From the editor’s desk: more unsolicited advice

It’s that part of the reading period for The Los Angeles Review (just under halfway) when I start looking at the way the poetry is shaping up for the issue, and feel proud of the work we are privileged to do in the lit mag world.

It’s also the part of the reading period when I start to get confused by some of what we see in the inbox. As any submitting writer knows (or should know), your cover letter is a first impression. A good cover letter doesn’t make an editor love your writing, of course, but it makes it easier for her to like it. (If you’re new to the submissions and cover letter game, The Poetry Resource Page has some good tips for getting started.) The best cover letters are both professional and personable. The article I wrote for the 2011 Poet’s Market focuses mainly on how to be professional in a cover letter, but I think there’s room here for a word about being personable.

We recently read a submission in the inbox addressed to “To Whom It May Concern.” Okay, fair enough. Editors’ names are posted on our website and are pretty easy to find, but I’ll go with “Whom.” But as I read on, I realized I knew this writer. He was somebody I’ve met in person, and talked shop with. He’s someone who definitely knows our names. I was flummoxed as to why he’d write such a specifically unfriendly letter to us. When we realized his poems weren’t quite a fit for the issue, I felt like giving him some tips about other material we’d like to see from him in the future, but felt his cover letter was so standoffish that I should probably send a simple form rejection in response.

Later, having thought it over, I realized he was probably erring on the side of being overly professional. Maybe he really would have appreciated some editorial feedback on his work. But he didn’t seem to leave the interaction open for any kind of exchange. It’s an infrequent thing for an editor to have the time to make personal comments, so effectively shutting down those kinds of comments with a clinical demeanor is likely to result in a rather lonely and possibly discouraging submissions process for the writer.

So here’s my (again, unsolicited) advice to submitters: if you’ve met the editor to whom you’re submitting, say so! We like hearing from writers we’ve connected with. If you’re a reader and a fan of the journal, say so! We like learning that our submitters actually know us as a magazine and like our work. Did a contributor to our magazine refer you to us? Say so! Let us know how you found us. Stay professional, of course, but enough with the “To Whom it May Concern.”

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4 Replies to “From the editor’s desk: more unsolicited advice”

  1. Dear everyone,

    As an agent, If you’ve met me somewhere, especially if I’ve asked you to submit, please mention so. Mention where, when and the nature of the meeting. This can even go right in the headline of the email. I’m not the best with names, but with a little encouragement, I can remember nearly everyone I speak to at a conference, class, etc. You can be familiar and friendly, but remember that your query/submission is a business letter with the hopes of becoming a business transaction in which contracts are signed and services are provided. So, maintain a level of professionalism.

    xoxo

    G

  2. Well, in case we needed the reminder that I can’t speak for all editors, over on Twitter ( http://twitter.com/kellydavio ), Tim Green of Rattle–one of my all-time favorite journals–tells me he could care less about cover letters. So there you go.

    That said, I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to be professional and friendly.

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