Home > News > How to Write a Cover Letter for a Literary Magazine Submission

By Jane Campbell

If you’ve submitted a piece to PRISM, you’ve probably noticed that we ask you to include a cover letter with your work. You may be wondering why we want a cover letter and what kind of information you’re supposed to include. I know I found the whole cover letter idea mysterious and intimidating when I started sending out my work.

Here’s the good news: It’s easy to write a cover letter for a literary magazine submission, and it shouldn’t take you more than five minutes. In the lit mag world, a cover letter is a vehicle to convey necessary information to the editor, and that’s all. You don’t need to convince us to read your submission, we’re going to do that no matter what. You don’t need to prove that your piece will be a good fit for our magazine, we’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.

Here’s some information you definitely should include in your cover letter:

  • Your name and contact information
  • The name of the magazine and the name of the editor-in-chief or appropriate genre editor, if this information is available
  •  The genre of the piece you’re submitting
  •  The word count for prose submissions/ the number of poems included for poetry submissions
  • A brief bio highlighting your previous publications, your education, and/or your professional background
  • Whether or not this is a simultaneous submission [Ed. Note: I included this because a lot of magazines ask for it, but I personally don’t care. I assume everything is a simultaneous submission, and if it’s not, it should be! Especially if you’re just starting out. But that’s another blog post for another time.]

Here’s information you should NOT include in your cover letter:

  • A synopsis of your piece – As noted above, we are going to read the piece no matter what. Don’t spoil us!
  • Your life story – If you’re so inclined to share this information, we accept non-fiction submissions
  • Vague, hyperbolic praise for the magazine – I love PRISM, I really do, but if you write that it would be an honour to be published in our world-renowned magazine, I will assume you’re reusing the cover letter you sent to The New Yorker
  • A list of magazines that have rejected the piece you’re submitting – I wouldn’t include this if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. More than once.
  • For those of you with extensive publication histories: A list of every single piece you have ever published – If you send a two page single-spaced list of publications, I’m just going to skim it, and I’m probably going to miss the best parts. You’re better off noting that you have many publications and highlighting a few that are particularly impressive

Any questions? Check out this handy example. Feel free to fill in your own information and reuse it. You can even send it to PRISM. I’ll be flattered!

6 Comments, RSS

  • joshuacgrant

    says on:
    September 4, 2013 at 12:30 am

    Reblogged this on Radical Revisions and commented:
    You should read this before submitting to a literary magazine, elsewise you’re liable to waste your time drafting up the most syrupy-sickening compliment for the “most scrumptious magazine ever,” or equally sickening humblebrags about your own work. Just read it. Do it. Then send poetry to EVENT.

  • Lakia Gordon

    says on:
    November 21, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Thank you for sharing this! It was very helpful.

  • dwallock

    says on:
    December 5, 2013 at 7:31 am

    Thanks this helped me so much!

  • Erin Lockhart

    says on:
    February 14, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Extremely helpful. As a newbie I have done some of the things one should refrain from doing. Now reading my cover letter, it’s short, simple, to the point and sounds much better. Thank you for this help!