How to Write a Cover Letter for a Poetry Submission What is a Cover Letter for Submitting a Poem? What to Include in a Cover Letter for a Poetry Submission Writing a Cover Letter for Poetry Submission A Basic Template for a Poetry Cover Letter Sample Cover Letter for Poetry Submission Tips on Writing a Cover Letter for Poetry Submission Your Take-Away
How to Write a Cover Letter for a Poetry Submission What is a Cover Letter for Submitting a Poem? What to Include in a Cover Letter for a Poetry Submission Writing a Cover Letter for Poetry Submission A Basic Template for a Poetry Cover Letter Sample Cover Letter for Poetry Submission Tips on Writing a Cover Letter for Poetry Submission Your Take-Away
Updated 27/10/2020

How to Write a Cover Letter for a Poetry Submission

Ready to submit your poems for publication? Write a strong cover letter to introduce yourself and your work and give one more reason for editors to choose you.

Ready to submit your poems for publication? Write a strong cover letter to introduce yourself and your work and give one more reason for editors to choose you.

A cover letter is part and parcel of poetry submission as each poet needs an introduction and a few words of their bio and creative method. A cover letter is a resume in the literary world that can vary from two brief paragraphs to a couple of pages, depending on the requirements and guidelines. In this article, we’ll cover everything from small details, like fonts and length of a cover letter, to broader topics, like content and do’s and don'ts of a poetry submission cover letter.

01

What is a Cover Letter for Submitting a Poem?

Any literary magazine, anthology, poetry competition, or poetry fellowship requires poets to submit their work plus a cover letter with some details about the poems submitted and the author themselves. Although a cover letter format is generally similar (introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion), the length and other elements may vary depending on its purpose.

You can rest assured that an editorial office makes any publication-related decisions based on your poetry. The poetry is always read first. However, later in the selection process, when deciding which to choose and which to reject, cover letters become the critical tiebreaker.

Typically, cover letters for publication will make do with just 30 words while applications for poetry retreat, poetry residency, or a job will require 1 to 2.5 pages. Submission requirements contain all the information regarding the format of a cover letter.

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02

What to Include in a Cover Letter for a Poetry Submission

It is important to include your personal information along with all information required by the organization’s descriptions. In almost all cases, poetry reading before publication is blind. Therefore, editorial assistants will later need to quickly match poems with the author’s cover letter and bio.

Poetry Publication:

  • List your submitted poems’ titles;
  • Professional bio (30-75 word) (optional);
  • 3-5 places where you’ve been published, or say you will be published (optional).

Poetry Retreats, Residencies, and Fellowships:

  • List your submitted poems’ titles;
  • Professional bio (30-75 word);
  • 3-5 places where you’ve been published, or say you haven’t been published yet;
  • Aesthetics statement (your artistic influences and some context for your poems)
  • A few words about your personal bio (what you do, where you work, and any work you do in the art community).

03

Writing a Cover Letter for Poetry Submission

Even if you know nothing of writing poetry cover letters, it is common sense to stick to a business letter format. What you must remember at all times, though, is to start your cover letter by reading the submission instruction first. Read the organization’s submission requirements before you start writing, and after you proofread a piece several times. Make sure you include all of the specific information requested of you. After you have included it all, double-check the instructions again to see if you followed them correctly. In many cases, applicants find out that they missed an important part, or two, of the instructions.

Provide Your Contact Information. Many magazines, such as the Poetry Foundation, have stopped accepting paper submissions and invite poets to send their work via email. Although your email submission contains your email address, include all your contact information at the upper left-hand corner of your document to be on the safe side and ensure that a magazine or a journal can reach you. Nowadays, they don’t need to know your residential address. Normally, your valid email and working phone number are enough for any organization.

A sound piece of advice is to “include your name in the subject line so the editor can easily find your message in their inbox if they are looking for it again.”

Write a Greeting. Personalized greetings are favored over generic ones. ‘Dear Sirs’ is a big no-no. There’s no reason why an editor should be a man.

A good rule of thumb is to look for the current editor’s name on the organization’s website or Submittable page. If you cannot find the editor’s name, say ‘Dear editor’ or ‘Dear editors.’

Address All Requested Information in the Body Paragraphs. The guiding principle of writing body paragraphs in a poetry cover letter is brevity. Rely on the requirements but address each item on the list briefly and succinctly.

The staple element of all poetry cover letters is the content of a submission.

In the examples below, you will see the poets mention the names of their poems. Some submissions will require you to add short descriptions to each poem; others will do with just the names.

  • If you include less than three pieces, add a short sentence for each poem. If your submission has more than four poems, try to come up with a common theme(s) and describe it in 2-3 sentences under 100 words.
  • If you include your bio, do it briefly: “I am a poet from New Brunswick currently studying at New York University.”
  • If you want or are asked to add a more extended biography, include your pronouns, your primary form of employment, your most significant awards, and your level of education/city of residence. Keep it under 100 words.
  • If you include your publication history, 2 to 5 places are more than enough. If you have had multiple publications, pick the most impressive ones but don’t give them all.
  • If you submit your poetry to other publications, mention it briefly, too.
  • If you’re an avid reader of the magazine, you can mention a few poets or poems you like the most.

Close with Some Nice Words. It is ok to finish off on a dry, unimaginative note, like “Thank you for considering my work. I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon.” However, you can add some vitality to your letter and make it more memorable. Tell them what you love the most about their organization. Thank them for their time. Try not to step over a fine line between familiarity and niceness and not to tumble down into rigidity and formality.

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04

A Basic Template for a Poetry Cover Letter

[Your Name]
[Your Postal Address]
[Your E-mail Address]
[Your Phone Number]
[Your Website or Social Media]
[Name of Editor]
[Job Title]
[Journal/Magazine Title]
[Department if applicable]
[The date when you send the submission]

Dear [Name of Editor]:
I’ve enclosed my poetry/fiction submission for publication in [Journal/Magazine Title]. Included are [Titles of Poems]. My work has appeared in [3-5 Titles of other publications], among others.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[Your Name]
[Your Title if applicable]
[1-3 affiliated organizations or universities]

[Short Professional Bio is written in the third person in case of publication] Enola Holmes was born in Hawaii and raised in Washington, D.C. After graduating from New York University, she became a self-taught poet. Holmes currently works as a freelance copywriter and volunteers as a vet in Soho, NY.

To expand on the template, ALWAYS read the description on the organization’s website, follow their instruction, and add what is required.

05

Sample Cover Letter for Poetry Submission

Sample 1: Here’s a cover letter for the submission of four poems with explicit instructions not to include a biography.

To the readers and editors of Poetry Foundation,

I write to offer my four poems for submission in Poetry Magazine. To elaborate, the poem ‘Japanese Nocturne’ refers to the mass destructive events of WWII. ‘Apples and Figs’ appeared as a response to a recent Trump political decision and the sense of alienation some people are experiencing now while ‘Dressed to Impress’ and ‘Hope’ touch on the theme of migration and globalization. I hope you enjoy the work, and thank you for considering my submission.

Sincerely Yours,
Enola Holmes

Sample 2: This cover letter also includes a short bio as required by the submission instruction.

To the readers and editors of Poetry Foundation,

I have included two poems – ‘Cat Forgotten’ and ‘Leaves on the Ground’ – from my recent manuscript. Both poems are connected by the theme of loneliness in the digital era and alienation in urban spaces. Among my current loves is Patrick Melbourne’s ‘Love Deterred’ and Felicia Jones’ ‘Given and Forgotten’ published in your magazine. If you accept my submission for publication, it would be an incredible honor for me. These poems have been submitted to another publication as well.

Sincerely Yours,
Enola Holmes

Bio: Enola Holmes (she/her) is a poet and multimedia artist. She was shortlisted for the 2019 National Book Foundation Award and is a finalist for the 2020 PEN/Hemingway Award for the poetry collection Silver Bells and Cockle Shells (Hawaii Publishing Books, 2019). Holmes has been awarded American Library in Paris Visiting Fellowship in 2018 and Vermont Studio Center Residency in 2019. Her work has been published in Slate and Playboy. Holmes received a BA in Creative Writing from NYU.

Cover letters are read last in poetry submissions, but they have a casting vote.
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06

Tips on Writing a Cover Letter for Poetry Submission

You are probably aware that editors and editorial assistants read tons of applications and submissions daily. It means they have developed inevitable fatigue to trite and banal introductions and approaches. Therefore, you must follow the rules of cover letter writing, but at the same time, you need to try and infuse some vitality and freshness into these few simple paragraphs.

Here are the rules you must follow:

Always support your words with facts. Avoid describing your biography in banal phrases like “I have always loved poetry, and I cannot live without writing.” To stand out from the others, show your emotion and passion through facts. “After I read Langston Hughes for the first time I got infatuated with Harlem Renaissance, which resulted in a publication in Black Poetry titled ‘Born Again with a Retrograde Mercury.’”

Stay on topic. Although earlier, a cover letter was referred to as a resume of the literary world,’ it should not be as detailed as a formal resume. The exact number of earlier publications and/or awards is given for a reason. Don’t include exhaustive lists of all your awards and residencies. Add only the most impressive items.

Avoid small talk. You absolutely must skip any pleasantries if you believe they are part of common formalities. Editors do not expect you to entertain them. Rather, they appreciate if applicants are polite and to the point.

Control your tone. Respect is expressed not only through proper greetings, good grammar, and error-free writing. Show respect by not acting as if you submitted exceptional work that cannot help but be accepted. But also don’t act as if you expect your poems to be rejected! Neither overconfidence nor self-doubt will pay off.

Choose adequate fonts. Single-spaced, Arial or Times New Roman, 12 point is standard. Any smaller fonts are difficult to read. Any larger fonts are irritating.

Some technical details. If you submit your poetry online, insert your cover letter in the body of an email, and add your poems as a separate attachment (as a pdf-file or Word file) unless you are explicitly told to do otherwise.

07

Your Take-Away

We prepared this material to help you not to smudge the memorable impression your poetry made on editors. If you believe your poetry is strong enough to be published in a magazine or a journal, polishing your cover letter will seal the deal. Just follow the rules and give your cover letter a thorough read-through, double-checking all publication requirements. However, remember that getting published demands time and effort. It often takes publishers months to respond. Poets get rejected more often than not. So don’t get disheartened and keep submitting. Often poetry publication is a matter of taste of an editorial office. Eventually, all writers can find their publishers.

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