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Salubrious Salutations

Okay. I have this friend, see. And he is (bless his heart) determined to try to get a little book published. He tells me that he is ready to send off his manuscript (he feels so writerly when he tells me about his "manuscript" like it was the Magna Carta or something) and here's the deal:

The publisher's guidelines say "Bumpkin Publishing has an acquisitions committee, which includes several staff members. There is no specific editor to whom you can address queries or with whom you can discuss your manuscript." "Mail all submissions to the Acquisitions Committee"....etc etc.

And so, my friend's question is, on the cover letter, what goes in the salutation: Dear Members of the Acquisition Committee? Yuk, he says. Or Dear Sirs and/or Madams and/or Gender-Neutral Individuals (Not That I'm Saying There's Anything Wrong With That)?

I told him I'd ask around and see what kind of advice you writerly publishing types might suggest for the opening lines of the introduction to his... ta da... manuscript. I think it's probably best to humor him at this very vulnerable point without necessarily encouraging him too much, so any help would be appreciated.

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I used to work for a priest (long story) who wrote me a generic letter of recommendation addressed to "Dear Decision Makers." I've never seen that salutation used before or since, but it stopped me in my tracks: what a great way to stroke invisible committee members' egos. "You have the power, oh Mighty Decision Makers!" And it isn't as smart-alecky as "Dear Powers-That-Be."

I doubt that anyone will notice what salutation you use unless it's outrageous. Editors are always swamped with work and rushing to the gist of whatever matter is at hand (I have worked for publishers large and small). Consult a few current etiquette and style guides and go with whatever seems least cumbersome and best suited to whatever you know about the type of press involved - and what seems comfortable to you. No one would be so offended by Dear Editors or Dear So-and-So Press that it would influence their decision about the manuscript. Of course, keep it gender-neutral.

I see the third person has once again insinuated itself!

How about making a few phone calls and finding the names of people on the committee? I'm asumming he is aiming for a reletively small publishing house, shouldn't be that hard to get somebosy there to give up the names.

Recommend that he go to NYC and acquire a real live agent who will handle all those pesky tasks for him.

I agree with Lin B. "Dear Editors" would be just fine in this case; at least you're showing them you're aware there's more than one; you've done the requisite amount of homework.

(Sorry, your putative friend has.)

My vote goes to "Dear Editors" as well. They know you know there is more than one, and no one of them is singled out. I disagree about calling them to coax out names ... you might accidentally secure the name of the one person on the committee who ranks lowest, (or slept with the bosses wife), etc ... one little whoopsie, and somebody (who thinks they are the most important of them all) gets offended. In my opinion, better to stay generic, as bland as it may feel. Safer.

Of course, safer means you blend in, and in this particular case, you want to stand out. In that event, how about a "Dear Aquisitions Editors"? Still generic, but with a little punch. A little bit of stroking (editors KNOW they have the power), yet respectful and proper.

Please tell your (friend) that we wish him the very best of luck, and to remember that his salutation is simply the gateway to the really good stuff ... the book itself. Stay focused on the jewel, and let the details fall into place as naturally as possible, without feeling forced. Go with what you would want to see if you were sitting on the Aquisitions Committee. You want to connect with the person who wants to connect with you, no? So go with what feels comfortable. Go with what you can live with.

Isn't it terrible how we torture ourselves? Please tell your (friend) that we also appreciate his attention to detail. We all know that in the end, every little decision we make adds up to our chance for survival in the writing world. May your (friend) scale the highest mountain and experience that glorious feeling of satisfaction - knowing that someone has seen what he has done. Good luck.

Why not address it to: The Illustrious Few Who Have The Power To Ruin My Life. I guess you can tell I'm a bit jaded, having done this wrongly many times myself. Fact is: keep it business (I hate that part) and do it in one page max. What works? I don't know. I've self-published, been published by others, and yesterday got two e-mails from publishers-- very small houses, mind you-- asking me for submissions based on my previous books-- ie: I've never submitted to them.

As a side: Receintly I've been asked by publishers who turned me down in the past to please review their newest authors at IdleHandsMag.com. I wonder if they knew who they were talking to? (Probably don't remember me.) Anyway, I was diplomatic, I said, "Send me a review copy along with promotional materials and I'll consider reviewing your authors."

Looks like I changed places on the feeding chain and damn it feels good! Later Fred. -Billy

HAVE A GOOD YEAR.

I write letters to committees all the time, selection committees for colleges, and I always just head them up "To the Selection Committee:" because "Dear" looks, to me, so out of place in a professional context. In your friend's place, I would do "To the Acquisitions Committee:" and let it go.

(My students nearly always get into the colleges of their choices, so at least I do no harm!)

I agree with Doc Roc - nice and professional. I'm in the process of writing to the Lord Mayor of our city re. an issue and need to know which salutation to use (I think it is Dear Lord Mayor) - any ideas? (I need him to sit up and take note of the issue at hand....a disability access issue).

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