Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Dear Sir or Madam
It was on a day when I had gotten a number of submissions marked "Dear Literary Agent," "Dear agent," and various innoculous salutations that clearly said it was being mass-mailed to a number of agents without a great deal of thought to who would be reading it. The shotgun approach, just hoping to put enough bullets into the air to hit somebody with one of them. This one said, "Dear Sir or Madam" and I responded with the same salutation:
Dear sir or madam,
I recently received a submission from you which in one form or another was addressed "dear occupant," at least that's is how that sort of submission is looked upon by agents and authors. If you really would like to publish may I suggest that:
1) you take the time to individually find out who the appropriate person is for your work and address it to them personally.
2) that you look at the submission guidelines to see what they wish to receive and how they wish to receive it. The range of what they want and how they want it varies widely.
3) That you look to see if this is really an appropriate market for your work.
It's more work to do it this way but most of the "dear occupant" letters or emails are simply thrown away with no response so although you are taking more time you at least have some chance of success if you do it right. Normally I would have thrown this away as well but I have gotten several today so I decided I would put together a form email which is about as personal as your submission was to me. However, please do not think I am chastising you, I am actually telling you something you really need to hear if you wish to successfully publish.
Mass-mailing submissions very seldom works in any manner, but what they do accomplish is to accumulate many more rejections much more rapidly, but that is not as important as burning a bridge that with a proper submission might have worked for you.
If getting such an impersonal note bothered you, that is exactly what I intended. That is how the people who get notes that are clearly to a mass mail audience react. Please remember how you felt when you submit your next submission and show the editor or agent that you are addressing them as a person. Trust me, the extra work will pay off for you.
Terry Burns, agent
Hartline Literary Agency