Monday, December 13, 2010

What's my name?

A skit on a recent "Saturday Night Live" episode featured a game called "What's my name?" Contestants were challenged by people they see every day (a doorman and a cleaning woman) to tell them their names. Of course, the contestant confronted by the doorman had no idea what his name was, nor did the woman know the name of the cleaning lady who emptied her work trash every night. And, of course, "Norman the doorman" and "Mary the cleaning lady" were ridiculously offended.

Everyone wants to feel important enough to be addressed by name. Even publishers. Over at John Kremer's blog, a guest post by Jeff Rivera (founder of HowToWriteAQueryLetter.com) stresses the importance of not addressing your query letters, "Dear Agent."

It should really go without saying that this is a no-no, but...

The same thing happens to publishers who receive un-agented submission. We receive queries just like those received by agents, so we're just as frequently the recipients of cool, impersonal salutations like, "Dear Sir" (with the unfortunate assumption made that only men work at the company), "Dear Sir or Madam," or even, "To whom it may concern."

All of the above (with the exception of "Dear Sir") are appropriate when--and only when--there is no possible way of knowing to whom the letter should be addressed. Before addressing it this way, however, I highly recommend you do everything you can to find a name. Look up the company online, find the department you're contacting, and find a person whose name you can use. Or call the company's customer service or information line and ask to whom your letter should be addressed.  At least then, if you still can't find anything - even after looking up the publisher in the Writer's Market or Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents - when you write "Dear Publisher," you'll be confident you had no other option.

- Lyla P.

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