This month, we’ve been asked to discuss how to interact with an agent or editor. I’m not very active on social media, so I won’t breach that subject, but I do have nearly thirty years of experience in various professional settings, I signed with my first agent more than ten years ago, I’ve worked closely with several editors or other publishing professionals, and I've trained employees and colleagues on business communication. I thought I’d share a “Back to Basics'' post with top tips for professional communication with agents, editors, other publishing contacts, peers, and even readers.

  • Know your audience. If it’s the first time contacting an industry professional, use a formal greeting. Do your research and find the appropriate title (Mr., Dr., Ms., Mx., etc.) Typically, once you’ve established a relationship, it’s fine to start using first names. Follow their lead.
  • Make a good first impression. Write professionally with proper GPS: grammar, punctuation, and syntax. This may seem like a given, but everyday communication has become very informal, and while it’s fine to throw in an lol once you’ve (again) established a relationship, avoid casual language initially.
  • Organize your thoughts. Write sensible paragraphs and sections. Nothing’s worse than a gigantic block of text; it can be intimidating and overwhelming. Use white space to your advantage. Vary the length and structure of your sentences and paragraphs. Pay attention to flow and what makes the most sense. You’re a writer, and you want to show your skills, whether you’re writing fiction, a query letter, or an important email.
  • Format simply. Use a standard font, avoid emojis (again, until you’ve established that type of relationship), and don’t include any background graphics or images that will be slow to load or, even worse, create any operating issues. Remember when everyone used those flowery wallpapers in Outlook? The. Worst.
  • Rely on a second set of eyes. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to review your email. They’ll not only be able to catch typos or other errors, but they will also be able to tell you if you’ve overstepped in any way. You may wish to enlist the services of a freelance editor or consultant for queries and proposals.
  • Take a deep breath. If you’re upset or angry about something, write the “hot letter” you’ll never send (thanks for that idea, Abraham Lincoln) in a separate document or on your Notes app, never in the actual email program where it might accidentally get sent. Once you’ve worked through all your feelings, take the emotion out when you write the actual email. H/T to Joe, my district manager at Babies R Us back in the 2000s, for that piece of advice.
  • Use a professional sign-off. Always thank the recipient for their time, and use a professional sign-off (or valediction). Because I live in a section of the country known for the cold and snow, I’ve used “warmly” for as long as I can remember. Find one that feels right for you.

This is your dream career. Treat it (and others in the industry) with respect and professionalism.
A note: If you’re not clear about how to approach difficult situations and you don’t have someone you can turn to for advice, I recommend the book How to Say It: Choice Words, Phrases, Sentences, and Paragraphs for Every Situation by Rosalie Maggio. That book has saved me time and again with both professional and personal issues.


  1. So many pieces of great advice here. I've got to check that book out.


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