I’ve read submissions for literary magazines for the past year and I’ve noticed some cover letter trends (except for NAPwhich wisely doesn’t allow for cover letters).

1. “This story/This poem is about…” – If you have to tell me what your story or poem is about, then your poem or story fails to do its essential job of making me figure out what it’s about.

Exception: If your set of poem is part of a cycle, you can tell me about the cycle. Let the poems do their job though.

2. “I am the xxxx winner of xxxx award/I’m a xxxx runner up.” – Congratulations on the award or almost winning it. I’m sure it is well deserved. However, this raises my expectations of your submission, especially if said prize is prestigious, like a Pushcart of a Pulitzer.

3. “I’ve been published in (name drops 10 to 15 magazines).” – Again, totally awesome that so many magazines enjoy your work. However, like 2., knowing where you’ve been published previously could raise my expectations of your submission, especially if your publishing credits include magazines I enjoy, know are a big deal, or I previously worked for.

I’m not sure if other editors think like this, but this at least is what’s working in my head when I’m reading through submissions. This is why my I keep my cover letters concise:

  • J. Bradley is the author of Bodies Made of Smoke (HOUSEFIRE, 2012). He is the Web Editor of Monkeybicycle and lives at iheartfailure.net.

If I don’t have a book currently out, I alter the bio a little

  • J. Bradley is the Web Editor of Monkeybicycle and the Fiction Editor of NAPHe lives at iheartfailure.net.

If the magazine has specific cover letter guidelines, follow them. We love it when you follow guidelines. If you really enjoy the magazine, tell us and cite examples of pieces you really enjoyed. That tells me you read the publication, and I appreciate you all that much more.


Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. […] March, I wrote an entry about what causes me to lose interest in a submission through the cover letter. Let’s talk […]


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About J. Bradley

J. Bradley's is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominated writer whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals including decomP, Hobart, and Prairie Schooner. He was the Interviews Editor of PANK, the Flash Fiction Editor of NAP, and the Web Editor of Monkeybicycle. He is the author of the poetry collection Dodging Traffic (Ampersand Books, 2009), the novella Bodies Made of Smoke (HOUSEFIRE, 2012), and the graphic poetry collection The Bones of Us (YesYes Books, 2014), illustrated by Adam Scott Mazer. He is the curator of the Central Florida reading series There Will Be Words and lives at iheartfailure.net.

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