How to Write a Cover Letter

By Adrienne Stallings from Bedford, TX


          As a writing major, I’m not usually daunted by writing (I think I’d need a major change if that were the case). Even 20-page papers are less terrifying when I think “okay, but that’s only 5000 words.” However, there are two types of writing I dread—what I have dubbed “professional emails,” and cover letters. For the former, they’re fairly intuitive to write, I just hate writing them. For the latter, anytime I send my work to a journal requiring a cover letter beyond name and hometown, my anxiety immediately spikes and I turn to Google for help. This usually yields mixed results. Thus, I am writing my tips compiled from said various Google results as well as TCU’s very own Dr. Hogg!

          “Gotham Writers” defines a cover letter as something “short and simple” (Reissenweber). If cover letters are such a simple feat, then what makes writing them so scary? “Writer’s Digest” notes that while a good cover letter does not guarantee an acceptance of your work, a bad cover letter can guarantee a rejection by “knocking an editor off balance before reading them” (Brewer). So, what makes a good cover letter?

         “[T]he cover letter is basically like the pitch, but generally I would say… the shorter the better” is Dr. Hogg’s recommendation. Essentially, do not summarize or explain your work. Let your work speak for itself—though “[y]ou might indicate why you chose to send this particular piece to this particular publication” (Reissenweber). For instance, if you are writing a poem with themes of conservation you might briefly mention said theme within your cover letter to a journal that seeks to publish works regarding Global Warming. This shows familiarity with the publication and subtly signals to the editors your mindfulness.

         On that note, do your research— “the more personalized, the better” (Hogg). Now, this isn’t permission to turn your cover letter into prose, but rather signal your commitment to the editors. Research and read past publications, look into who the editors are, and then let the cover letter reflect that. Previous publications are typically available at no cost on the bigger journals’ websites. However, to find the current editors, you might have to dig a little deeper. Sometimes it’s as easy as typing “awesome journal editors” into that Google search bar, or sometimes you have to spend a few minutes clicking frantically around the journal’s website. You may even think about looking on Twitter or other social media platforms to see who is being tagged by these journals (Hogg). Now, this isn’t without risk. “[I]f you’re not gonna do that effort to be as current as possible, I wouldn’t say it’s better to be generic, but I think it’s worse to be, like, really behind the times for it” (Hogg). Let’s say you do this research and you find the name of an editor. But it turns out that this particular editor had, against your knowledge, left the team by the point in time wherein you’re sending this in. If the editor had been changed not too long ago (i.e. two months), then it’s no harm no foul and you’ll likely not be subjected to any judgment. However, if they had left a while back (i.e. two years), then that might raise some issues and make you out to be a sloppy researcher which, depending on the genre of your work, might be extremely detrimental to you. 

         My final tip concerns what I personally stress over the most—having previous publications (or not). Gotham Writers reassures that having or not having previous publications are no deal breakers—“In fact, many journals are hungry to introduce a great new writer by publishing a debut story” (Reissenweber). If you are still not confident in that regard, however, you don’t have to address that. You especially do not have to compensate for this lack of previous work by “saying a lot of other stuff” in your cover letter (Hogg). Again, brief is better.

         To wrap this up, I’m going to give a final recommendation (which falls in line with the research). Do as the publication asks for the cover letter. I know us here at eleven40seven have an extremely brief requirement—name, hometown, major, and student class year—but other publications leave it much more open (which is where all my tips above come into play). If you want a cookie cutter sample, feel free to browse the links in the works cited (not outright copied here for the obvious reasons) for Writers’ Digest and Gotham Writers. Writer’s Digest has several templates that cover a variety of possible submission types and Gotham Writers’ is short and to the point. Hope this helps and happy writing!

Works Cited 

Brewer, Robert Lee. “Sample Cover Letters for Poetry Submissions.” Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, 20 June 2008, 

(C. Hogg, personal communication, January 26, 2022).

Reissenweber, Brandi. “Ask the Writer.” Answers to Writing Questions – Submissions – Gotham Writers Workshop, Gotham Writers,