Do you have a good idea for a Review article, or perhaps a Comment? Here’s a brief guide on how to pitch ideas to editors.
How to write a cover letter? That is a question Nature editors are often asked. When submitting a primary research article, a cover letter is only needed if the authors wish to convey some additional information not included in the manuscript (Some editors still love a good old cover letter. Here are some great tips for writing cover letters for primary research). However, if you want to propose a Review article or a Comment piece, a good cover letter is essential. Here is how to write it:
[Spend a few seconds to check the relevant editor’s name on the website, you would not like to receive emails everyday starting with Dear Researcher. It is good practice to get the name of the journal and editor right. Cover letters addressed to another journal suggest that the paper has been rejected by the other journal, which is not necessarily flattering. (Rest assured that this will not lead to the immediate rejection of the proposal, but it does say something about your attention to detail. This is a good moment to double-check the date and the correct spelling of the editor’s name)]
Who are you?
[Introduce yourself very briefly]
Why are you writing to us?
[I would like to propose a Review article, a Comment piece]
Why this topic?
[This is the most important part. Keep it concise, but at the same time convincing. Bring solid arguments but don’t overdo it. Some tips:
- It has to make us think “what a great idea”!
- It’s an interesting and relevant topic that has not been covered too recently in the journal. Do check that we have not published this before!
- Recent findings opening up a new field
- New insights/new angle into an existing field
- Bringing together two/more fields
- Explain the main findings, avoiding peripheral circumstances
- Be clear, concise, and provide context, but don’t go into a full bibliographic analysis
- Are there competitor reviews? How are they different from your idea?]
Why now? [This is also very important. Why is the proposed piece timely? Why now and not two years ago or in two years’ time? Highlight recent papers that demonstrate the timeliness of the topic.]
Why you? [Are you are expert in the field, a ‘key opinion leader’ and have an established research background in the field? Will people want to hear what you have to say, are you a good communicator? What new angle are you bringing? If you are a team of authors how do you complement each other?]
Why us? [Why do you want to write in this journal and not in another? Take the time to check the journal website and see what it published in term of article types and content. Is this really the right outlet for your proposed article? Think of your audience: who would you like to read this Review?]
Other information. [When are you available to write, do you have any restrictions, requirements?]
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Here are some further tips:
- Mention if you had contact with the editors, perhaps we met and chatted at some point.
- If there are recent meetings on the topic that showcase the interest of the community in this topic.
- Mention any related developments in the field: projects, facilities, collaborations.
Don’t: [no, no,no]
- Copy and paste the abstract as the cover letter.
- Get the journal name wrong.
- Name-drop “I ran my idea by (famous) Prof so-and-so and he/she think it’s a great idea for a Review”.
- Include hype, clichés, empty statements.
[All these Donts are worth keeping in mind for primary research cover letters too]
As editorial lore goes there is a saying: “For a good Review you need the right topic, the right author and the right time”. So the pitch in the cover letter should make it clear why this article, why you, and why now. Good luck!
Many thanks to Linda Koch (Nature Reviews Genetics) and Annette Fenner (Nature Reviews Urology) for sharing their tips.