Thursday, 27 January 2011

What To Call An Agent

It sounds really simple. You put together your first three chapters, your synopsis, your covering letter ready to send round to some agents. But then you have the problem of what to call them. Dear Ms Smith? Dear John Smith? Dear Jane? How formal, or informal, should you be with someone who you probably haven't met but are hoping to enter into a close business relationship with?

The simple answer, is none of the following. Andrew Lownie, of the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency, has come up with a list of some of the ways he has been addressed by would-be clients....

Hi there!

Dear Respectful One

Dear Potential Partner

Dear Sir Andrew

My dearest

Dear Mr./Mrs.

Dear Mr or Mrs Agent

To whom it may concern

(You can find the complete list at his website). I'm seriously hoping you're laughing at this rather than blushing guiltily, but how should it have been done?

Dear Andrew Lownie

That's it. It's correctly spelt, and there isn't a title. This is particularly important when writing to women because of the whole Mrs, Miss, Ms business. A Mrs may be deeply offended at being called a Ms. A Miss may prefer the anonymity of Ms. They may be married, but use their maiden name at work, or vice versa. I was once told rather huffily by one editor that she was married so she certainly wasn't a Ms or a Miss, but she chose to use her maiden surname professionally so she wasn't Mrs maiden name either.

Another problem with titles is playing guess which sex as there are several names that can be unisex, like Val, Nick, Jo. And some names can catch you out. Leslie for men, Lesley for women you might think. But my middle name is Leslie, because I'm named for my grandfather and my father didn't know there was a female version. I've met another female Leslie in publishing, spelt that way for exactly the same reason.

So, no title is the best policy. And check, and re-check, the spelling. Is it Carol, or Carole? Katherine, or Catharine? Get the name wrong and your submission goes straight onto the 'no' pile.

Perhaps all this sounds too fussy. Perhaps you feel that agents are putting themselves on a pedestal way up above everybody else. In which case, why not just stick to my favourite from Andrew Lownie's list: Dear God's Elect. That should do the trick.


Lizzie said...

Hi Sarah,

You must have read my mind!

I'm ready to send of my first three chapters to a few agents, and I was wondering how to address them. In the past I have sent ms to 'Jane Smith', but wasn't sure that was right. It's good to have my instincts validated.

Interestingly, when I had a standard rejection letter from Darley Anderson this week (I should never submitted to them, totally wrong) they addressed me very chummily as 'Lizzie'.

Hope you're well and your at a good place with your writing.



Talli Roland said...

What a useful post!

I wish I'd read this a few years ago -- it might have stopped me calling Darley Anderson (a man) 'Ms Anderson'!


Sarah Duncan said...

I'm a notorious mind reader you know Lizzie, could give Derren Brown a run for his money (I wish!). I was wondering how things were going with you - sorry to hear about the rejection, still nothing ventured etc.

Talli - ouch. But you are not alone - I too have written to an agent, this time a Val, on the cheery assumption that Val was a woman.