For example, if many of your target journal’s readers are interested in the public policy implications of various research studies, you may wish to discuss how your conclusions can help your peers to develop stronger policies that more effectively address public concerns.

TIP: Include context about why this research question had to be addressed.

e.g., “Given the struggle policymakers have had to define proper criteria to diagnose the onset of depression in teenagers, we felt compelled to identify a cost-effective and universal methodology that local school administrators can use to screen students.”

TIP: If your paper was prompted by prior research, state this. For example, “After initially researching X, Y approached us to conduct a follow-up study that examined Z. While pursuing this project, we discovered [some new understanding that made you decide the information needed to be shared with your peers via publication.]“

e.g., Given the alarming increase in depression rates among teenagers and the lack of any uniform practical tests for screening students, we believe that the findings presented in our paper will appeal to education policymakers who subscribe to The Journal of Education. Although prior research has identified a few methods that could be used in depression screening, such as X and Y, the applications developed from those findings have been cost-prohibitive and difficult to administer on a national level. Thus, our findings will allow your readers to understand the factors involved in identifying the onset of depression in teenagers better and develop more cost-effective screening procedures that can be employed nationally. In so doing, we hope that our research advances the toolset needed to combat the concerns preoccupying the minds of many school administrators.

[Para 3: Similar works]“This manuscript expands on the prior research conducted and published by [Authors] in [Journal Name]” or “This paper [examines a different aspect of]/ [takes a different approach to] the issues explored in the following papers also published by [Journal Name].”

  1. Article 1
  2. Article 2
  3. Article 3

TIP: You should mention similar studies recently published by your target journal, if any, but list no more than five. If you only want to mention one article, replace the preceding sentence with “This paper [examines a different aspect of]/ [takes a different approach to] the issues explored by [Authors] in [Article Title], also published by [Journal Name] on 11.03.2018.”

[Para. 4: Additional statements often required] Each of the authors confirms that this manuscript has not been previously published and is not currently under consideration by any other journal. Additionally, all of the authors have approved the contents of this paper and have agreed to the [Journal Name]‘s submission policies.

TIP: If you have previously publicly shared some form or part of your research elsewhere, state so. For example, you can say, “We have presented a subset of our findings [at Event]/ [as a Type of Publication Medium] in [Location] in [Year].”

e.g., We have since expanded the scope of our research to contemplate international feasibility and acquired additional data that has helped us to develop a new understanding of geographical influences.

[Para. 5: Potential Reviewers] Should you select our manuscript for peer review, we would like to suggest the following potential reviewers/referees because they would have the requisite background to evaluate our findings and interpretation objectively.

  • [Name, institution, email, expertise]
  • [Name, institution, email, expertise]
  • [Name, institution, email, expertise]

To the best of our knowledge, none of the above-suggested persons have any conflict of interest, financial or otherwise.

TIP: Include 3–5 reviewers since it is likely that the journal will use at least one of your suggestions.

TIP: Use whichever term (“reviewer” or “referee”) your target journal uses. Paying close attention to a journal’s terminology is a sign that you have properly researched the journal and have prepared!

[Para. 6: Frequently requested additional information] Each named author has substantially contributed to conducting the underlying research and drafting this manuscript. Additionally, to the best of our knowledge, the named authors have no conflict of interest, financial or otherwise.

Sincerely,

 

[Your Name]

Corresponding Author
Institution Title
Institution/Affiliation Name
[Institution Address]
[Your e-mail address]
[Tel: (include relevant country/area code)]
[Fax: (include relevant country/area code)]

Additional Contact [should the corresponding author not be available]
Institution Title
Institution/Affiliation Name
[Institution Address]
[Your e-mail address]
[Tel: (include relevant country/area code)]
[Fax: (include relevant country/area code)]

Quick checklist before submitting your cover letter

  1. Set the font to Arial or Times New Roman, size 12 point.
  2. Single-space all text.
  3. Use one line space between body paragraphs.
  4. Do not indent paragraphs.
  5. Keep all text left justified.
  6. Use spelling and grammar check software. If needed, use professional proofreading and editing services such as Wordvice to review your letter for clarity and concision.
  7. Double-check the editor’s name. Call the journal to confirm if necessary.

Additional resources to learn more about cover letters

  1. http://blogs.nature.com/methagora/2013/09/how-to-write-a-cover-letter.html
  2. https://www.springer.com/gp/authors-editors/authorandreviewertutorials/submitting-to-a-journal-and-peer-review/cover-letters/10285574
  3. http://www.biosciencewriters.com/Writing-Cover-Letters-for-Scientific-Manuscripts.aspx
  4. jgimed.org/authors/JGIM-cover-letter-templates.doc
  5. http://www.nature.com/ni/journal/v9/n2/full/ni0208-107.html

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