Dan Nexon has instituted a new Ask the Editors feature on his editor’s blog on the newly revamped ISQ website. If you haven’t seen it yet, PTJ has done a great job developing the site and Dan hasn’t missed a step in the transition from his great blogging here at Duck to his new role at ISQ.

In the first installment of Ask the Editors Dan responds to a reader’s question on what information should be conveyed in the dreaded cover letter included with an article submission. The reader referred to the cover letter as that “mystical piece of the peer review process.”

Dan’s response is insightful and certainly a must read for anyone considering submitting a piece to ISQ, but one of his major conclusions strikes me as curious. He writes:

In short, a manuscript’s cover letter bears almost no resemblance to what accompanies an application for a job or for a grant. You should not use the cover letter as place to “pitch” the manuscript to us.

I get this on one level — the piece should stand on its own merit — not on a flashy cover letter. But, two responses come to mind. First, in an era when editors are inundated with a huge volume of manuscripts submitted for each issue — it seems to me that a well-crafted explanation for why the piece is well suited for a particular journal at a particular time is something that editors should want to read. Granted, I’m not an editor that would have to read all of these and banal pitches could get tiresome quickly — hence my use of “well-crafted.”

Second, I’m guessing that not all journals (or other types publications) are the same on this. International Security, for example, publishes on a wide range of topics and defines “security” quite broadly. According to the IS website and my own personal recollections from various “Meet the Editors” events and other experiences over the years, the editors look closely at the “fit” for publication in IS and sometimes a well-crafted cover letter will help them understand the fit — especially if the piece challenges the conventional wisdom and will generate significant debate. And, if you are interested in submitting a more general piece to a policy journal, most editors expect a clear and strong pitch before they’ll even read a submitted manuscript.

All in all, the bigger point is that it is refreshing to see Dan initiating this feature at ISQ. The standard process of getting information about the submission and publication process is cumbersome at best — I’d love to see other editors and journals follow ISQ’s lead.