When submitting a batch of poetry (a journal customarily asks for around three to five poems, not to exceed ten pages), a short cover letter is required. This is very different from a query letter, which aims to “sell” a book to a prospective publisher. One of the biggest differences between publishing poetry and publishing prose is the fact that poets are not expected to pitch their writing to prospective publishers the way that other authors must. In fact, pitching your poetry at all is kind of considered a faux pas in the poetry community. Instead, you want the merit of your poetry to speak for itself. In this way, publishing poetry is much more passive than publishing fiction. Imagine yourself trying to court these journals or presses. You are not the kid at the school dance breakdancing in the middle of the floor to impress the object of your affection; you are the coy wallflower making eyes from across the room.
In addition, submission readings are often “blind,” meaning the editor will only read the cover letter if they are interested in the poems, and only after they’ve read the poems. So there is no need to pitch your poems at all.
How, then, do you make your work stand out from the pile of submissions? The surest way is to follow the guidelines exactly and then personalize your cover letter. (Read more about this below.) Poetry editors are some of the most generous readers in the industry, sometimes providing thoughtfully crafted responses to each submission. However, if you don’t take the time to follow a journal’s guidelines and your letter is obviously generic (or missing), an editor is less likely to take the time with your submission.
Your cover letter should be polite, professional, and very brief. Here is a general outline: