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How To Address A Literary Agent Or Editor In A Letter When You Don’t Know The Gender

When submitting your writing in the hopes of getting published, it’s important to know how to address a literary agent or editor in a cover or query letter. Should you write Dear Literary Agent? Dear Editor? Dear Pat Doe? Dear Mrs. Doe? Dear Ms. Doe? Dear Mr. Doe? How do you address a letter if you don’t know the gender of the person you are writing to?

Many writers over the years have insisted on using salutations such as Dear Mr. So-and-So or Attention Ms. Whoever or Dear Sir Or Madam. Addressing editors and agents using Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. used to be the norm. This is no longer true.

The Best Way To Address A Literary Agent Or Editor In A Letter

You should not assume the gender of the reader of your cover or query letter, no matter how certain you may be that Sue and Pat are females. And it’s not acceptable to call up a literary agent or editor and ask, “Are you a female or male?”

In order to avoid embarrassment and alienating an editor, follow what have now become industry standard rules for addressing these decision makers.

Simply use the first and last name of the editor or literary agent to whom you are sending your submission, without a Mr. or Mrs. salutation (example: Dear Pat Doe). This technique is sometimes used for mass mailings, but because it is useful and gender-neutral, it has now become standard business protocol for professional correspondence.

Using both names for your submissions won’t be held against you. But if you address an editor or literary agent by the wrong gender, that will make you look out of touch.

In the US, gender-neutral names are becoming trendier each year. Before 1960, these names were almost nonexistent. Since then, more and more parents have turned to names such as Dakota, Drew, and Zane.

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Also, when dealing with names from cultures other than your own—don’t assume. Be cautious and tread lightly because you don’t want an editor turned off by your lack of knowledge.

If you feel uncomfortable about names in general, you can always begin your letter with “Dear Editor.” Using a personal name is still considered the best option, so choose “Dear Editor” rarely (the exception to this is when submission guidelines specifically ask that submissions be sent in this way or when no name is given).

Here is a partial list of some of the names that we’ve run across over the years. Can you tell whether you should choose Mr. or Ms. when addressing your submission? Remember that the wrong assumption may cost you that good first impression.

Sam, Dale, Shemayahu, Fran, Aziz, Joel, Herm, Bobby, Sydney, Kinza, Marion, Gerry, Kerry, Joyce, Keiko, Gale, Flo, Jamie, Pupa, Thikhathali, Corey, Thabo, Zujun, and Don’t Forget . . .


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Questions for WritersQUESTION: Did you ever mistake a literary agent’s or editor’s gender? What happened?

14 Responses to How To Address A Literary Agent Or Editor In A Letter When You Don’t Know The Gender

  1. Hi Tina,

    If there are no names given on the website, “Dear Editor” or “Dear Publisher” would work. Also, make sure that the publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts before sending your work to them.

    Hope this helps!

  2. Hi there, great article. My question however isn’t really answered within this article.
    What if the person you are sending the query letter to is a company such as HarperCollins? Who do you address it to in that circumstance, there is no given names of any kind. It is just stated on the site, the requirements. But gives no names.

    Please email me or answer in here as this is a very old article. I don’t know if it is still in existence.

  3. the problem with using both first and last names is that it seems as if the names were entered through a database or a mailing list for some other automatically entered information.

  4. Diane, you can always address the position of the person you are directing the letter to (i.e. editor, agent, etc.) or use a more general address such as “to whom it may concern.”

  5. I’m looking for how to address a movie company for a submission. I don’t know how to address it without a name. Any advice on this issue!!!!

  6. Fay,
    In cases where you’re absolutely sure, then it shouldn’t be a problem. Still, in order to avoid any chance of alienating an editor or agent, consider following what have now become industry standard rules for addressing these decision makers. Using the first and last name of the editor or literary agent to whom you are sending your submission, without a Mr. or Mrs. salutation, has become standard business protocol for professional correspondence.

  7. Thanks for this. I’m wondering though, if the editor’s bio shows their photo and information stating they are a “he” or “she” shouldn’t it be okay to say Dear Mr. or Ms? Using “Dear Pat Doe” seems like we haven’t done our research on the editor, as if we don’t even care to check whether they are a man or woman. And the same thing with “Dear Editor”. I only use “Dear Editor” when I can’t find out who to direct my query or submission to.

  8. Allen, in order to play it safe, “Dear Editor” would be appropriate, considering the publisher may not have a specific editor for a genre. If they do, then “Fiction Editor” or “Poetry Editor” would work.

  9. I’m writing a cover letter to a publisher who only offers a generic title and they may distribute it to any one of a number of people with that role. So?
    Dear WHAT?
    Dear Fiction Editor? No salutation? This is a common situation with novel and magazine publisher.

  10. Actually, I haven’t had any embarrassing moments with names, but I’m glad I read this article. I’ve been so worried that I’ll use the wrong title (Mr., Mrs., etc.) that I’ve always addressed my letters “Dear FirstName LastName.” Then I’d worry that it made me look ignorant that I couldn’t determine the editor’s gender. So it’s nice to know that I’ve actually been doing the right thing all this time!

  11. Yeah. I once talked about a publishing industry exec person named Alex like he was a guy…He was a she! I felt pretty dumb.

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