Miss Ms-ery

I know via your blog you prefer to be addressed as Miss Snark. But in the real world, I see an agent's name--let's pretend it's Kim Smith. I've ascertained that Kim is, in fact, female. I do not know if she is married or not. How do I address her? Will she be offended by Ms. Smith if she really prefers Miss Smith? If she's married, how do I know she's Mrs. Smith? Smith could be her maiden name and her married name could be Mrs. Clooney? Does the salutation really matter that much if the submission is good and at least the gender is right? I doubt agencies want to field calls every day asking the assistants how to properly address queries. But maybe it is the norm?

Goddess Snark, enlighten this nitwit, please!

You don't.
(better not be)
You're right.

You're obsessing here.
The snark about "Miss Snark" is not the specific title but the concept of getting the name right.

Miss Snark is Miss Snark. She is not Mr Snark, or Ms Snark or Sister Snark.

If you know an agent is a woman, you call her Ms. Agent. If he is a man you call him Mr. Agent.
If you know she's a scam artist you call her Dr. Bauer.

If you just can't deal with the uncertainty, open your letter with Hello, or Good Morning.

The only thing you should be parsing with this degree of ferocity is your writing.


Anonymous said...

Oh Sister Snark, I love it when you answer our questions.

Anonymous said...

"If you know she's a scam artist you call her Dr. Bauer."

Ha! Lost a little coffee on that one...

ORION said...

I ,too, spent a lot of time agonizing over this when I was querying.
I ended up using the full names of all agents.
Here is an example I am sure you all will want to use.
To: Elizabeth Snark
Killer Yap Agency
New York, NY

Dear Elizabeth Snark,
Enclosed you will find one crisp $20 bill, a pail of gin, and tickets to the annual pig wrestling competition held every year in Maple Park, Illinois...

(Deep down inside I really think this is why my agent signed me. If I had addressed her as Ms in my query letter -- I am sure she wouldn't have wanted to represent me. I know it had nothing to do with my writing,)

Anonymous said...

If you know she's a scam artist you call her Dr. Bauer.


Anonymous said...

I'll add my two cents:

Personally, I find it offensive, as a woman, that people must know my marital status in order to use a "correct" title. Does anyone ask a man if he's married or not before doing business with him? No, of course not, there's no need, they only have "Mr." So use "Ms", it was created to avoid this agonising over marital status. It simply means: woman, not man. ha.

Also, I've never worked for an agent but I have worked for a small publisher and we would get LOTS of unsolicited submissions. Any submission that either spelt the publisher's name incorrectly or used "Dear Editor" or, even worse "To whom it may concern", was instantly rejected. If they did their research properly, they could have found out who to send it to. It is a business deal, after all, not a letter to Santa.

Anonymous said...

"Sister Snark"


Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree about Ms - it's high time it became universal. (Though will someone please come up with a nicer way to pronounce it than 'Mzz'!)

But since aspiring writers don't dare piss off even the pickiest of agents by getting Mrs/Miss wrong, or not knowing they have a doctorate, or, horror of horrors, giving 'Kim' or 'Hilary' or a hundred other gender-neutral names the wrong title, I go for first-name-and-surname every time.

Anonymous said...

Of course, Kim Smith could be "Mr. Smith." I have a friend whose husband's first name is Kim. (I also know guys named Lynn and Ashley. OTOH, Sidney Smith might be a woman.) I guess that's an argument for taking the first name/last name route, but I've never liked the way that sounded--it's like one of those direct marketing letters where they use mail merge to "personalize" each letter. I'd only use first name/last name if I were unsure whether I was addressing a man or a woman.

Anonymous said...

Oops--missed the part where the OP had ascertained that this Kim Smith was female. Still, it's worth remembering to watch out for those unisex names.

Anonymous said...

If you know she's a scam artist you call her Dr. Bauer.

Time to replace the keyboard. Again.

Jim C. Hines said...

What Julie said.

Less than an hour at work, and already I'm giggling hard enough my coworkers think I'm on drugs.

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark,

Thanks for clarifying this. I have gotten into debates with writer friends who insist that all queries to female agents should begin with "Miss" since Miss Snark said so. I said they were missing the point, that Miss Snark should be called Miss Snark because that is her name. Not Dr. Or Mrs. or General. Like Dear Abby letters are to "Abby" and not "Mrs. Van Buren" or "Miss Van Buren" or etc.

Anonymous said...

What would the infamous Sister Parish think?

Anonymous said...

I've used Dear Firstname Lastname ever since attending a Quaker college; apparently it's the Friendly way, and I like it.