On Writing Cover Letters

Oh, the scary stuff. You’ve got your poems after weeks and months of working over them, perfecting every infinitesimal detail, finally happy with the finished result (or as happy as any poet can be because, lets face it, we’re all perfectionists). You’ve researched your magazines (I do sincerely hope you’ve researched your magazines, but maybe I’ll make another post about that) and you’ve decided which lucky ones are going to get your work only-

The blank page of the awaiting email is staring at you.

Now, don’t panic. Blank pages can smell fear. And that cursor only eggs it on, the sod. So don’t panic, don’t backspace, don’t hide your poems away to never see the light of day, because I have got you covered. (Pun not at all intended but ever-so appreciated)

The Cover Letter

A terrifying prospect and a strange beast. Not at all similar to the ways of the job search cover letter – with that one you’re on your own because I have no idea! But thankfully, along the way of my degree, I was bestowed, by one of my tutors, the knowledge to writing the perfect cover letter. Exciting, isn’t it.

Let me share it with you.


The mode of address. Don’t, and I repeat don’t, fall back on your classic ‘Sir/Madam’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern’. While this may have seemed very sophisticated back in year seven, I can promise you all it looks now is lazy. Straight away you are telling the person holding your precious work between their hands that you did not research their magazine and god knows what they could be holding right now. It’s simple enough to look up the name of the editor – most print magazines will have it written in the front, in the editor’s letter (funnily enough) or, if you’re desperate, just Google it. Works wonders.


Okay, so, your foot is in the door. Now you’ve got to make a good impression. Again, you’ve gotta show off that research you definitely did, and it is easily done. No, I’m not going to make you list all of the major themes of the magazine, but referring to a previous issue – for best results, the most current one as you will seem hip and up to date – will go a long way. Talk about which poems you liked and why you liked them, what impressed you about their magazine. A couple of sentences maximum and there you have it, they are listening to you.


But now we have to get to the important part, the main event, the reason we are all here tonight; you. Now is the time to talk about you. Talk about yourself and your experiences with poetry. Maybe, like me, talk about your pursuing of it at university. If that’s not how you came to poetry, talk about how you came to poetry. Tell your poetic story. But, again, not too much. This is a cover letter, not an autobiography. Another couple of sentences to a paragraph and you are ready to move on.


Do, however, always always remember: Do Not Explain Your Poetry. If you’ve done the job right, explaining it would be entirely tautological. No one likes it when you explain the joke you’ve just told, so why would they want you to explain your poetry? Answer, they don’t. Talk about what has inspired the pieces you are submitting, maybe mention if they’re from a larger body of work for context, but do not explain.


Okay, we’ve done the hard bit now. This is where we bring it home. “I have enclosed (Insert Number Here) poems for your consideration”. There. Simple. Make sure you haven’t gone over the maximum amount of poems they’ve asked for, and let them know how many. Then, if some goes wrong with the attachment, they know you’ve meant to enclose poems and will, hopefully, contact you.


The easiest bit. Sign off. Thank them for their time, say you hope to hear from them soon, and finish off your email with your favourite farewell. I’m a Kind Regards kind of girl but go with what your heart tells you.


And, finally, make sure you’ve adhered to the specific magazines requirements for submission. Do they want an attachment? Or the poems in the body of the email? Or both? Or is it a form on the website and this whole thing has been for nothing? Either way, check.

And that’s it! You’re home free. A final top tip would be to keep track of where you’ve sent all your poems – mine are in an excel spreadsheet – so you don’t accidentally simultaneously submit and also you can check back every now and then and remind yourself that, yes, your poems are out there somewhere.

Happy submitting everyone!


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