Monday, November 08, 2010

Addressing Your Query

How should I address my cover letter to a partial request? Or queries, etc. for that matter? I am old enough that I feel Ms. Doe is extremely formal. However, at the same time I realize that respect is a necessity and an act of respect.

So I am at a road bump (something extremely annoying and slowing me down):

Is it
Dear Ms. Doe?
Dear Ms. Jane Doe?
Dear Ms. Jane?
Dear Jane?

What is common practice here? I don’t want to take allowances, but I also respect myself enough as a writer to feel the agent and I are on somewhat even ground. She addressed me by first name in request for my partial, what do you think?

I actually don’t think it matters. I get queries all the time addressed to Ms. Faust, Jessica, Jennifer, and Dear Sirs. I think it depends on the author and what feels right to the author. All that being said, if I get Dear Sirs I immediately feel that the author hasn’t bothered to do her homework and question how ready she is to be published. If I get Jennifer I just sigh.

If an author uses Jessica and I don’t know the author, I guess I do sometimes feel a bit of a jolt, a little too much familiarity. Although I get that more now that I write the blog, so I guess it doesn’t impact me in the same way anymore. For me personally, with business correspondence with someone I don’t know, I tend to stick with the more formal Mr. or Ms. (never Mrs., just so you know). I don’t think this means that you see the agent as being on higher ground, just that you see the letter as a formal business query.

Over the years I’ve responded to a million proposals (not an exact figure) and I guess I tend to use Mr. or Ms. That being said, if I feel the relationship is moving in a forward direction (I think we’ll have an ongoing relationship of some sort) I tend to switch to the author’s first name.

Everybody is different; what I want to stress, though, is that using Mr. or Ms. is not about seeing the agent, or any person, as your better, it’s about formal business etiquette. And I do think that while it’s obvious the world isn’t as formal as it used to be, it can never hurt to use good old-fashion etiquette. You’re never likely to offend anyone with a Dear Ms. or a Dear Mr.; you don’t know what their feelings might be on a Hey Jess [cringe].



April said...

Hello, I was wondering if you could answer a best-practice question for me. I have an agent who has requested to see my manuscript. Should I stop querying other agents until this other agent has passed on my work? I'm not quite sure what my ethical obligation is in this situation.

Thank you,

happy jackass said...


Absolutely do not stop querying now. You're just at the beginning. You have no idea how much attention this agent is going to give your writing. Chances are, she'll look at it for about thirty seconds or a minute and toss it. I'm not trying to be mean, just realistic. Keep querying, do not stop until you have an agent. good luck, seriously

Anne Gallagher said...

I have always used the formal Mr. or Ms. with queries, partial and full requests or any other business letter. It's business.

I would never be so informal as Dear Jane. Until the agent asked me specifically to do so.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

She addressed me by first name in request for my partial

For requests, I always take my cue from the agent or editor. If they address ME by first name, I address THEM by first name. If they address me as Ms. Sullivan, I address them by surname, too.

Joseph L. Selby said...

In any given publishing company, everyone goes by first names all the way up to the CEO, so when I first started querying, I did the same. Jessica, Kristin, etc. More and more blogs said not to do this including a few that I queried, so I stepped back to a more formal Ms. Faust. Then I ran into one who absolutely hated a beginning salutation of dear, since we did not know each other and how could we be dear to one another?

Now I start all my queries Hello Mr./Ms. [last name]

I really don't want to devote the research to keep from offending someone just so I can prove that I actually do know the name of the person I'm querying. The meat of the query is below and not whether I said dear or not.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

I do the same thing as Phoenix; I query with 'Ms or Mr', but if they respond by addressing me by my first name, then I respond in kind. I certainly don't feel comfortable addressing someone by title if they write me by opening, "Hey Fawn!" :)

As an editor, I often go out of my way to request/address writers by their first names after the initial contact, because I'd prefer they feel comfortable with me enough to do so. If they continue to 'Ms' at me, I will definitely ask them to please address me by my first name.

@April - you're only obligated if the agent asked for an exclusive. Otherwise, don't stop querying.

Anonymous said...

agree with Phoenix @9:50 -- I just mirror what they do.

If someone calls me Ms. then I address them as Ms. I'm pretty casual in real life but if they aren't that's fine with me, and I'll adapt accordingly.

Jane Lebak said...

Miss Manners points out that Ted Kennedy used to refer to John F Kennedy in public as "Mr. President." Whatever you think of the man's politics, the heightened formality showed respect for the office of the presidency and sounded classy.

I take the same tack with writing to agents or editors. Until it's been made clear that they are not Mr. Smith or Ms. Smith, they get the honorific as an act of respect. It's much nicer to hear "Oh, please, call me Jane" than it is to hear "Oh, please, call me Ms. Smith."

Phoebe North said...

I agree with Phoenix. That's standard business etiquette, too.

Meagan Spooner said...

I always stick to Mr./Ms. until the agent refers to me by my first name, at which point (if I feel comfortable with it too) I switch to their first name.

It's amazing though how such little details can be the cause of such worry and concern. I totally do this too--obsess over smaller details to try and make sure everything is perfect. Maybe it's because we have so little control once our queries/manuscripts leave our hands, that we want to make sure we've controlled the heck out of what we can. said...

Even for Marilyn Monroe, it was "Mr." President, thank you.

Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks. A question I'd often pondered.

RC Writer Girl said...

I tend to use just the person's full name, no Mr. or Mrs. (i.e. Dear Jack Johnson or Dear Oprah Winfrey...).

If you use Mr. or Mrs., you have to make sure you know the gender of the person. In my job, I got letters addressed to Mr. + my last name, even though I'm a woman, and that was very irritating. I ended up with a negative opinion of the author of such correspondence.