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How to write a great manuscript cover letter

Writing a compelling cover letter to submit with your manuscript is more important than most authors realize. After all, publishing, at its core, is still a business built on relationships. Tailoring your cover letter to the interests of the acquisition editor makes a good first impression. This is especially important if you have not had the opportunity to meet the editor at a conference or in some other venue.

Ironically, part of the power of a brief cover letter also relates to its short length. In this age of information overload, short pieces of writing have an impact disproportionate to their size. Their very brevity makes it more likely they will be read. To get the most out of this potentially powerful little document, consider the following tips shared by Amy Benson Brown, a writing coach with Academic Coaching & Writing and contributor to the ACW Academic Writing Blog.

Don’t Neglect the Basics

Review the instructions to authors on the website of the journal or press to which you are submitting your work. Follow their guidelines on how to format the submission, including the cover letter.

Use the letterhead paper of your institution, if the publisher requests a paper submission. If the submission is electronic, either attach a digital copy of the formal cover letter or write an email with the same level of formality, including your full title and contact information.

Address the letter to the appropriate editor by name. If you’re not sure who that is, review the descriptions of the editorial staff and their areas of interest on the publisher’s website to determine who is most appropriate.

In the opening paragraph, ask the editor to consider the manuscript for publication. Believe it or not, many authors overlook this seemingly obvious step.

Assure the editor that this manuscript is not being considered for publication elsewhere. Simultaneous submissions can cause big problems for authors, reviewers, and editors. So, it’s generally best to only submit your manuscript to one place at a time. If you have good reason, however, to send your manuscript to multiple editors, honesty is often the best policy.

Keep the cover letter’s length to a page (or page and a half at the most). This typically translates into three to five paragraphs.

Provide the title of your paper, and the names, titles, and addresses of all authors, if you have co-authors.

Make Your Case

Though a good title communicates much about a manuscript, don’t rely on the title alone. In your letter, describe the main idea of your work in a sentence or two that underscores why it matters and the audience to which it is likely to appeal. Carefully select a few additional points about your work to help the editor see why it is a good fit with this particular journal or press. For instance:

Is there new information presented?

Is this topic especially timely for some reason?

Does the content respond to changing curriculum trends or needs in college teaching?

Is there any contextual information that the editor may be interested in or need to know to see the significance of the work?

Does your manuscript have special relevance for this journal or press? For example, if you’re submitting an article, does it respond to previous articles published in that journal? Similarly, if you’re submitting a book, does its topic relate to other books that press has recently published?

Does the design of your piece, if you’re submitting an article, fit a particular ongoing forum within this journal?  For example, some journals publish opinion articles on trends or controversies in the field, as well as research articles, and reviews.

Are there any ethical issues, such as a potential conflict of interest, that you need to bring to the editor’s attention? Though it’s only human nature to shy away from mentioning negative issues, the cover letter is actually a great place to head off any concerns. Whatever the nature of the potential conflict of interest, you want to be able to assure the editor that your work complies with the ethical guidelines of your field, whether you are in the sciences, social sciences, or humanities. For more information on ethical guidelines related to publishing, consult the website of your discipline’s primary professional society.

Academic Coaching and WritingAcademic Coaching & Writing (ACW) is a group of professional academic coaches committed to helping academic writers achieve their writing and career development goals. ACW writing coaches provide developmental editing and work one-on-one with authors to help them increase writing productivity, improve writing skills, define their research agenda, and publish articles in scholarly journals and books in university presses. Learn more about ACW and how an ACW writing coach can help you. Find out about the ACW Academic Writing Program and request a free 30-minute consultation today.