Cover Letters

The art of the cover letter has no absolutes. Some editors expect one, others don’t bother reading them.

I prefer to send a very brief cover letter indicating the titles of the works I am submitting, the genre or form of the piece (if that matters), and something that draws me to the journal I’m submitting to. I vary the tone and content, depending on whether I’m familiar with the editor  and how many times I may have submitted before.

Unless I’ve been published by the journal previously, I don’t include my publication history in the cover letter itself, but I do include a brief bio with the cover letter, and make a note of that to the editor. That way editors who want to be swayed by your publishing history can check that out, and those who don’t want the information can chose not to read it. That’s my own solution. Each of you will find what you’re comfortable with.

Query Letters

A query letter is different. I send query letters for four different reasons.

1.  To check on the status of a piece I’ve submitted if I haven’t heard back within a reasonable reading period (6 months).

2. To find out if a publisher would be interested in seeing an unsolicited chapbook or book-length manuscript. The query would be accompanied by several sample poems.

3. To inquire about booking a reading or workshop with a bookstore, college, or other venue.

4. To request permission to reproduce a line or excerpt from  another author’s work, or permission to reproduce a work of art.

Below are several examples of cover and query letters for various purposes

Sample Cover Letter (Formal)

May 4, 1999


Jackson Wheeler, Editor

5146 Foothill Road

Carpenteria, California 93013

Dear Jackson Wheeler:

Carolyn Kizer recommended your literary journal to me and encouraged me to send you some of my work. Enclosed please find the following poems for your consideration: “You Wanted To Look Outside the Window,”  “ Weightless”, “ Listening for Hoovers, Catching Glimpses of the Red Hat That Isn’t There” (prose poem) and  “Texas Star” (prose poem).

My publishing credits include three collections of poetry, most recently Translations from the Human Language (2001 Sixteen Rivers Press).  Literary awards include the National Poetry Series, California Book Award, and Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize. My work has appeared in Barnabe Mountain Review, Flyway, Fourteen Hills, and Nimrod.

Also enclosed is an SASE for your reply. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best Regards,

Sample Cover Letter (informal)

October 24, 2001

Daphne Young

Julianne Bonnet

Rainbow Curve

P.O. Box 93206

Las Vegas, NV 89193-3206

Dear Daphne and Julianne,

Congratulations to you both on launching your new journal! Kristin Levine forwarded your call for submission to me, and your plea for something “edgier” than the submissions you had received so far.

I have enclosed a prose poem called “The Head Fields,” (inspired by the horrors of applying and interviewing for college teaching jobs), and another called “Bridge.” Also enclosed are four lyric poems: “Excuse Poem,” “After great pain, don’t describe how you feel; find the right movements,” “Capable of Flight,” and “the gang’s still here.”

Also enclosed is a brief bio FYI and an SASE for your reply.

I wish you the best of luck with this new venture.

Best regards,

Sample Cover Letter (contest)

June 23, 2003

Red Hen Press

Short Fiction Award

P.O. Box 3537

Granada Hills, CA 91394

Enclosed is a short story titled “Two Characters in a Story Which is Having a Sad Ending.” I am entering this in your Short Fiction Award Competition, and have also enclosed the $15.00 entry fee and an SASE for notification of the contest results.

Thank you,

Sample Cover Letter (Journal with Specific Theme)

June 23, 2003

Gail Wronsky and Mark Salerno, Poetry Editors

The Los Angeles Review

c/o Red Hen Press

P.O. Box 3537
Granada Hills, CA 91394

Dear Gail Wronsky and Mark Salerno:

I recently learned about the theme for your 2004 issue of The Los Angeles Review: Language, Silence and Oppression. Enclosed are three poems for your consideration.

The first poem, “Inadequate Anger,” was written during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, frustrated by my inability to respond to the lies and manipulation of our government, the cover-up of casualties, and the disturbing way our buried crimes were surfacing in the nightmare poems my young students were writing.

The second poem is a response to this year’s war in Iraq and the domestic war against the working poor, in fact, to the climate of denial and deception characterizing our country at present. It refers to our anxiety about and complicity with institutional oppression and the silencing of our own fears. It is called “Forecast.”

The third poem was written on March 18, the night the bombs began falling in Iraq, and the week I and many of my part-time colleagues at the Junior College where I work lost our jobs and medical benefits, part of the fall-out from Enron’s fabrication of California’s “energy crisis.” This poem is called “What It’s About (with thanks to Allen Ginsberg).”

Also enclosed are a brief bio FYI and an SASE for your reply.  You don’t need to return the poems.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sample Query Letter for a Reading

February 7, 2004

Sylvia Whitman

Shakespeare and Company Bookstore

37 rue de la Bucherie

75005 Paris

Dear Sylvia Whitman,

I am writing to let you know that I will be in Paris April 9-15 and would like to schedule a poetry reading at Shakespeare and Company. If you have also received my recent e-mail about this, please forgive the duplication.

Let me briefly introduce myself: My name is Terry Ehret. I have published two books of poetry and am the founder of Sixteen Rivers Press in San Francisco. Last spring, two of our authors, Diane Lutovich and Carolyn Miller, read at your bookstore. They encouraged me to write and arrange a reading date with you. I have never visited Paris before, but have heard a great deal about your book store. I have a number of writer-friends who frequent your store and know it well: fellow Petaluman Steven Barclay, Carolyn Kizer, Jerry Fleming.  I admit that to give a reading in Paris would be a thrill.

I would be happy to read on Monday, April 12th, which I believe is your usual night for such events. However, if you do have readers on other evenings, April 14th or 15th would be ideal, as I have family visiting Paris who could be able to attend. It’s good to have a guaranteed audience, however small, no?

I have enclosed A brief bio for your information, and will be happy to bring books with me to the event. My contact information is above.

I will try to e-mail you again, and hope the message comes through. In the meantime, please feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail.

With hope,

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