The first step to a successful pitch to a literary journal is to write the best short story or poem you can possibly write. Write, rest, rewrite, rest, edit, line edit, format sensibly, print clearly.
The second step is to do a hell of a lot of research. Wear out your Google searching your target markets. If you can afford it, buy and read the physical publications. You will know within ten pages if your work is a fit for their editorial vision. The best story in the universe will not make it past the front door of a magazine that just doesn't do that type of thing.
The third step is to write a bitchin' query letter, or cover letter, and stick it on top.
Here's the original letter he sent me:
February 1, 2011
Fiction EditorThe Georgia ReviewThe University of GeorgiaAthens, GA 30602-9009To Whom it May Concern,Please consider my 1,200-word, previously unpublished manuscript, "[Title Redacted]" for publication at The Georgia Review. I am a previously unpublished writer, but I work with earnest on the craft. This piece is a part of a collection of stories that will one day comprise a novel.This piece is being simultaneously submitted. I will notify you immediately upon anacceptance.Thank you for your time and consideration.Sincerely yours,[Name Redacted]
And here are my critiques:
I hope my client hits with this new query letter. His writing is great. However, his success in this will depend on his research skills, his ability to direct his work at the right market, and his willingness to exercise the same restraint in his pitch as he is able to pull off in his fiction. Play it cool, play it simple, play it warm but not hysterical, straight but not snippy.
Got any other advice for him? Should he leave out the bit about the antique cars? What's your go-to query line?