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Writing a Cover Letter to Publishers

by Lisa Hiton

cover letter writing tips

Originally posted by hogwartsfansite

So You Wanna Be Published?

So you have a story, a sheaf of poems, a comic, a finished project, and you’d like to test it on the masses. You daydream about seeing your name in the pages of the New Yorker or Vogue or The Guardian or The Atlantic. But where do you start? Before you even start sending your work to magazines, you’ll need to get yourself organized by first and foremost writing a cover letter that introduces a magazine’s editors—briefly—to you and your writing.

Writing a Good Cover Letter at Any Age and Any Stage

A cover letter is a one page letter that introduces a writer and the work(s) attached for consideration to an editor. The small biography is usually about 200 words long. For emerging writers (writers who don’t yet have a full-length book with a publisher), this small paragraph might include educational information, publication record, fellowships, and awards. Writers might also include some biographical information such as place of birth, current vocation, or relevant jobs or hobbies.

So what kinds of things might you write if you’ve never published before and you are just getting started? Here is an example of how my high school self might have written a cover letter:

Dear Editors,

I am a freshman at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, IL. I am a student council representative, choral librarian, and dance captain for our upcoming musical, Footloose. This fall, I was Francis Flute in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Attached is my essay about reading and performing Shakespeare called “Must I Speak Now?” (taken from one of France Flute’s lines). I hope you’ll consider it for publication in your magazine.


Lisa Hiton

[insert email]

[insert phone number]

Five simple sentences. If you don’t have any other publications, try to illuminate the things you do and love that offer a sense of your passion and personality. I tried to choose activities that show I’m passionate about community, practice, dedication, and literary arts.

How can you put a spin on your hobbies and extracurricular life that might underscore your understanding of reading and writing?

You might also think about how your pieces relate to the kind of magazine you’re submitting your work to. Now that I’ve written this cover letter, I might try to seek out magazines that publish essays about theater, Shakespeare, or overcoming fears.

Who is your ideal audience?

How might this story inspire them?

Perhaps that is something you can tell an editor too.

You’ll also  notice that I’ve written my cover letter in first person. Though biographies are often in third person when a writer’s work makes it to print, I find first person the most efficient way of introducing myself and my work to an editor with a level of respect and intimacy.

I will say as an editor, I find third person introductions to feel impersonal—they seem more obviously copied-and-pasted for the writer to send mass submissions in one sitting.

Write Your Own Cover Letter Template

Cover letters need to be seamless, but they are also very formal and formulaic. Here is a good template you can copy and paste into your own document and fill in the blanks as you’d like:

[Return Address]

[Address Line 1]

[Address Line 2]

[Magazine Address]

[Address Line 1]

[Address Line 2]

RE: [Insert department or contest title] (THIS LINE IS OPTIONAL)

Dear [Editor or names of editors here],

[Insert your own bio between 100 and 250 words here as one clean paragraph].


[Insert Name]

[Insert email]

[Insert number]

Now that you have a form cover letter, you’ll be able to copy and paste it for each new submission you might make in the upcoming year!

Of course, you’ll want to look at each magazine’s rules for submitting work and cater your cover letter to their specific rules. But with one good cover letter ready to go, these edits and additions are easy to maintain.

Next time at The Write Place, we will talk about how to find the right places to submit your work. So get yourself organized with a cover letter and a finished piece of writing—kick off the new year write!

About Lisa

Lisa Hiton is a poet and filmmaker. She holds an M.F.A. in poetry from Boston University and an M.Ed. in Arts in Education from Harvard University. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Linebreak, The Paris-American, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and LAMBDA Literary among others. Her first book has been a finalist or semi-finalist for the New Issues Poetry Prize, the Brittingham & Felix Pollack Poetry Prize, the Crab Orchard Review first book prize, and the YesYes Books open reading period. She has received the AWP WC&C Scholarship, the Esther B Kahn Scholarship from 24Pearl Street at the Fine Arts Work Center, and two nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Her chapbook, Variation on Testimony, is forthcoming from CutBank Literary. She is the Interviews Editor at Cosmonaut’s Avenue and the Poetry Editor for The Adroit Journal.


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