Editor’s Notebook: Cover Letters & The Art of Persistence
We’ve been thinking a lot about cover letters lately, both because our submissions are growing, so we’re seeing so many more than we were, and because recent submitters are commenting favorably on our issue composition and design. We always share these letters with each other, because little is more thrilling than knowing writers are appreciating and connecting with our vision.
We know many submitters worry about what to put in a cover letter—we’re writers, we’ve been there—but I can’t help with “This letter worked!” advice, because at Waterwheel Review, we don’t see cover letters until after we’ve made a decision on the submission. We have to hit “accept” or “decline” in Submittable before the letter becomes visible. Still, we can promise you there’s one thing that will always go over very well, regardless of when the letter gets read:
Good humor will always make a harried editor happy. Behold below our all-time favorite lines in a cover letter, from Rex Wilder, a poet who just happens to share a last name with one of us, Cheryl Wilder (no relation). Our guidelines ask that submitters offer only one piece at a time (poets are used to sending multiple poems at once) and that they do NOT label the submitted piece in any way, given that our magazine is genre-label-free. Rex:
“I hope I observed the directions correctly, as in only sending one and NOT telling you whether it’s a poem, a photograph, or a hamburger. Genre-neutral you are!”
He then signed his letter with, “All my best, Rex (maybe Wilder than Cheryl; maybe not).”
Rex and Cheryl were acquainted, because he had contacted her before submitting to ask about whether they might be related, and that resulted in a friendly exchange. Because we try to reach out when a revealed cover letter tells us we have just rejected a person we know, just to pass along a personal note of appreciation for the submission and encouragement to submit again, Cheryl told Rex that we loved the tone of his cover letter, and asked if we could use lines from it sometime as an example (predicting this post). Which in turn prompted this cover letter with a subsequent submission:
“I am sorry, but I no longer write cover letters pro bono.” That was the entire letter.
Most authors, even if they happen to know us, aren’t going to feel comfortable being chatty or goofy in a cover letter. We can’t all be Rex! Stick to your own voice. But DO use that voice again.
Thinking about Rex’s cover letters reminded me that we accepted his “canyon market,” which appeared in Issue #10, on his third try. Off the top of my head, I can think of two other authors we accepted on a second or third submission. In this way, please do be like Rex. If we’ve encouraged you to submit again, take that encouragement seriously.
And if you haven’t submitted to Waterwheel Review at all… what are you waiting for?