“Dear Editor…” (Mistake #30)

Not addressing an editorial contact by name when you write to them with an idea, proposal or article – an easily avoidable mistake. Each of these sets my teeth on edge:

Dear Sir/Madam
Dear Ms/Miss/Mrs/Mr Jones
To Whom it May Concern…

Each suggests lack of care, lack of research, lack of … unlaziness.

Imagine receiving an email or letter addressed to ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To Whom it May Concern’. Would you not be instantly annoyed? Or bored? Would you not immediately assume it was junk mail – or an unimportant mass mailing? Would you not bin or delete it pretty sharpish?

You need the first name of the editor or – if there is one – the features editor or commissioning editor. So look in the publication. If it’s not listed there, look at the publication’s website. If it’s not there either, Google it. If that fails, you could ask other writers – perhaps via Twitter, or use a writing forum. If nobody can tell you, then call up the publication – because you must get it right. Speak with the switchboard operator who responds or ask her for an editorial assistant. Don’t fear: you’re unlikely to be put through to the person whose name you need – but if you are, just tell them you want to send them an idea and would like to address them correctly.

Once you have the full name, check the spelling. Not only surnames. So many first names have variant spellings – Graeme/Graham, Rachel/Rachael, Antony/Anthony – that you need to be certain.

And then you have several options:

Dear [first name] – I consider this preferable, and not over-familiar (as long as you sign off with your full name at first)
Dear [title] [surname] – this is okay too, provided you are 100% sure of the title
Dear Ms/Miss/Mrs [surname] – this is risky, I think, and may annoy some women
Dear [first name] [surname] – this is, in my opinion, hideous (a view not shared by all)

Letters to the letters’ page? Check the name and address supplied on the page. If you see ‘Letters to the editor’ anywhere then using ‘Dear Editor’ is okay. The editor isn’t always involved in the running of the letters’ page, though. For the women’s weeklies, something like ‘Dear Take a Break’ is probably better.

And once you get to know an editor, maybe after a few exchanges of emails, first name terms all round should be fine. Take your cue from them: if they sign off with their first name only – then so can you.

Found this Mistake useful? You might also like my new ebook 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make (Kindle edition), priced £1.99 / $2.99.

Comments 13

  • What about if you live abroad? Phoning can be very expensive. What should you do after emailing to find out who the editor is and you get no reply? Move on to another publication?

  • Hello. I appreciate I allow anonymous comments but if asking a question would you mind at least giving your name? Will then gladly answer. Thanks.

  • As an ex-salesman, I entirely agree. And now, when folks write or phone me to sell to me, if they can't be bothered to use my correct name, they get short shrift. Professionalism is a courtesy in business. Not getting your editor's name right is incompetent and an insult, frankly.

    Now I'm a writer, I make sure that I have all the details possible about editors and other staff in my publishing houses. You have to!

    Mike Jecks

  • I hadn't thought of it as lack of professionalism – but you're right. Thanks for the input, Mike.

  • What about when the policy is to send something tp the "submissions department"?

  • Does this happen more in short stories? I would still be inclined to call for a name – but fiction is not my game. If womagwriter is about she may be the voice of wisdom on this one…

  • Magazines don't seem to be much of a problem these days aprt from one or two exceptions but it was a fiction project that I had in mind. Great blog by the way – I'm trying to do more non fiction and I've learned loads of helpful stuff here.

  • If a novel, I'd definitely try to get a name. So many novels get sent into a nameless vacuum. But, again, others will know more than me on this, perhaps. Just tweeted a request for input!

    Thanks for your comment re: blog!

  • Hi Alex

    Thanks for your thoughts on your name 'options'. This is stupidly stressful for the first time writer, especially when writing to women! I've seen the [first name] [surname] option put across as a positive thing, but like you, I can't stand it. Who says 'Dear Lucy Mills' except junk mail? Usually it's a sign of simply pasting in a name – at least, that's what it feels like.

    I feel a bit odd using only the first name in first time snail mail letters, however. I think it's all those lessons I had at school on 'how to compose a letter'.

    Yours sincerely, etc!

  • Yep, feels like a mail merge program was let loose on the letter. And I know exactly what you mean re: first time/first name!

  • I think the one exception I've come across to this is People's Friend. Their guidelines ask you to address short stories and articles to 'The Editor' – however, once you've had a reply, you then have a name to use and it is important that you do.

    At People's Friend there are many editors – and when a new writer submits a piece of work it is allocated to one of those editors. That person then becomes your editor for all future submissions. I've written both fiction and non-fiction for People's Friend and I've always dealt with the same person – who sadly – has now left, so I'm about to go through the process again!

    And I agree with Michael – anyone who can't be bothered to spell my name correctly, get's short shrift from me!

  • It's not difficult to find out the names of the magazine fiction editors (there aren't many, any more, for a start!). Woman's Weekly's fiction editor is Gaynor Davies, Take A Break's is Norah McGrath, Jill Finlay is fiction editor at The Weekly News. There you go, for starters…(correct as of today!)

  • Ah – always nice when an old post comes back to 'life' with a fresh comment! Thanks for sharing, Helen!

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