Playing the Name Game

Life Lessons for Writers Contacting Editors

A guest post by Terri Huggins

The name game. It’s a game that I’ve gotten way to familiar with over the years. The rules are simple. After mulling over every aspect of a pitch and practically driving a hole into the delete button, you proceed to rack your brain over the correct way to address a new editor. The hard part is realizing that you never know how to win the game; especially when there are so many options.

writer contacting an editorIf you are anything like me, you play this game on almost a daily basis and you still haven’t mastered the concept. Whose genius idea was it to have so many ways to address a person anyway? I think having the option to call someone by Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, or by first name is over-kill.

In all honesty, the decision on addressing an editor wasn’t always so difficult for me. My parents’ tough love and strong feelings about respect and formality were instilled in me at a young age. And it’s still very much a part of me. Because of that upbringing everyone who I perceived to be my elder or superior was always addressed as Mr. or Ms. in person and in writing.  I even did the extra legwork for unisex names to make sure I addressed people properly. (Having a unisex name myself, I understand how annoying it can get to be wrongly called Mr. Terri Huggins so frequently.)

It wasn’t until I read a few advice columns geared towards writers that suggested pitches be written in a relaxed and conversational tone to show personality. Some even went as far as saying that addressing editors in a formal way was too rigid and showed no personality. Of course, I then went into panic mode. Was my attempt at being respectful, coming off as rigid and resulting in my pitches getting ignored? Nonetheless, I continued to address editors I hadn’t worked with formally unless told otherwise. Even after I got the ok to call them by their first name, I still found it difficult to break the habit.

However, getting permission to address editors informally when working with them got me thinking. Does that mean I was originally supposed to address them by their first name in the pitch? Did I do it wrong completely? Or was I just extended that courtesy having worked with the editor already?

I decided to do a little investigation by asking a few editors what they preferred to be called.  Unfortunately, I received a bunch of mixed responses that didn’t exactly help in the decision process.  The responses ranged from preferring a first-name basis initially to those who thought being addressed formally made the editor feel old and mean or that the writer was out of touch with the times. A few said that in this increasingly informal society, it is pretty much expected to use first names. Of course, a handful of editors suggested staying on the safe side by addressing editors formally for initial communication and then using first name for future correspondence. However, most editors said as long as their name was spelt correctly, it wouldn’t lead to automatic pitch deletion. (Definitely, helps put me at ease!)

While I’m still not convinced about the right way to reference an editor, I guess the moral of the story is to do what feels right considering there will always be many different opinions of the matter.

Terri HugginsTerri Huggins is a Freelance Writer/Journalist in NJ who specializes in bridal, beauty, relationships, education and business topics. She also writes marketing paraphernalia such as brochures, press releases, blogs and newsletters for local businesses. By night, Terri is a arts enthusiast, prima ballerina, education activist, and dedicated volunteer. Connect with Terri on Twitter: TERRIficWords or stop by her blog, www.terrificwords.wordpress.com. Professional Website: http://www.writingbyterri.com/


About Guest Author

This post was written by a guest author specifically for Emily Suess and Suess's Pieces. If you would like to pitch a guest post, contact Emily.
  • http://biz.leoraw.com/ Leora Wenger

    Seems like it is better to err on too formal than too informal (like you, I prefer to be a little more traditional, at least at first).

    As I do most of my work by email, I can address people by however they sign their names. All of the professors I work for, for example, use their first names in their emails.

    Nice to see you on Emily’s site, Terri.

  • http://www.terrificwords.wordpress.com Terri

    Glad I’m not alone in that feeling! Taking a cue from email signature is smart. In all honesty, it took me a while to realize I should be taking the hint from the email signature. But even then it still felt odd for me to reference it if they signed with first name. I guess I’m still a little old school!

  • http://www.diaryofamadfreelancer.com Princess Jones

    I grew up being very formal with strangers as well. My father was in the military so not only did I have to address people as Mr., Mrs. and Miss, if the person was in the service, I also had to address them according to their rank. Even after I knew someone very well, it was nothing to call my parents’ friends Miss Cookie or Mr. Bernard. But, when I’m pitching I almost always start with a “Hi Emily” as opposed to a “Greetings Ms. Suess.”

    I think that when I’m on the other side of the email–getting a pitch from a writer–I don’t care how they address me as long as it’s spelled correctly. Princess is fine but so is Ms. Jones.

    The only thing that gets my goat is the “To Whom It May Concern.” I figure that if you’re going to ask me for something, you should at least figure out my name, which is always displayed prominently on the page for contributors.

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