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Cover Letter Must-Haves For Personal Essay Submissions To Literary Journals | Writer’s Relief

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Want to get your personal essay published in literary journals? Once you edit and proofread your creative nonfiction to perfection, the next step is to write a great cover letter to go with your submissions. Today, the cover letter writing experts here at Writer’s Relief will talk you through the best way to write a cover letter for your personal essays and other creative nonfiction. It’s not as complicated as you may think!

HELPFUL HINT: Short nonfiction pieces submitted to literary journals are usually referred to as “personal essays,” not “memoir.” A memoir tends to refer to a book-length work of creative nonfiction. Check out this link if you’re unsure whether your submission is considered fiction or nonfiction.

FAQs About Cover Letters For Personal Essays And Creative Nonfiction

Why Do Literary Journal Editors Ask For Cover Letters?

Most editors at literary magazines ask for cover letters from writers who are submitting creative nonfiction for publication. When done right, cover letters offer editors information that helps them…

  • Keep submissions organized.
  • Get to know the writer who is making the submission.
  • Publish an author bio if a personal essay is accepted for publication.

Some literary magazine staffers rely on submission managers (online forms) to organize manuscripts. Writers will be prompted to upload files containing cover letters for their personal essays, or the submission manager might be built of individual cut-and-paste fields that essentially require the same information that appears in a cover letter.

Occasionally, writers will discover editors who don’t request a cover letter, preferring nothing beyond contact information, but this is rare.

What’s The Difference Between Submitting A Cover Letter To A Commercial Magazine And Submitting To A Literary Magazine?

Articles sent to glossy commercial magazines and large corporate websites must often be first pitched to editors—as opposed to sending the complete manuscript.

HELPFUL HINT: Not sure which kind of magazine is best for your creative nonfiction? Learn more about media outlets that routinely publish creative nonfiction.

Literary magazines—which are usually more artsy than commercial—do not require writers to pitch submissions. In other words, writers don’t need to tempt editors to look at a personal essay: Editors carefully consider every submission that comes through the door.

For that reason, cover letters that are sent to literary journals should never contain any kind of summary of the work that’s being submitted—no teasing cliffhanger synopses, no descriptions of authorial concerns or themes. In fact, it is often considered poor etiquette to describe a personal essay in the cover letter that is being submitted to literary journal editors.

Since most conscientious editors plan to give respectful consideration to all submissions, it can be offensive when an author tries to tempt editors to do something they believe is their ethical and professional duty.

Also, literary editors are busy people—often they receive hundreds of submissions a day. So they want only the basics in your cover letter. This way, they can get to reading your submission that much faster!

The best plan is to stick with the traditional formula for an effective cover letter—which we’ll get to right now!

(You can also check here to learn more about how to write a cover letter for a freelance magazine article.)

What Are The Main Parts Of A Cover Letter For Submitting Personal Essays And Creative Nonfiction To Literary Magazines?

Contact information. While contact information once might have been limited to an author’s name, address, and phone number, nowadays contact info can also include an author website URL and social media profile/page addresses.

Salutation. The salutation of your personal essay cover letter should include the editor’s first and last name. There’s no need to write “Mr./Mrs./Ms.” unless the editor has self-identified using the honorific in the submission guidelines. Simply write: “Dear First Name Last Name.” Spend some time researching to try to find the full name of the specific editor who reads nonfiction and personal essays. “Dear Editor” is fine if that information is not available.

First line. The first line of the cover letter for your personal essay or nonfiction submission should stick to the facts: It should include the genre and name of the work you’re submitting. Resist the urge to “explain” any more than that. Most editors prefer that writers DO NOT summarize, clarify, or detail the themes and concerns of the piece that’s being submitted. We cannot emphasize this enough.

Author bio. The author bio section of your cover letter for nonfiction submissions to literary magazines should offer some straightforward details about your professional history, any publishing credits, and a hint of personal information. Learn more about how to write a fantastic author bio for a cover letter. If you’re hoping to publish under a pen name, you should note that in the author bio section of your cover letter.

HELPFUL HINT: Some writers stress out big-time over their author bios—even while they’re wondering whether or not an author bio matters at all. Check out both sides of the argument in this article: Does Your Author Bio Really Matter?

Closing line. In the last line of your cover letter for your personal essay, be sure to genuinely thank the literary magazine editor for his or her time spent reading your nonfiction submission.

Including Tricky Information In Your Cover Letter

Sometimes you might want to include information in your cover letter that is helpful to editors but that is also a little bit…well…tricky.

For example, you may want to mention that your personal essay is actually an excerpt from your published memoir (or your unpublished memoir). Or you might want to inquire if the editor would consider a personal essay that has been shared on a social media website  “previously published writing” (and therefore ineligible for publication in a literary magazine).

If your submission needs to be considered within a complicated context, your cover letter is the place to mention any necessary details.

But remember: There’s no need to write a whole book about your situation. Keep additional info as succinct as possible and invite the editor to reach out to you with any additional questions about your personal essay.

Example Of A Cover Letter For Creative Nonfiction (Personal Essay) Submissions To Literary Magazines




Author website URL

Any other URLs


Dear Jane Smith,

Please consider my personal essay “This Is The Title” for publication.

My creative nonfiction has been published in Name Of This Literary Magazine, Name Of That Magazine, and One Other Literary Journal. I’m currently a candidate for my MFA in fiction at University Name. When I’m not writing, you can find me at my day job as a high school English teacher or volunteering at the local animal shelter. I invite you to learn more about me at my website: www.itgoeshere.com. I publish under the pen name Penny Name.

Thank you so much for considering my submission; I welcome your feedback.


Writer Name

Example Of A Cover Letter For A Personal Essay By A New Or Unpublished Writer




Author website URL

Any other URLs


Dear Jane Smith,

Please consider my personal essay “This Is The Title” for publication.

I am an English teacher at a local high school, where I also volunteer as the drama coach and lead an after-school creative writing group. I also oversee the school’s annual literary magazine. I hold a bachelor’s in literature from Name of School and a master’s in education from Name of Other School. When I’m not working or writing, you can find me taking flying lessons or jumping out of airplanes. You can check out some of my writing online at [URL here]. I publish under the pen name Penny Name.

Thank you so much for considering my submission; I welcome your feedback.


Writer Name

Have A Question About Writing A Cover Letter For Your Personal Essay Or Other Creative Nonfiction?

Here at Writer’s Relief, our submission strategists are always happy to talk about strategies that will help our clients get their personal essays and nonfiction published in literary magazines.

Check out our different plans for helping writers get published, and then reach out to us via our online chat, telephone, or e-mail. We would love to speak with you about developing a strategy for getting your personal essays, creative nonfiction, and memoir published.


Question: Do you write creative nonfiction or personal essays, and have you had any published?

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