Writing the Simultaneous Submission Cover Letter


In “Selling 75% of Your Freelance Writing” a simultaneous submission cover letter plays a less crucial role than the query letter. That’s because it accompanies an actual manuscript, which is what the editor will use to make their buying decision.

Remember, in the first nine sections (of 16) about freelance selling we discussed using the query letter for most magazine articles (where the money is). For newspaper articles, mostly, you will send the actual manuscript and a cover letter.

Unless you are trying to sell to a “national” newspaper like the New York Times, U.S.A. Today, Wall Street Journal, or Christian Science Monitor, you can send the manuscript and cover letter simultaneously to newspapers 100 miles from each other. (For example, one at a time to the larger Chicago dailies but St. Louis and Cincinnati can be approached at the same time.)

The function of this cover letter is to induce the editor to read the manuscript by displaying a sample of its contents and flavor, discussing available illustrations, perhaps talking about the rights offered, and suggesting other elements you could write to enhance the article.

Simultaneous submission cover letters are sent in six selling situations. They are sent with multiple submissions of the same text to editors of newspaper travel sections, newspaper weekly supplements, religious magazines, regional publications, in-flight magazines, and reprints. Cover letters also come in two sizes: short and full page.

Let’s discuss when and why each might be sent, and what it would contain.

The short letter is about half the length of a full 8.5 x 11 first page of a manuscript. It is trimmed that length and is stapled in the upper left corner in front of the one-sided pages of the entire article. Its purpose is to convince the editor that the article attached should be bought for his/her pages.

If the actual article copy on the first page begins below the half-point spot, the editor can then let his/her eyes jump from the cover note to the text itself. If it keeps the editor’s attention, and she continues to read the second, then third page, the chances of ultimate purchase are great! (What goes at the top of that first article copy page and is covered by the cover note? The word count, top right; the title of the article [centered in the middle of the page above the text; not all in CAPS], and your by-line centered several lines below the title.)

For example, let’s say you are sending a cover note to the travel editor. It has six functions, all to be done in about 5½ ” of space.

One, to tell who you are, so you type your name at the top of the note and sign it below. It’s typed in case the signature can’t be read.

Two, to tell where you live so your check will arrive!

Three, how you can be reached by phone, e-mail, or fax.

The fourth point is the most important: What is the copy about? The editor is busy. He might read your full manuscript anyway. But here you summarize the contents in the same tone in which the article is written, to save him time and to pique his curiosity. My hope is that he won’t worry about points five or six now but rather will let his eyes drop from the note to the first paragraphs at the bottom half of page one of the article. If that happens, the chance of his buying is excellent. Which is precisely why I send him the shorter version of the cover letter, to let his eyes roam unimpeded. Note that the short letter obscures no text.

The fifth point is also important. If you have photos or other illustrations, here is where you make their avaiIability known, the quantity that you can provide, and how you can send them. (See section #15 in this series, Photos, at the blog several weeks hence.) A preview here for the cover note: I usually send the editor to a quick linked file where samples of the available photos are posted, so those desired can be grabbed and used.

Rarely are my photos so extraordinary that one or several will, in themselves, sell the story; but if in fact I did have that homerun photo this cover letter paragraph would be larger and the first paragraph would be smaller. Or I’d swap the order: highlighting that photo in the first paragraph, then explaining the supporting copy in the second.

Item six concerns the return of the manuscript. If you are using snail mail, either include an even smaller envelope inside the standard #10 business envelope, write your address, and adhere the needed postage to get it back (S.A.S.E.). Or you can include a postcard with boxes to check, like

[ ] Am holding for use on ____________
[ ] Am holding for possible use when I can.
[ ] Sorry, this article isn’t for us now.
[ ] Photo suggestions: __________________.
[ ] Comments:

Can you include anything else? Sure, it’s your letter. The purpose is to sell the manuscript attached, so what goes in the cover note and in what order is up to you. But here is a slightly up-dated example of the format that has worked best for us:

Gordon Burgett
P.O. Box 845
Novato, CA 94948
(800) 563-1454 / glburgett@aol.com / (415) 883-5707

Dear Travel Editor:

Visiting Paraguay is the thing to do since the dictator Stroessner left, Air Paraguay began bargain fares, and low hotel and food prices make it the jumping off spot en route to Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires.

I’m just back from this landlocked haven. What’s worth doing—Asunción, four key missions, the military museum, the last wood-burning trains, and the massive Catarátas de Iguassú—is spectacular; the rest is better traded for more days in Brazil. The article tells all!

See www.pix.com/Paraguay.htm for the best 15 captioned .JPG examples (of the 65 available). If interested in one or many, just let me know.

About me? Some 1,500 articles in print; author of The Travel Writer’s Guide, a Writer’s Digest Book Club selection. An S.A.S.E. is included for your verdict, or please just e-mail.


Gordon Burgett

The full-page cover letter

If you simply can’t convey the message in a short note, or you are submitting simultaneously to magazine editors (whose pace is a bit less hectic), the full page letter probably works better.

In the first two or three paragraphs sell the subject and copy. The rest looks much like the shorter note—but longer. The advantage? More space to laud the virtues of the piece or the photos. And you can use a full letterhead, if you wish.

I will explain the other time you use the long cover letter, to sell reprints, in my next blog.

Again, the whole idea of the cover letter is to sell the article attached. The writing in the cover letter must be as sharp, enticing, and appealing as that of the article it is selling. Sending an inferior cover letter is like, shirtless and shoeless, trying to sell a Mercedes-Benz.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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