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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.
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 . . .
For more tips on preparing cover letters, writing query letters, and following submission guidelines etiquette, sign up for our FREE e-publication for writers, delivered by e-mail. At Writer’s Relief, we want to help you get your creative writing published. Whether you’re a do-it-yourself type of writer or you’d like a little help with the process, Writer’s Relief has the expertise and the experience to help you reach your writing goals.
QUESTION: Did you ever mistake a literary agent’s or editor’s gender? What happened?