Blog by Toby Welch

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Ins and Outs of Addressing Query Letters

Query letters are often your ticket to a writing project. But there are some pointers to keep in mind. 

  • Editors claim one of their top pet peeves is getting a query letter addressed to "Dear Sir" or "Hello Editor." This is the query letter kiss of death; don’t make such fatal mistakes with queries
  • Improperly addressing your query letter to a literary agent or a magazine editor increases its chances of getting tossed into the recycle bin.
  • Query letters are often the first contact a writer has with an editor or agent and the part of the query that states who the letter is to is near the top. If you want the editor to keep reading into the body of your letter, you need to address the letter properly.

If the editor you are sending a query letter to has a name that could even remotely be unisex, do a little more digging. Check the editor out online at a reputable website like LinkedIn or any other site that may have their picture. If that fails, call the magazine or pertinent company and ask whoever answers if the person is male or female. This may seem like a lot of work but it is essential you find out for sure whether they are male or female. Calling a male editor Mrs. Smith greatly increases the chances that your query will be tossed into the ‘no’ box. I learned this lesson the hard way when I queried an editor with the first name of Dean and addressed it to Mr. So-and-so. I wrongly assumed it was a man and she let me know my mistake. I didn’t get the writing assignment I was hoping for and my misidentification all but guaranteed that.

If you can’t find out whom to send a query letter to, you haven’t done enough digging. Start your search for the editor’s name and spelling in the pages of the magazine or on the company’s website. Keep in mind that information in a print magazine may be already outdated by the time the issue hits newsstands. If the website isn’t clear or hasn’t been updated recently, pick up the phone and call the magazine or literary agency or publishing house. Once you get the editor’s assistant or another person in the know, ask them to tell you the name of the editor and ask them to spell the name for you. Don’t assume the spelling of the name is the way you think it is. Jayne Cannon is the editor of Legends: the Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Review, not Jane Canon.

With the softening of formality in recent years, especially in emails, it is commonplace for people to put a comma at the end of their salutation. But a query letter, no matter what the format, is a business letter and a colon should be used. For example - Dear Mr. Smith:

By taking a few minutes to make sure you have your query letter properly addressed to the right agent and their name spelled correctly, you increase your chances of keeping the editor’s interest as they move into the body of your letter.

Good luck with your query letter!