Reading My Mail
In the last few days, I’ve opened a number of new submissions and query letters. It’s been an education to me and I hope a few of these comments will provide some insight for you as well. The key message of this entry is—First impressions count with the editor. I’ve always been amused with the Forrest Gump line, “Stupid is as stupid does.” It has a measure of truth in it. Right off the bat, you don’t want the editor to think you are careless or stupid.
Here’s a few recent examples where I simply roll my eyes when I receive them—and maybe look a bit jaded at the rest of the contents: “Dear Ms. Whalin, I’m seeking representation regarding…” Ms. Whalin? Did they take two minutes to Google my name and check? Or if in doubt, use the full name: “Dear Terry Whalin.” And seeking representation? It’s the term used when writing to a literary agent—not directly to an acquisitions editor. The letter was addressed to me as the fiction acquisitions editor at Howard Publishing.
Or what about another letter which recently came addressed on the outside of the envelope to my name and address—yet it began, “To Whom It May Concern.” Who is reading the letter? I recommend you address that person in your salutation.
To be perfectly fair, I didn’t let the salutation sway my opinion of the pitch and I read the rest of it—rejecting it for other reasons. Yet the salutation made an impression—and not a positive one.
At my previous publisher, an editorial assistant sorted through these unsolicited submissions and returned the majority. Occasionally I would see one which had promise. In my current situation, I open and process all of my mail. I work remote from the publishing house so I answer my own phone from my home office. It’s not rocket science. I live in Arizona and my publishing house is based in West Monroe, Louisiana. It simply takes a little forethought from the writer before they pick up the phone and call me on a Sunday morning or at 7 p.m. in the evening (it’s happened repeatedly).
The content of your query or book proposal has to be outstanding, crafted for my publishing house and in the range of material that I am acquiring for it. I’d encourage you to not rush your submission into the marketplace. It’s always good to keep that email in your draft box overnight and take one last look at it. Or keep the letter on your computer and re-read it one more time in the morning. Think about how the editor will receive it.
In general across publishing (large publishers and smaller publishers), if you address a package to a particular editor at a particular publishing house, it will likely land in their in box. Some editors have editorial assistants who sort their mail but in general, it comes to that particular editor—whether it says, “Requested Manuscript” or not. We may not get to it as promptly as you would like but editors do read their mail.