Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, March 24, 2008

On Formality In Query Letters

I grew up in California, which means I called my friends' parents by their first names and no matter where I am and what I'm wearing, I'd rather be wearing jeans. And as you can tell by the way I write the blog, I don't really worry about formality.

But lately people have been pushing informality in query letters just a tad too far. At the end of the day, while I'm really not a wild and crazy guy, I don't think of myself as a stickler. Don't worry about calling me "Mr. Bransford," even if we've never met ("Nathan" is fine). Don't sweat a typo. And by all means, crack a joke or two.


With your query letter you are proposing that we enter into a business relationship, and breeziness can be taken too far, particularly when it interferes with conveying the tone and spirit of your project. Yes, be funny and cool, but don't give the impression that you're taking the query lightly. With me and with other agents, err on the side of formality.

So for instance, do not call me "Nate," "Nat," or "Nate Dogg" (and yes, people do this). Don't use your language casually, unless you're specifically trying to convey the tone of your project. And if we've corresponded before, please don't assume that I will definitely remember you -- include the backup correspondence so I can refresh my memory.

As always, the goal of a query is to give the impression that you are talented and professional. Don't lose sight of professionalism as you show your talent.

Nate Dogg signing off.


Linnea said...

I suspect a large part of the reason people do that is to create the illusion of an already close relationship with the agent.

Erik said...

While I appreciate how to address Nathan, I have to wonder how formal other agents and publishers are - or for that matter, what the standard conventions are.

For example, where I grew up people tend to be known by their last name without title; in my case, "Hare". It's not exactly formal, but it isn't informal, either. In the Midwest, people invariably use first name only. This has caused problems when working with people from Germany, where culture demands that you are very formal with people you don't know well.

I would guess that the appropriate level of formality among agents is a function of region and age, but when in doubt wouldn't it be best to be very formal?

But, then again, how do you really feel when someone plays it ultra-safe and addresses you as "Mr. Bransford"? Is there even a tiny penalty for being a bit ... rigid and distant?

[I know, the short answer is "Get to know them before you query", but I like the long answers.]

Adaora A. said...

Wow Nathan.

When they called you "Natedog" did they carry on with

"what's crack-a-lackin?"

Why do I remember you saying in a much earlier blog post that you don't like being called "Nate" at all. Either my memory is at A-game (as it tends to be sometimes), or something else is afoot. Either way.

I'm not a jean person at all. I can't stand pants, I never wear them. People do tend to look at me strangely on campus for this.


Nate Doggggggg

Nathan Bransford said...


"Mr. Bransford" is totally fine, and for other agents, unless you know their preferences I'd err on the side of formality.

ChristineEldin said...

Hahahahaha at "Nate Dogg!"

Okay, sorry this is off-topic,
but number 91 reminded me of you. Though I've never been to San Fran.


Scott said...

So, like, the following's a bad idea?

Yo, Nate Dogg:

I want to submizzle my shizzle.

Maybe I should see if I can delete the submission I just sent you...

Ello said...

I was going to use Nate the Great, not in an informal way, but in a more "All hail the benevolent, gracious and powerful Nate the Great!"

mlh said...

So, Nathan, what you're saying is don't be so formal as to have a butler hand-deliver the query letter, but at the same token don't be so informal as to have your butt hanging out your pants while saying "Word Up" all over the letter.

Hear you loud and clear.

pjd said...

Do people not realize that there are lots of examples of traditional business letter formatting?

The best business advice I ever got was, "It never hurts to be overdressed." Yeah, OK, you don't want to wear the business suit to the company pool party, but the advice is applicable to many business situations. Including query letters.

Anonymous said...

I suppose Naterino is out too.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Yes, the key word is "business." That's the relationship--and that's the relationship I want with an agent. Sell my novel! Make money! Business!

Josephine Damian said...

I too remember your not liking "Nate" which is why I refer to you in my blog posts as Agent Nathan but also "The King of Nice."

Josephine Damian said...

pjd: Thanks for the link. Good advice all around. I've said it before, I think these e-mail queries are a mistake because, by nature they are informal communications and un-business like in general. Yeah, I'm just as "green" as the next guy and get why paper queries are bad for the environment, but hell, if agents and writers recycled, then the paper is not wasted.

Adaora: I never heard that phrase before. Now, I'm gonna go around all day saying: "what's crack-a-lackin?" because of you. lol

Nadine said...

I grew up in California and now live in Hawaii which is even more casual - yet I still address all of my queries to either Mr. or Ms. To me, it is just proper etiquette.

La Gringa said...

My pet peeve in being addressed is "MS."

My inner English major screams whenever I see this. It's always bothered me. I would prefer people just call me "Colleen".

"Miss" is not offensive in any way and I don't understand why cranky feminists decided to replace a perfectly good honorific with one that is not actually short for anything.

But I haven't seen any inappropriately informal salutations in any of my queries so far.

Nadine said...

Good to know about the "MS." - I thought it was a safe bet to do Ms.

Maybe I'll just switch to full names from now on...

Anonymous said...

There is a man in my writing group who slightly rises from his seat, subtly, every time a woman stands.
It is entirely unnecessary, and completely wonderful.
What a man...

Manners and polite behaviors always make an impression.

My brother was a most desired date in high school. One of the things the girls gushed over him about was that he was the ONLY boy, they knew, who actually opened the car door for a girl.

When formalities are voluntary, they probably mean even more.

But I personally, do not want to sit down to eat with someone who burbs or isn't wearing a shirt or slurps their soup.

I think it is great that blue jeans are the new causal suit, but, my, my, a man sure looks good in those dressy threads too.

Anonymous said...

speaking of which,
I have seen more dumpily dressed writers than i could believe possible. I mean, like they sleep in their clothes for days on end like it was a trademark art form.

I mean, even a nice jacket and a classy, fresh, ironed shirt really stand out with blue jeans.

And a tie means to me, you want the job.

Anonymous said...

but keep the tennis shoes, they mean you are fun too!

Anonymous said...

and cowboy boots...

Anonymous said...

As an add on to Anon 12:35, I was raised in a 2nd generation immigrant family. Grandpa and Dad insisted that everyone is "Mr." or "Mrs/Ms" "whoever" unless and until they specifically ask you to call them something else. To this day I feel wrong calling someone by their first name, first crack off the bat - and I *hate* it when sales clerks do that to me in stores. I'm not stuffy, it's just that a) I don't know them, b) it's such an assumption on their part, and c) I don't go by my first name (which is on the credit/debit card) I go by my middle name - so their calling me *wrong*!!

I think erring on the side of formal courtesy can't go wrong. It shows respect for someone else, and it gives them the opportunity to tell you by what name they *would* like to be called.

Err toward formality, dress your best, be courteous - it's not boring - it's a tremendous show of respect for others, and it translates so much better across all cultural lines.


Anonymous said...

It is a tremendous show of respect for yourself too.

Ask yourself, how would I like my talent to dress? act? represent itself?

It doesn't have to be stuffy either to be elegant or have flair or show individuality. It just needs manners.

Michelle Moran said...

My husband is British by way of Zimbabwe, and he always calls my mother Mrs. Moran. After ten years together, I finally told him, "Umm... I think it may be time to use her first name, don't you?" Though I have to admit, it was really cute!

I always try and err or the side of formality. I don't think anyone will ever hold that against you, whereas the flip side could be slippery territory, especially in any sort of business relationship, as erik pointed out.

Jackie said...

I didn't use any formalities with my Querries. Natedoo (ha ha, sorry couldn't resist) I didn't even form a nice Business Letter. My Query just consisted of the meat. I am a Business person, when doing business, and hate all the fluff and like to get straight to the case. As a social person I love to laugh and joke. What I am reading between the lines is you are suggesting a happy balance between the two?

Jackie said... are suggesting a more, polite Business Letter?

Marissa Scott said...

Nate Dogg? In a query? Why, oh why do people sabotage themselves this way? Insanity is all I can think of.
Even if I had met you somewhere, taking those kinds of liberties is pushing the comfort zone me thinks.

Anonymous said...

i have had people shorten my (female) name to a male name -ugh!!!!!
I have heard pompous people formalize a name that is NOT formalized (think "Patti" as assumed "Patricia" or visa versa)

People: NO! DON'T DO IT! NO!

(P.S. Is the "word verification" to insure the writer is not drinking?)

Anonymous said...

please walk the line

A Paperback Writer said...

Whoa. People actually call you "Nate Dogg" in a formal letter? Oh my.
But perhaps they also show up in their boxer shorts and flip-flops at formal weddings as well.
Honestly, we're all more comfortable when we can be casual, but there are times when casual just won't do. A formal business letter is one of those times. Blogging is not.

MsMe said...

Nadine, even though La Gringa dislikes "Ms" it is still the only appropriate prefix for a female agent. Why? Because you have no way of knowing her marital status, and you ought not to ask. If you really can't stand "Ms" for your own aesthetic reasons, simply use both first and last name. But I assure you "Ms" is considered appropriate in the business world, at least in NYC.

By the way, the feminists had a very good reason for insisting upon "Ms." It's not fair that a title reveals to the whole world a woman's marital status, and not a man's. Just a thought for all those of you in the younger generation.

msme said...

By the way, according to Wikipedia:

"Ms. is an English honorific used with the last name or full name of a woman. Ms., like Mrs. and Miss, is a contraction of the honorific 'Mistress', which is the feminine of "Mister" or 'Master'."

La Gringa said...

But dropping "Mrs." and just keeping "Miss" would have been just as good. It may be accepted but most women I know despise it just as much as I do.

I don't care what people think of my marital status when the write me, to be honest. As long as they spell my name correctly. :-)

Mary Paddock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Paddock said...

What a relief to have a line drawn. I've actually worried about how much use to make of humor in queries. I have a pretty good idea as to what a business letter should sound like, but queries are also about selling yourself a little and humor can useful in that regard.

With respect to salutations, when there's a doubt, I opt for full names. It's simply easier than trying to decide if I'm dealing with a Ms, Mrs, or someone whose name gives no hints about whether they're male or female.

March 24, 2008 3:58 PM

Other Lisa said...

Put me down with a vote for "Ms." "Miss" just feels weird to me, and I'm not a "Mrs."

I agree with the poster who said that it isn't right for a woman's title to reveal her marital status when a man's does not.

msme said...

La Gringa, I am curious as to why you dislike "Ms." Is it aesthetic or otherwise?

The women I know have no problem with it. And we both live in New York. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Ms. finally gave me -and other women- a respectable title that did not judge or value us on whether we were mated or not.

As a girl, I liked "Miss" because I was romantic about being single.

But as a fully independent woman, (AND I AM Married)
I hate to think my title is dependent on my marriage status.

When I use Ms. I use it respectfully.

When I receive that title, I feel respected as a professional, regardless of my marriage status.

Anonymous said...

In all queries, I go with the standard:

"Dear Mr. FirstName LastName":

or if it's a woman:

"Dear Ms.FirstName LastName":

Don't see how one could possibly lose with this standard business letter opening.

Cam said...

I suppose "Dude" is out of the question, too.

Too bad. I was going to use that one.


Anonymous said...

Aww, are you sure we can't call you by Nate Dogg in a query? It's such a cute nickname for you!

Moose said...

Bow wow yippee yi yippee yay.

Furious D said...

How about I just call you THE NATHANATOR!

And if you sell one of my novels to a publisher I can call you my pimp!

But in a nice way.


JaxPop said...

Being laid back is fine. I prefer boots n' jeans or, better yet, flip flops n' shorts, but a query is still a business letter. Being too casual isn't businesslike. Just because you (Mr Bransford) happen to be a down to earth 'not full of himself guy' (so far) shouldn't change the importance of a respectful approach from those that decide to query you. As Josephine also mentioned - email tends to detract a bit but it's still best to err on the side of formality & that's still possible via email.

By the way - I have no problem with using Ms. On the flip side - I HATE it when Ms, Miss, or Mrs calls me 'Honey' - 'Sweetie' - 'Babe' or 'Sugar' (pronounced Shugah down here). Unless it's Mrs JaxPop - after 33 years of wedded bliss (& she's still a hottie) she can call me anything she wants.

susan d said...

I usually use the Ms. or Mr. format when addressing agents or other people I don't know well, such as someone I'm interviewing. Then if they address me informally or return an email using their first name or a shortened version of a formal name (such as Bob instead of Robert), I interpret (hopefully correctly) this as a green light to address the individual in a more familiar. manner.

Adaora A. said...


Where are my dogs at?

You were channeling Little Bow or er, Bow Wow, as he is now.

Aimless Writer said...

I kinda like that "Nate Dogg". However here in Jersey we'd be saying, "Yo Nates! How the F are ya?" To which you'd reply, "WTF".
So, you're saying dat wouldn't fly in da query?
Thanks for the info.

Kimberly K. said...

Dear Mr. Dogg,

... sorry - couldn't resist.

This actually reminded me about a web piece I read about interviewing no no's. I would think that some of these are quite similar in theory. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Applicant claimed to be so well qualified that if he didn't get the job, it would prove the company's management was incompetent.

Applicant asked to see the interviewer's resume to see if the personnel executive was qualified to interview him.

Applicant wore a jogging suite to interview for the position of financial vice-president. (Yes, dress codes are getting more casual. But please.)

and my favorite...

Applicant sits down in interviewer's office, leans back, puts his feet on her desk, and proceeds to tell her why he should have her job.

(grabbed from )

susan d said...

Don't even get me started on the whole sweety/honey topic. I interviewed a swimmer the other day who addressed me as dear, sweetie and honey until I wanted to end the interview with a crazed, ear-piercing scream!

The Anti-Wife said...

So I guess Natie Pooh is out too, hunh?

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Ms.-ing The Wire

I'm so heartened others have posted in defense of Ms., and I don't need to say anything at all. But of course I will - working on my website in HTML, so need to keep my hand in the literary pot somehow! Or spoon, or something...

Last week I'd wanted to post about The Wire, but didn't get around to it. In reading David Simon's interviews, etc., I'd noted that his experience of the inner city is gendered - one might say, "mistered" - Mr.'d:

He says of the Baltimore Sun: “Whenever they hear the word ‘Pulitzer,’ they become tumescent."

He says: "...the thing that makes me giddy as a schoolgirl is this..."

He says: "I am your new lord sovereign of buried, latent, subtextual argument. I dragged it past sarcasm, past cynicism, and all the way to balls-out snide. Crown me up and kneel, ya bitches."

I looked up pictures of David Simon online - he's a big beefy man, who'd have a much easier time "hanging around" a dangerous street corner (or part of city) than say, a small petite woman...or even any woman for that matter...or even a small man...I knew a small man in Detroit in the early 90s. He was showing me around the city - we went past a certain intersection, and he said, "This used to be Viet Nam." Because of all the drug dealing. But that day it wasn't, that year it wasn't, there was nobody around. All dead or in jail! Even the drug trade has its rhythm, its peak and ebb...

And then he took me to this house whose roof had half-caved in, that had belonged to a dentist. A beautiful house! Full of trash, halfway to your knees, in all the rooms, not the hallways - I wondered if it was to keep people from using it as a crack house, they didn't want to get high and have to wade through all those magazines and clothes and blankets and whatnot. I mean, it was clean trash, not food or waste or anything. Dry trash. And the woodwork was in excellent condition, just waiting to be stripped to be sold to someone who wanted the authentic touch to their home in the suburbs!

Well, then he took me up into the attic, to show me how the dentist kept bee hives up there! A beekeeping dentist! And so there, in the part of the attic that wasn't caved in, were the old beehives - boxes containing wooden frames, which were strung loosely with wire - most of the honey and beeswax had been eaten away by mice or whatever, but there was still some clinging to the frames - I asked him, "can I have one of those?" So, it was like chivalry, I'll say that - and I on principle avoid words like chivalry! - he went from joist to joist over to the beehives (the roof was low) and got me one of those wooden frames strung with wire. Lovely, sweet man!

Get it, wire? Not wiretap wire, or tripwire, or barbed wire, The Wire - but beehive wire. And it still had the scent of honey to it, or beeswax. So that's kind of my gendered experience of the inner city - my "Ms.-d" experience of it - that's in my novel - I probably feel about that wooden frame the way some people feel about possessing a Faberge egg, or John Lennon's psychedelic Rolls Royce, or Harriet Tubman's gun. So 48 Hours sometimes has episodes about Detroit murders - the Detroit Mayor and ex-chief of staff were arraigned today - our auto industry is disappearing - but I've still got that piece-of-a-beehive - and a possible trajectory into the future.

The more I read about David Simon, the more he seems like my long-lost twin brother – well, except that I already have a twin brother. And we've had as much conflict as I imagine I'd have had with Mr. David Simon through the years – the wall of gender, scraping away at it with little clamshell words like "Ms."

TR said...

Get any cracks about Nate the Great?

Being old fashioned, I'd stick with "Yo, Dadd-y-o."

Moose said...

Adaora A, George Clinton used it first.

Anonymous said...

Michelle- My husband is British as well and also calls my mother Mrs! Maybe it's a British thing!


Diana said...

Nate Dogg? NATE DOGG?


I really like Ms. for the fact that 1) it's correct in terms of etiquette and 2) it's appropriate regardless of marital status.

Of course, if you want to err on the side of over-titling, you could always address the recipient as "Dr." You'd be amazed at how infrequently people are offended if you call them Dr.

Jessica said...

I'm with you, Colleen. I have always disliked being addressed as a 'Ms.' both when I was unmarried and married. I understand why other women prefer 'Ms' and I respect their decision. For me, I don't feel I have to hide my marital status.

I notice that in the U.S. 'Ms.' seems to be the default. I like that, here in the U.K., I am usually asked for my preferences when in a new situation.

Chris Redding said...

You'll hate Ms until the first time you get called Ma'am. Unless yoiu're from down south and then that's pretty common I think. A sure sign of respect.

WitLiz Today said...

With all due respect to Mr. Bransford and other blogging agents, if you want a query letter to reflect a more businesslike tone, then perhaps your blog should reflect this tone. You are, after all, setting an example. If however, you prefer to have your natural personality shine, as it seems to be the case with Mr. Bransford, that's ok, but then cut the damn writer some slack if he falls on his ass. Which we will. Why? Because most likely we are all reading multi-agent blogs giving conflicting advice.

That means when a lurker or a regular commenter, anonymous or otherwise, gets a rejection from a blogging agent because they broke rule number 101, it stings a lot more than some newbie writer who queries out of the blue, and blithely sends off a query letter without a clue in their head about what’s appropriate or not.

Hell, if I wanted to be born a ping pong ball instead of a writer, I would've put my application in way before I was born.

When did writing query letters become such an act of torture for a writer? When Literary Agents started to blog.

I guess my patience is running thin, because I’m reading so many comments from countless writers who agonize over these letters like they’re a Mercedes Benz with expensive tires about to drive over a spike strip.

Literary agents need to realize that many gifted writers have to write under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, be it financial, mental, or physical. They would do well to keep that in mind and be a little more compassionate when they read query letters that didn’t make the grade or that offended them. Bearing in mind too, that the offended is more often the offender.

But, I also realize there are two sides to the equation. Inasmuch as these same literary agents generously donate their time to educate a writer, it's important I cut them some slack when they cause a 50 car writer pileup. It works both ways.

Anonymous said...

WitLiz, while I appreciate your rage at this and think you make some good points, it's important to understand what the agents go through with slush.

Every year I sit on a judging committee to award a lot of money to nonprofits where people volunteer. We get between 700 and 1,000 nomination forms, which we have to read (in our off hours) in a few weeks. Each nomination form is anywhere from 1-3 pages, single spaced, answering a number of questions.

There are quite a few that are astonishingly good stories, so when we run across the ones where the applicants clearly have not put in any effort, or clearly have taken liberties, we just put them into the "no" pile.

Nathan is not being nitpicky here. He is simply pointing out his triggers that cause something to go into the "no" pile without serious consideration. It's not, "If this person doesn't use Mr. Bransford, they're done" so much as, "Oh, geez, Nate Dogg? Forget it."

In my judging, the triggers are different, but they exist nonetheless. And nearly 100% of the time the correlate with an application that would have gotten a "no" anyway. That's a conclusion based on experience.

Anonymous said...

I get where the above commentor, Witliz Today, is coming from. Agent blogs complicate everything, it seems.

Reading agent blogs (I won't name names) has significantly decreased the respect I have for agents. I've been horrified by how they refer to/treat their clients in their posts. Recently one agent bragged about finally getting around to reading some partials she's had for 6 months and then proceeded to tell in a blog post how she only read 1-2 pages of EACH partial before saying nah, and sending a form reject. This agent also excitedly announced she's writing a book. I thought, hell, let's hope editors give your book more than a ONE page read after a six month wait. Or better yet, let's hope they don't.


Unless you are a best-seller, writers have no power in this business. Or respect. At all.

I'm agented and published, so it's not sour grapes, but lemme tell ya, if a writer actually told you the crap that they've had to take from agents/editors it would pale in comparison to someone calling you NATE DOG.

Christian said...

Dear Mr. Bransford,

Really? Strangers have actually called you "Nate-Doggy-Dog" or some such inappropriate informality? I believe that it's a symptom of the erosion of respect for others, made worse by perceived barriers of anonymity like emails, text messaging, and the like.

And what's up with automatically shortening people's names? I have the name Christian, which invariably gets shortened to "Chris," which, I might add, is NOT the root word, but rather Christ...though when I suggest that as a viable option, it gets met with looks of horror and furtive glances at the sky, surely awaiting heavenly lightning bolts.

I say: if they don't respect your position in the industry enough to show that in a query, then may said lightning bolt visit them whilst they're performing some unmentionable function in their bathrooms. so there. :~)

Nathan Bransford said...

WizLit and Anon-

Well, I confess I didn't anticipate that a suggestion to not call me "Nate Dogg" would touch a nerve.


I'd just like to point out that 1) I never blog about my clients and 2) trust me, I take far more abuse from aspiring authors than I dish out.

IanJackson said...

Anonymous 7:01. I think I know which agent you are referring to, and IMHO there are many reasons not to like this agent from what she writes in her blog.

But I have to disagree with you about the reading 1 or 2 pages of a partial being disrespectful. Many, many times you can tell in this amount (or even far less) that a person can't write. That's just the way it is. Why waste time reading more?

La Gringa said...

Christian -

I tend to address people with the same name they have used to sign a letter to me. I don't shorten names. But I do find it difficult sometimes when an author (and a lot of them do this) use their initials only when writing to me. I feel silly addressing someone as "T.L." in a response to a query.

As for the use of Ms. - I certainly don't penalize anyone for using it in addressing me. They don't know I hate it, and it's a commonly accepted form of address. But once enter into a business relation with someone, I always tell them that I prefer that they not to use any honorific with me.

As for whether Nathan's blog is formal or informal, well - here's the thing - that has absolutely no bearing upon how someone should present themselves in a query letter.

Richard Branson at Virgin is a huge hippie, but I doubt very much that people write him business letters that start "Yo, wussup, dude!"

Don't blame the agents for your own bad instincts and poorly written queries.

December/Stacia said...

*shrugs* I liked "Miss" just fine before I was married, and now that I am married I resent having that status taken away from me by the use of "Ms.", just as I object to having my husband referred to as my "partner".

It doesn't bother me in business, because I know Ms. is generally considered business form. But socially, I get very irked when people take away my "r".

Scott MacHaffie said...

I just looked it up in Miss Manners.

"Nate Dogg" is definitely incorrect.

It should be
"Nate Dogg Baby".

Angela said...

That Nate Dogg, he's a real cool cat!

Anonymous said...

I'm Anon 7:01 --

Nathan, I wasn't referring to YOU! For pete's sake your one of the good ones! (and no, people shouldn't adress you as Nate Dog).

But sometimes, good agents like yourself assume that all of the OTHER agents/editors treat people the same way you do. It isn't so. At all. Trust me. Whether or not you follow their rules, meet their deadlines, and offer nothing but professionalism you get disrespect. I'd prefer someone calling me Nate Dog, in comparison. I've got stories to tell. But I won't.

Nathan Bransford said...


Oh! Sorry I misunderstood, and thanks for the kind words.

Isak said...

I'm sure there's a whole load of reasons why queries come out the way they do. First and foremost, we all forget that as personable as we can be, writers are generally an introverted bunch, so social etiquette might be a foreign concept to the more withdrawn. Formality becomes an analytical puzzle. And what about sheer desperation? Hundreds of queries later, maybe they're just trying too hard.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Nathan Bransford, sir--

I always try to err on the side of formality, but . . . when an agent writes you back and signs the email with their first name only, are they trying to signal that they'd like to be called by their first name?

Being the chicken that I am, I still end up calling them "Mr. So-and-so," just in case they didn't really mean it. But if they do it more than once, I might be likely to shoot my next reply back addressed to "Joe" or whatever they signed with. And sign off with my first name, too.

Bad idea?

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm probably the wrong person to ask because I feel like people should feel free to call me by my first name even if we haven't met. But yes -- I'd say that if the agent signs with just their first name you've moved to a first name basis.

Anyone else a manners specialist? What's the protocol on this?

nomannersspecialist said...

I'm no manners specialist, but I think it's pretty obvious that if someone signs their mail "Bob," they mean for you to call them "Bob."

Anonymous said...

Nathan, you're completely within your rights to say that addressing you as "Nate Dogg" or other similar name isn't approprate -it isn't. It seems that having the wonderful privilege of these agent blogs has blurred some people's sense of propriety, and they feel that they have the right to be as chummy with agents as with their friends. Yet an agent/writer relationship *is* first and foremost a business relationship, and I think it's good you reminded us of that -the internet does have the tendency to informalise communication, and that seeps easily into other formats of communication, too.

Yours is my favourite agent blog, and I love your humorous style. Please keep at it! :-)

Christian said...

Dear Ms. La Gringa,

I'm not sure why that was addressed to me, but thank you for making my day a little bit more surreal! ;~)

Diana said...

When you're sending someone a letter for the first time, you might not know his or her preferred form of address. In that case, erring on the side of formal is good. When you get a letter back signed "Nathan," or "Nate Dogg," then you know how to address the next letter.

When I am meeting someone for the first time in a business setting, I always start with a "Mr." or "Ms." or "Dr." and then when they wave that away and say, "Call me Nate Dogg, everyone else does," I say thanks and then use Nate Dogg from then on.

Anonymous said...

Well, sometimes I don't have any idea whether a person is male or female in a business letter.

I have, in the past, chosen either:

Dear Jan Areyouamanorawoman,

full name, no title


Dear M. Areyouawomanoraman,

Using "M." means I am trying to be polite but I don't know what sex they are really.

What do you think of that?

Ulysses said...

Anon @ 11:08,

In French, "M." is short for "Monsieur," the masculine honorific (like "Mister").

That may not be your best choice, really.

melissalobianco said...

I wasn't going to comment on this; to me, the formality - it's sort of obligatory. My thinking is similarly alined with pjd, below.

Still, I did want to comment briefly on your mention of casual, Mr. Bransford. I feel fortunate to have found this 'blog: in the few days I've been visiting, taking away with me the wisdom of your merry band of sages here, I've found great encouragement. With your open discussions and jeans-and-T-shirt approachability, you've managed to provide a dress-down Friday everyday for those of us neophytes (okay... maybe it's just me) otherwise reluctant to don Sketchers in your presence.

Kudos. And, thanks.

La Gringa said...

Christian -


Only the first paragraph was meant for you. My bad!

Anonymous said...

Miss La Gringa:

It is thrilling to some of us *ahem* older women that Miss/Mrs. is now a choice for form of address -- not a flag flown to announce we had bagged a man, not a hankie to wave one down. I was "Ms." years ago in order to ensure my marital status was not part of my name and/or identity -- especially professionally. Once I was married (not a Miss) and did not take my husband's name (not a Mrs.) I remained a Ms. and that works for me. Brava, Miss La Gringa! It is progress when we may decide for our own reasons how we shall be known.

- AnonyMouS

Anonymous said...


maybe just Mms.


Polenth said...

But you said it was okay to sign our queries with 'Snuggles'.

Well, you said you'd notice it. That's almost the same as it being okay.

Scott said...

I know this post is old news now, but I'm dying to know: Has is set off a spate of people querying Dear Nate Dogg because they think it'll be funny or cute or that will personalize the query and make you more likely to accept it because it shows how closely they read your blog?

Anonymous said...

Ms. is simply short for both rather than neither. There is an 's' in both Miss and Mistress.

The thing about Ms. is, it's not all about you. It's about a larger social issue, parity with men in the workplace and society in general. Ask yourself why it is that women have titles indicating their marital status in the first place, while men do not and never have done.

It is my understanding that M. may apply to both men and women. I used to use it, but in the US, too often I found myself wondering if the recipient would think I had their name wrong and it was an incorrect initial, so I now use first and last name.

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