Writing an Enticing Cover Letter by Arlene Mandell

I smiled, with both appreciation and recognition, as I read Arlene Mandell’s guest blog. I, too, have been amazed that people in my workshops have not given thought to their cover letters. Take a good look at her #4. And remember that you’re writing to human beings, people who want to be appreciated for their journal/website/whatever as much as you want them to appreciate the work you’re submitting.

Thanks, Arlene, for being our guest blogger this week.

Writing an Enticing Cover Letter by Arlene Mandell

Groan. I have to write a letter? Can’t I just email this brilliant essay? Or squander a 44-cent stamp and add a perky Post-It with “Please publish ASAP”? No, you cannot.

Having written 3,200 cover letters in the past 20 years, I haven’t wanted to spend too much time crafting each one, yet I want the editor to feel acknowledged and respected.

1. Create attractive letterhead on your computer. Don’t embellish with little feather pens or winsome kittens. Save it.

2. Write a basic bio of 50 words in third person, another of 75 words. Save them. Unless you’re applying for a scholarship, you need not mention where you went to college. If a publication specializes in the domestication of wild animals, you may add, “Onoria Jones raises Bengal tigers on her quarter-acre estate in Petaluma, CA.” Revise annually, adding more impressive credits, i.e., Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize.

3. Reread the submission guidelines, underlining key elements: genre, number of poems, and, most importantly, the deadline.

4. If you have actually read the publication—a really good idea—mention specifically what you enjoyed before stating: “Thank you for considering ‘My Little Margie,’ a 700-word essay for your fall issue. If you are submitting several works, list them in a column. And if you’re submitting for the spring issue of Conifer Quarterly, don’t send photos of snow-covered cedars.

5. Now assemble the components: letterhead, introduction, specifics, and third-person bio. This should fit neatly on one page. As a postscript I always add: “Please recycle” since a coffee-stained, rumpled poem cannot be used again. Print two copies. One is for your files, as you will rarely remember the specifics of the submission. Proofread. Enclose SASE.

And now, I invite you to return to your writing, confident you have behaved in a responsible, professional manner.


Arlene L. Mandell, who lives in Santa Rosa, CA, has published more than 500 poems, essays and short stories. Her chapbook, Scenes from My Life on Hemlock Street: A Brooklyn Memoir, is available free at www.echapbook.com/memoir/mandell.



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