Cover Letter Mad Lib

When you’re submitting a short story to a literary journal, you send along a cover letter. It’s a little like a query letter, only briefer.

This is the Mad Lib of my usual cover letter format:

Dear [NAME],

[1-2 sentences demonstrating that you’ve read their publication; mention how you came across their publication–are you a regular reader?–a story you enjoyed, or a story they published which you believe is similar to your own submission]

Attached, please find my [WORD COUNT] submission, [TITLE]. [One sentence summary of the story]

[Bio paragraph]

Thanks for your time and consideration,


This is an actual fleshed-out cover letter I’ve been sending around recently. I’ve gotten quite a few bites and positive feedback for this particular story, a lot of “almost” and “dear story, let’s just be literary friends,” talks from several kind and lovely editors. If I just sending it out, hopefully it’ll find a home!

Dear Mr. Towers,

I recently discovered your journal and am in love with the content. I was particularly fond of “The Bank Robbers” in the March issue.

Attached, please find my 1,700-word submission, “Nine Lives.” Fed up with a horde of feral cats terrorizing his family, George undertakes an unorthodox problem-solving approach.

I am an Assistant Editor at Transaction Publishers and have had work appear or forthcoming in Inside Pennsylvania, The Stillwater Review, The Honors Review, The Susquehanna Review, and Weave magazine. My writing has also been awarded 2nd place in The Baltimore Review’s 2011 Creative Non-Fiction Contest and Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest Young Adult Fiction Competition. I maintain a writing blog at Despite what you may think, I am extremely fond of my little black cat, Gizmo.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Hannah Karena Jones

(Image, No Copyright)

12 thoughts on “Cover Letter Mad Lib

  1. emma says:

    This is great! Thanks for posting it. Now, could you tell me how to write my first one, where I explain how I’ve never published squat and haven’t received a writing award since 6th grade? I’m kidding, but it would be really helpful.

    • Carol Deminski says:

      Hi Emma, don’t worry about not having previous publishing credits, everybody has to start somewhere. Just make sure the work you submit is the highest quality you’ve got and that where you are submitting the work to accepts pieces similar in style, tone and quality to what you are submitting.

      Small literary magazines are numerous, so it’s a bit of a numbers game. You may get a bunch of rejections, but keep going until you’ve found a home for your piece.

      In terms of the cover letter, you can create a snappy bio statement that doesn’t include past publishing credits. You do have a blog, so include your blog address and anything else you feel is relevant.

      Good luck!

    • hannahkarena says:

      Definitely mention your blog–it’s a great online resume of your writing and your consistent commitment to writing–and then I’d recommend adding facts like what genre you predominantly write in (I am a [fiction/memoir/flash fiction]) and mention if you’re part of any community writing groups. Don’t worry about bluffing and beefing up your bio too much–A LOT of publications (Philadelphia Stories, for example) LOVE to be a writer’s first publishing credit. They’re interested in giving new writers who submit great stories their first shot!

  2. Carol Deminski says:

    Hi Hannah,

    I’d add the submission instructions as written by the journal are an excellent guide too. Some journals explicitly state not to attach a cover letter, others instruct not to list more than X number of previous publishing credits, some tell you not to include any name or contact info on your submitted document (which always makes me nervous!) and so forth.

    I’m not a fan of summarizing the content of your story in a cover letter and I choose not to do it. If the editor interview on Duotrope indicates not to do that, I’d leave that sentence out. 🙂

    Finally, you don’t call it out but it’s worth saying – take the time to look up the name of the (1) managing editor, (2) fiction or poetry editor, depending on what you are submitting and triple check to ensure you’ve spelled that name correctly.

    When there is no editor name available, which sometimes happens, I use the salutation: Dear Name of Journal Editor, or alternatively, Dear Metazen editorial staff. I like to be as inclusive, and polite, as possible.


    • hannahkarena says:

      Of course, it goes without saying that a writer should obey any and all submission guidelines a publication sets. If you want to impress the editor that you’ve read their publication, you certainly want to show that you read their guidelines and can follow directions.

      And the more personal the better! If you can find the editors name through a simple website search, it shows that you’ve spent the extra minute to look into who they are. Bonus points!

    • hannahkarena says:

      The industry standard is no longer than one page. So you could write maybe two paragraphs, but generally agents/publishers aren’t interested in “turning the page.” But of course, check each agent/publisher’s submission guidelines. Maybe try to approach the people that are interested in a two page summaries, or who want the first three chapters attached to the query (then your book will have the chance to speak for itself!)

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