Covering the Cover Letter

Author:
Publish date:

Q: I’ve written a personal essay for a magazine that invites its readers to submit “meaningful remembrances.” The submission guidelines state that submitted articles are welcome for review. Should I send a query letter or send the essay along with a cover letter? What format should I use?—Carla V. Britt

A: Cover letters generally accompany work already expected by the recipient. Since the magazine welcomes articles for review, an expanded cover letter will work best and be key in getting an editor to look at your essay.

While there are different opinions on how to handle cover letters, one approach is to model the first paragraph to the language on the back of a book cover. It summarizes your work and gives the editor/publisher/agent a crystal-clear picture of your story. In the subsequent paragraphs, include (briefly) your background, especially anything that would make you somewhat of an authority on the subject you’re writing about, and any extremely prestigious credits you may have. While your third-grade Mother’s Day essay may have won you first prize at school, it’s better to leave it off and include only notable published works and writing awards you’ve received from well-known organizations. Stylistically, business-letter format works best.

Many people confuse cover letters with query letters. A query letter is a sales pitch for something that hasn’t yet been contracted. You’re selling an idea for a piece. It can be less formal—more like an outline—and should hit on the major points you plan to cover. Many editors and publishers request that you send a query letter up front, so be sure to double-check the guidelines.

They don’t have the time to eye a manuscript without being briefed on its contents, so they use query letters and cover letters to speed up the process.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

Comedy vs. Comity (Grammar Rules)

Comedy vs. Comity (Grammar Rules)

There's nothing funny about learning when to use comedy and comity (OK, maybe a little humor) with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Shugri Said Salh: On Writing the Coming-Of-Age Story

Shugri Said Salh: On Writing the Coming-Of-Age Story

Debut author Shugri Said Salh discusses how wanting to know her mother lead her to writing her coming-of-age novel, The Last Nomad.

100 Ways to Buff Your Book

100 Ways to Buff Your Book

Does your manuscript need a little more definition, but you’re not sure where to begin? Try these 100 tips to give your words more power.

Kaia Alderson: On Internal Roadblocks and Not Giving Up

Kaia Alderson: On Internal Roadblocks and Not Giving Up

Kaia Alderson discusses how she never gave up on her story, how she worked through internal doubts, and how research lead her out of romance and into historical fiction.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Seven New Courses, Writing Prompts, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce seven new courses, our Editorial Calendar, and more!

Crystal Wilkinson: On The Vulnerability of Memoir Writing

Crystal Wilkinson: On The Vulnerability of Memoir Writing

Kentucky’s Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson discusses how each project has its own process and the difference between writing fiction and her new memoir, Perfect Black.

From Script

Approaching Comedy from a Personal Perspective and Tapping into Your Unique Writer’s Voice (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, interviews with masters of comedy, screenwriter Tim Long ('The Simpsons') and writer-director Dan Mazer (Borat Subsequent Movie) about their collaboration on their film 'The Exchange', and filmmaker Trent O’Donnell on his new film 'Ride the Eagle' co-written with actor Jake Johnson ('New Girl'). Plus, tips on how to tap into your unique voice and more!

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Accepting Feedback on Your Writing

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Accepting Feedback on Your Writing

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not accepting feedback on your writing.

Writer's Digest Best Creativity Websites 2021

Writer's Digest Best Creativity Websites 2021

Here are the top creativity websites as identified in the 23rd Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2021 issue of Writer's Digest.