Working as a founding editor for The Citron Review can be very rewarding, but it can also be an exercise in frustration. The frustration comes in filtering through the dearth of submissions from writers who have clearly not taken the time to read what we publish. They send us things that don’t fit our style. And, of course, because of their generic cover letters, we have no way of telling what we’re in for. This stems from mass submissions.
As a writer, I understand the need for mass-submissions. The theory behind it is this: if I submit to 100 journals, one of them is bound to love what I’ve written. The problem is, how many of these 100 journals have you actually read? Have you bothered to read the guidelines? Many of our submitters skip over that crucial step.
I give you all that background to say this: I came across one of the greatest cover letter’s I’ve ever read today. Loved it. I want to run this guy’s piece now, just on the merit of the cover letter. Here’s what he says, with my comments following important parts.
Dear Probably Intern, (Though TCR doesn’t have interns, I understand that this submitter understands how most literary journals work. Plus, it made me chuckle, which puts me in a good mood already.) My name is (I’ll keep his name out of it for now, since I don’t have his express permission to use it in my blog) and I’m an undergraduate English major at (a major university which I won’t name on the basis of protecting anonymity) with no credentials (I now know that he’s a beginning writer looking for his first publication, and as an editor, I’m inclined to read these carefully. We take special pleasure at TCR in publishing new writers). I work at (the local university literary review) and know how much fun reading Submittable (our submission program) for hours can be (more humor! I like this guy!), so I kept to a short-short (yeah! A courteous submitter!) that avoids the breakup-in-a-bar narrative apparently plaguing the nation’s MFA programs (yes, he’s exactly right! More humor, and he understands the current state of “literature”.) Thanks guys (an informal closing to an informal, but amusing letter. Already, I want to accept his work without even reading it.)
Lastly, I wanted to mention that his work demonstrates a similar informality and humor. It was well written.
Long story short, your cover letter should be personal, specific to whichever journal you’re submitting to, and respectful. If humor isn’t your thing, don’t try to be funny. Just be you. Your cover letter is your opportunity for editors to see you as you are. Make sure the "U” in “you” comes through clearly.