Canadian literary magazine PRISM international aims to publish the best contemporary fiction, creative non-fiction, translation, drama, and poetry from around the world. While its pages have featured such luminaries as Margaret Atwood, Jorge Luis Borges, Raymond Carver and Seamus Heaney, most of the work it publishes is unsolicited, and many writers whose first publication appeared in PRISM international have gone on to critical acclaim. PRISM’s Prose Editor Christopher Evans explains how your cover letter can play a role in you being published or not.
Writers often ask if a good cover letter can improve a piece’s chances of getting published, and the short answer is: sort of. Of the thousands of submissions PRISM receives in a year, a minuscule percentage – well under one percent – arrive flawlessly executed and ready to be published without any editorial effort on our end. A slightly larger percent of work submitted is very close, and needs only a few small edits to lift it to exceptional. There’s another ten to fifteen percent at the other end of the spectrum that never make it past our first readers – work that doesn’t even come close to our guidelines, is riddled with typos or unintentional tense shifts, or is basically porn. This leaves a substantial volume of submissions in the middle, and this is where a cover letter can help or hinder a piece’s chance of being given a second, third, or fourth read-through.