Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Avoid shooting yourself in the foot: salutations

 

I'm not picky about a lot of things other agents are.

But you can shoot yourself in the foot with ineffective salutations.

 

Here, in descending order of preference, are effective salutations in a query letter.

 

1. Dear Janet

It's my name, I'm ok with you calling me Janet.

Dear Jessica isn't right but it's probably just a typo, and I'll get over it. Besides I love snaring good stuff right out from under the nose of Jessica Faust.

 

2. Dear Ms Reid

Also my name, a tad more formal, but still very polite.

 

 

3. Hi Janet, Hi Ms Reid

More informal, but if you just can't bring yourself to say "Dear" (and I've had husbands who couldn't either) it's ok to just say hi.

 

The next ones make me roll my eyes, but we haven’t gotten into active yeesh mode yet

 

4. Dear Jet Reid Literary Agency

It is just I here at Shark Central these days. I read all my own queries (always have).

It's not a deal breaker but it seems like you're not paying attention.

 

5. Greetings!

I feel like I'm being drafted or summoned for jury duty. It's not wrong, but the tone is a little too military to be effective.

 

 

 

And now we get to the ones that really set the WRONG tone and you should avoid.

 

6. To Whom It May Concern.

This is a salutation you would use ONLY with letters where you do not know who the actual recipient is. For example: a reference letter you provide to someone who is job hunting, or seeking parole.

 

Since you're emailing your query to Janet@(yadda yadda) this situation doesn't apply.

Now, you nit pickers may ask, what if I'm querying Queries@Villains.com?

 

THEN you use the very handy form of Ladies/Gentlemen of Villains.com as your salutation.

 

In the olden days, back when ladies in business were a well-kept secret, it was considered acceptable form to start with Gentlemen:

 

That is no longer acceptable. I am not a gentleman. And most of the gents I know are rapscallion scallywags anyway.

 

 

7. Dear Mrs Reid.

I am not married to Mr. Reid.

My father is not Mr. Reid either.

 

So, it's just plain wrong to call me Mrs. Reid.

But further, it signals a mindset that you would even use Mrs. at all, and that mindset is NOT what I'm looking for in clients. 

 

If a lady prefers Mrs. she'll say so.

 

And while we're on the subject of what people like to be called, make sure you pay attention if someone has preferred pronouns in their bio or signature line.  USE THEM.

 

Any sort of ham-fisted, tone-deaf, rigidity here is NOT good manners, or smart querying.

 

If someone wants to use the title Mx., do so.

 

And don't belly ache to me that it's too much trouble. It's not like I'm not doing this myself when I query editors I don't yet know. Or reaching out to anyone I don't know (think blurbs, reviews, sales pitches to bookstores.)

 

It's a new word my fiends, time to get with the times.

 

 

8. Dear Mr. Reid

As above, I am not a man. I may cook like one and sew like one, but I'm still not one.

 

 

9. Dear Felix,

When you send Dear Felix to Janet@GettingSnarlyAboutThis.com I draw some unflattering conclusions about how much attention you pay to detail.

 

Think about this for a minute. I have a choice between someone who double checks things like salutations, and someone who doesn't. Who do you think I prefer to work with?

 

 

10. No salutation at all.

Nope nope nope.

Auto pass.

 

And if you want to howl about this, fine.

It's not going to change.

I don't ask you personalize in any other way, but I do like to see that you know  at least who you're querying.

I don't care about why you're querying. I'm an agent, you're a writer, enough said.

 

Any questions?

18 comments:

Steve Forti said...

Dear Snookums is no longer in the table? Phooey.

Kathleen Marple Kalb said...

Thank you! I'd like to suggest that this be sent to every human with an e-mail. Politeness seems to have gone the way of gaslights -- and as your observations about Mx. and pronouns make clear, it's not old-fashioned at all, but a matter of basic human respect. Much appreciated.

nightsmusic said...

Well, in real life (yes, I have one) I have a shortened version of a man's first name thanks to my aunt filling out my birth certificate. She had the most atrocious handwriting and even though I have her middle name, even that is spelled wrong. So all commercial mail, mail from solicitors, junk mail, mail from humans who do not know me and even the government when there was still a draft board, came to Mr. Insert Long Version Of Male First Name Here, Last Name, which, except for the draft board, means it all goes in the trash. I felt tossing the government letter would have created a few problems, but the rest? I could have easily proved I was not who they were trying to reach should the question arise.

All that to say, I do try to respect whatever name/title people want to be called. I know how very frustrating it can be.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Where does "Snookums" or "Your Toothy Majesty" fall in this list? Asking for a friend? Carkoon has a whole different set of rules don't you know? In actual fact, their queries sometimes come with the greeting of a rock being thrown through your window to alert you that they have sent something to your inbox. And I spent way too long in Carkoon. I wish the kale would stop growing out of my ears now that I am back in world but I suppose it could be worse. Has anyone seen Colin lately?

Colin Smith said...

Ears burning... I know it's hot on Carkoon but... oh... hello!

Yeah, Elise, the rock through the window is a standard salutation here. When I interned at a literary agency on Carkoon (my second exile I think it was) those of us with soft heads wore hard hats. And "Oi You!" is considered formal. Especially after having just sent your query tied to the aforementioned rock. I remember one of my fellow agents got bopped in the eye one time. Hazards of the job. He was okay. He had four other eyes so it was only a slight inconvenience for a few days what with not being able to walk backward.

I find it strange that you still need to post reminders about this stuff Janet--I mean, it's not like all your old posts on the topic aren't around anymore. But I suppose you have to update periodically to let people know when things change--or don't. 😀

Laura said...

I had an editor advise that I address agent queries as "Dear Full Name" so as not to be too familiar (eg Dear First Name) or presumptuous about gender (Dear Ms./Mr.). What are your feelings on this approach?

RonC said...

I've landed where you have, Laura. Some agents actively encourage using first name, while others find this too familiar. I also thought if Ms. or Mr. was used on an agent's QueryTracker profile, that was a safe indicator that those were okay. Then I saw an agency advice video on YouTube totally dismissing honorifics as bad form in 2022. So I threw up my hands and said first name, last name it is. It's funny, I work in financial services which I always perceived as far more formal an industry than publishing, but the level of sensitivity and rigor about such things in publishing is off the charts comparatively.

Katja said...

The Jessica Faust comment had me chuckle - I know that the two of you like to fight about Dino Porn and sometimes she's signed it all before you had a chance. 🤣

Your comment about your husbands not bringing themselves to call you "Dear" did have me chuckle again, although I bet it wasn't that funny when it happened at the time but now I hope that you're over that time.
Plus, be honest, Janet, how many times did you bring yourself to address that mother-in-law "Dear"? Once? At her funeral? 😆

french sojourn said...


Dear Occupant.

Unknown said...

Steve is right. We prefer 'Dear Snookums'. It must be the universal salutation for all things literary.

Damyanti Biswas said...

A very interesting theme :)

Miles O'Neal said...

How do you feel about "Ms"?

More and more women seem to prefer "women" over "ladies", but that doesn't lend itself to a salutation. Anyone have any thoughts on that? I'm also going to ping a few women I know outside this community to see what they think.

Craig F said...

It is my wont, be it superstition or just habit, that I put a salutation on queries when I write the. That salutation is always "Dear Prudence".

I think that I, once, forgot to change that and sent it out. I may never know for sure because I can't translate crickets.

KDJames said...

Oh dear. I'm one of those miscreants who often skip the salutation. Well, it's certainly not the first (or last) time I've been wrong. I guess I figure that since I addressed the email to someone specific, that should be sufficient. Sort of like a text message. Wait, should we use a salutation in texts? Never mind, probably the rules forbid texting agents.

When I do use a salutation, it tends to be "Hey, First Name" -- which sounds fine to someone living in the South, but to others might sound more like, "HEY YOU!" But I also don't first-name people I don't know -- yes, I'm of an age where I consider that to be rude -- so in those cases it'd simply be "Mr/Ms Last Name." No "Dear" in front of it.

*sigh* My lack of proper etiquette is hopeless. I'll just never send emails again. Oh, added benefit, says she with a hopelessly overflowing inbox: I also won't need to read or answer any replies!

Eric Siletzky said...

Reminds me a lot of dating rich girls. We're all people here. We shouldn't be encouraging obsequiousness unless we want monarchies again.

KariV said...

"Dear Agent" comes to mind ... I hear this salutation is common in queries and it annoys the pants off agents (rightly so).

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I've had a hard time saying "Dear [FirstName]" because I don't want to assume a level of familiarity with an agent that we don't have. We (the general we) get so much of that online, people assuming that they know us after reading five tweets (or ten years of blogs) or whatever.

AJ Blythe said...

I settled on Dear [insert first name here]. It felt weird to me to write Dear first name last name, and it was really hard to find most agents title and I didn't want to get that wrong - better to avoid. If an agent is offended by the use of their first name, then perhaps we were never going to be the best fit anyway.