No. 4: To Whom It May Concern
Everyone who has ever been on the internet has Googled their own name. Bands and stand-up comedians alike know that they will get a big response if they simply shout out the name of whatever town they happen to be performing in that night. And I have a hoodie that I paid an extortionate rate for on my graduation day simply because somewhere on the back amongst hundreds of other names it has my name on it.
There’s no getting away from the fact that everyone likes to feel acknowledged.
Literary agents are no different.
I cannot stress enough that the literary agent you will be submitting your work to is a real person just like everybody else. They too will have Googled their name. They will have cheered to hear someone well-known mispronounce the place of their origin. They may not have fallen into the hoodie extortion scheme but they’ll probably have at least one of those bookmarks, key chains or coffee mugs that provide a complimentary character reference for everyone who shares the same first name as them.
So my advice would be to address your covering letter to a real person.
Dear Sir/Madam is always going to be a slightly disappointing opening to any letter. It feels so impersonal and is a difficult tool to communicate excitement through. Most of all it indicates that the covering letter you are sending out to us is almost definitely being sent out to other agencies without even a swift name change being employed.
Ideally, you want to make the person you are writing to feel special, like they have been carefully chosen out of the crowd.
A good way of communicating this is to make it true. After all, you are sending out your work, your writing, your talent. Choose carefully. Look into what books an agency represents. Are they similar to your work? Or do they seem to like representing new writers like you? Visit their website. Find out about their ethos and what their authors say about them. Visit their blog, if they happen to have one.
Once you’ve found that chosen person let them know why you selected them in your covering letter. Include a short paragraph telling them all of the reasons why you think they are great. If you’re a fan of any of the agency’s authors say so. If you found out something impressive about them, such as any particular deals they’ve done in the past, do tell.
Ultimately, as I said in Top Tip No. 1, what you are trying to do in your covering letter is create a positive impression. The personal touch will always achieve this. Tell us why you have chosen us and it will give us a little lift. After all, we’re only human.
Of course, judging by the fact that you are already reading this it is possible that I am preaching to the converted. So, well done. You’re already on the right track. Now go out there and use your covering letter to show your chosen literary agent that you took this initiative.
You want to Google your own name again, don’t you? Me too. OK, quickly do that first and then go and show off your initiative.
By Vicki Le Feuvre