Yet Another Covering Letter for Yet Another Acquisitions Editor
After writing several covering letters to acquisitions editors, an academic or scientific author might be tempted to neglect this vital part of the manuscript submission process. One of two common and very different reasons might be responsible for this change of heart: the author may have achieved successful publication many times and might therefore feel that it is no longer necessary to introduce his or her research to a prospective publisher, or the author may have received so many rejections that taking the time needed to compose yet another covering letter seems little more than a waste of time.
Neither argument is compelling. Each submission of a manuscript to a scholarly press or journal presents a fresh chance of successful publication, after all, and should therefore be seen as an opportunity to encourage rather than discourage that success. A covering letter that effectively introduces a manuscript to an academic publisher acts as a sophisticated hook to catch the editor’s attention in a variety of ways that will inspire an engaged reading of your work. Given that a covering letter can be composed in a good deal less time than the manuscript it describes, the only true waste would be that of missing a valuable opportunity.
Increase Your Chances of Getting Published
One of the strategies for reducing the time and effort dedicated to writing covering letters is to recycle material from previous covering letters. This can be extremely effective when seeking a template for a formal letter or certain phrases of formal address that you have laboured to get just right in the past. Reusing text can also prove helpful when you are submitting a manuscript that you have already submitted elsewhere, especially if the content has remained the same or very nearly so. However, keep in mind that each press or journal has its own mission, range and specialisation, and most publishers pride themselves, at least to some degree, on their difference from other publishers. The covering letter you include with a submission should always be tailored to the specific press or journal. This means, of course, that any expressions of the appropriateness of your writing for the publisher should refer specifically to the range, specialisation and recent publications of the press or journal you are currently targeting, not to those of a similar one you targeted six months before. It also means that any descriptions of your research or manuscript should be carefully designed and worded to highlight aspects of your work that you believe will be of primary interest to that particular publisher.
Whenever you choose to revise and reuse material in a covering letter, do so with extreme care, just as you would were you reusing revised material in an academic or scientific document. Remember that a simple slip can have profound consequences. Let us say, for instance, that you are submitting an article for consideration by the Writing Journal, but you accidentally leave in the title Journal of Writing – the journal to which you previously submitted the manuscript. An acquisitions editor might read many things in such a slip. For one, the error is unprofessional and may suggest that you were not even bothered to get the title of the journal correct. This quite naturally raises a question: What other errors might you have made? The slip also hints at the previous submission (an unsuccessful one) and lets the editor know that his or her journal was not your first choice. If you are working in your covering letter to argue that the journal to which you are currently submitting your work is the best possible fit, sharing the knowledge of that earlier submission will be particularly undesirable.
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