do and don't


I see the gamut of salutations in queries, some acceptable and some not. Since it causes some writers consternation, here are guidelines using the made-up name Alexis Newcomb.

  • You can’t leave off the salutation: it feels blunt and impersonal.
  • However, “Dear Sir or Madame” and “To whom it may concern” are worse than omission. “Dear Agent” sounds clunky. You’re querying a specific agent here.
  • “Dear Alexis Newcomb” is the best and safest option. It doesn’t come off as rude: many in the industry go by names instead of titles.
  • “Dear Alexis” and “Dear Ms. Newcomb” both work. However, some agents find one or the other too formal or informal. There’s no way to know an agent’s preference: “Dear Alexis Newcomb” is a compromise.
  • I assume you’re all too smart to use Miss or Mrs.
  • The problem with Ms./Mr. is that our culture recognizes more than two gender identities. The agent may go by Mx. or be in transition between pronouns and titles. You don’t want to risk misgendering an agent when asking them to represent your work.
  • Relatedly, we have two agents with gender-neutral names, which can cause hilarious confusion. It shows you did zero research if you query “a boy’s growing-up book like we needed when we were younger” to an agent who identifies as female.

Thus “Dear Alexis Newcomb” will do.


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