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Before we get to the critique, let's talk about cover and query letters. A cover letter typically accompanies work when the publisher is requesting to see the entire manuscript. If you are submitting a couple of poems then the publisher is going to want to see them in their entirety. If you are thinking of pitching a chapbook many publishers want to see the entire collection of poems. A query letter, on the other hand, is when the publisher or an agent wants you pitch the idea to them before you send him/her the manuscript. This allows the agent or publisher to decide wether or not they want to see your manuscript. Make sure to check the publishers and/or agents guidelines to see if they want the entire piece or just a query. Now over to Ishta.
First of all, I want to thank Rena for being such a gracious and brave blog hostess. Not only has she welcomed me here, but she has
sacrificed her cover letter on the altar of the red pen of
doom offered to have me critique her own cover letter so everyone can learn
from it. How awesome is she for doing that?
I have to say that this cover letter is a great example of “less is more” in action – Rena gets straight to the point, only includes the relevant information, and keeps it simple and professional throughout. It can be tempting to over-explain or over-sell, but Rena stays away from all of that malarkey, and the letter is better for it.
But you haven’t even seen the letter yet! So let’s get to it. Here’s Rena’s cover letter, with my feedback in bold red like everything I’ve said so far in this post:
Rena J. Traxel
email@example.com I could be wrong, but I’d align your name and details with the right hand margin. A quick look at the Chicago Manual of Style would clarify the proper formatting.
April 19, 2012 I’d definitely put the date after the recipient’s address.
Submissions Editor, REDACTED magazine
Dear Editor: This is okay if they’ve specifically avoided listing a name, but if you can find a name anywhere (like in the sidebar where magazines usually list editors and contributors), it’s better to use it.
Enclosed are three poems for your consideration for REDACTED MAGAZINE: “Mud Puddle Fun,” “Digestion,” and “Snack Time.” Each poem has been written with the child’s age in mind (three to six year olds). Great opener! Straight to the point. I believe Magazine titles might be italicized, but check a style manual for clarification.
“Muddle Puddle Fun,” Is it “Muddle Puddle Fun” or “Mud Puddle Fun”? You say the latter in the first paragraph. is a four-line poem about playing in the mud. “Digestion,” is ten lines and is a humorous poem about the process of digestion. “Snack Time,” is a five-line poem about a child politely asking for a snack. To read more of my poetry, please go to my blog at www.renajtraxelblog.com. I’d cut this line - if you were submitting to an agent it would be relevant, since an agent is interested in your entire body of work. But since you’re sending these specific poems to an editor for publication in a specific magazine, I don’t see why she would want to see your other work. Seeing this line makes me think, “Why isn’t she submitting those other poems from her blog?”
Also: cut the commas from that paragraph. Additionally, while your descriptions are probably accurate, they’re a little bit on the dry side. This could be fine, since the poems are short and unless the editor hates snacks or thinks mud gives people cooties, she’s likely to read them. But replacing words like “playing” and “asking” with more interesting words (maybe even words from your poems) like “frolicking” and “begging” (just examples – whatever you actually say in your poem would be much better) might give it a little more pep. That’s a nitpicky thing, though. I don’t think it will make or break your query.
Thank you for your time. I can be contacted by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling REDACTED. I look forward to hearing from you. I have enclosed an SASE for your reply. I’d cut the line in red. First of all, because it is confusing – you say to contact you via email or phone, then you say you’ve enclosed an SASE for their reply. Also, it’s unnecessary; you put those details at the top of your letter, so there is no need to state that they can contact you through those means. This paragraph is good without it.
Rena J. Traxel
Encl.: 3 Poems (Mud Puddle Fun, Digestion, Snack Time).
SASE Very, very smart to state after your signature what you’ve put in the envelope. Almost nobody does this, but everybody should.
That’s it for my feedback! You did a great job with this query, Rena – it was very clean to begin with, and really only needs a bit of tweaking here and there to make it shine. If anyone else has any thoughts, please, feel free to share them. Feel free to disagree, even! Queries are tricky things, and like everything else in this business, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for the next.
Best of luck with your submission, Rena, and thanks again for hosting me on your blog!
--Pick some of the poems you have written and think about submitting them for publication or come up with a title for your poetry collection. If you decide to share the title keep in mind that titles aren't copyright protect so you might want to keep the title to yourself.
--As for today's poem. I want you to write a poem using your preferred style.
If you liked this post please let others know. I would like to remind everyone that if you are going to borrow a photo or illustration etc. from my blog that you must give credit to the artist. Tomorrow, with the help of Kari-Lynn Winters, I'll be talking about rhyme. I hope you come for that.
Ishta Mercurio-Wentworth studied dance and theatre in college, even though her job was in the Writing Centre helping other students get their essays to make sense. Now a stay-at-home mom, she enjoys writing stories and poetry for kids and teens much more than she ever enjoyed writing essays, but she still gets a kick out of helping other people make their own writing better. If your query letter needs a fresh set of eyes, you can email it to email@example.com to be featured on Ishta’s Query Workshop every Wednesday on her blog at www.ishtamercurio.blogspot.com.