The moment you submit your work to a literary journal, you are establishing a relationship with the editors at that journal. You wouldn’t go up to someone you were interested in getting to know at a bar and say, “Hey you look good,” and you especially wouldn’t say, “I’m a man, you’re a woman.” The same is true for editors and writers.
We’ve all heard hundreds of different pickup lines or strategies for beginning human relationships, all of which aim to create immediate links between the two parties and to show a genuine interest in the other. While your fiction or poetry will always, first and foremost, speak for itself to the editor, that editor will be seeing your work as one of many from the slush-pile. You’ll want to entice them to give you a more focused read than everyone else.
Editors want to be courted. They want to know that you are interested in their journal and actively want your work to be published with them; they don’t want to feel like you sent your story off to the five journals you happened to find online that day with cut-and-paste cover letters in a matter of minutes. Show them that you know and respect their journal, show them that you understand their journal, and through that understanding that your work belongs there.
This is a proven strategy. I had a flash fiction accepted for publication after writing a cover letter that did just that. I read some of the journal’s other issues, noted a theme of what kind of work they liked, then sent them a piece that I felt fit them, while mentioning that theme in my cover letter.
Here’s what the editor wrote back to me when he accepted my piece:
Your cover letter impressed me. Not only did you take the time to familiarize yourself with what we publish, you pinpointed one of the things we like to highlight in our work. Because of your keen eye, you found a good submission that matched what we do, and what we like. As an editor, I can't thank you enough for that. It immediately set you apart and set us up to like your work.
And then we read the submission. True to your word, it demonstrated the proper subtlety and nuanced tension that we love. We understand this is a simultaneous submission, so we wanted to move quick with our acceptance of this story. If it is still available for publication, we'd like to run it in the September issue.
I’d submitted to this journal twice before and received generic form rejections. That doesn’t mean this new story is necessarily better than the others, it means that this editor gave it a proper read. Ironically, nuanced writing is sophisticated and often most worth publishing and reading, and yet it usually takes a closer read to understand everything that’s going on … and editors don’t necessarily read their slush pile that way. You need to invest in them and show them that it’s worth their while to invest in you.
This editor went on to nominate this story for that year’s Pushcart Prize!
You can read the story here: https://thecitronreview.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/the-water-is-wide/