Terrible Cover Letters: A List of Do’s and Don’ts

You may glance at this title and think “C’mon, really? With writing, editing, reading, submitting, and so on, what’s the big deal about a cover letter?” Brendan Delaney is back to provide some sound advice. Cover letters matter. Seriously, take heed. 

 1.) Don’t make your bio a lyrical essay. If you’ve never been published before, just tell us. 

2.) Do address a specific editor if you haven’t met him/her in person and have been encouraged to submit. 

3.) Don’t include bumper sticker slogans like “Art isn’t competition.” We’ve seen them all. Everyone’s seen them all. 

4.) Do provide ALL relevant contact information. This includes your full name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address. We would like to reach you as soon as we accept your piece. Having this information up front makes it easier for everyone. You want to be notified ASAP, right? 

5.) Don’t use first-person in your bio. 

6.) Do use first-person in your cover letter, though. “Brendan is very excited to submit to your magazine” just sounds weird. 

7.) Don’t skip the cover letter. C’mon now. 

8.) Don’t use double negatives in your cover letter. If we’re judging your grammar in your letter, we won’t have high hopes for your actual submission.

9.) Don’t list every single publication you’ve had. Do tell us the main journals you’ve been featured in, though, or the ones you’re most proud of, or your most recent ones. 

10.) Don’t write your cover letter by hand on personalized stationary if you’re submitting via snail mail. We appreciate lovely handwriting and cat-themed letterheads, but be professional. Type. 

11.) Don’t describe your work as “anything-esque.” We all have our inspirations. But we want to read your work for what it is, and we won’t be swayed if it’s “Bukowski-esque” or “Alice Munroe-esque.” Let us be the judge. 

12.) In fact, don’t describe your work at all. We’re writers. We’re readers. Trust us to figure out what your work is doing.

13.) Don’t include blurbs about your work from other writers. Even if it’s Stephen King. 

14.) Do submit your work early and often, and if you are rejected, remember that tastes differ. A different set of eyes at a different publication may see your work in ways we don’t. Everyone is human, and tastes aren’t uniform throughout the literary world. 

Brendan Delaney is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University. He served as a reader/editor for Issue 41 of Oyez Review, and will serve as the student editor/intern this fall for Issue 42. 

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About Oyez Review

Oyez Review is the literary magazine of Roosevelt University's MFA Program in Creative Writing. We publish high-quality fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and art from all over the nation and the world!
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