General Guide to Correspondence

I’ve had Rosalie Maggio’s Great Letters for Every Occasion (1999) on my shelf for quite some time and find it a useful (and polite) way to handle various correspondence situations that come up during projects, from sticky business predicaments (covered in the “Sensitive Issues” section) to letters of introduction (found in the section of the same name). It’s never a bowl of ice cream when you have to (sometimes incessantly) follow-up on payment or you have a disagreement with your client, and while I certainly have drafted irate emails, Rosalie–whom I imagine to be a gentler, more Italian Miss Manners–always prevents me from hitting send. While some may have their own personal preference when it comes to Writing a Thank You Note (and no offense to Rosalie, but I am one of those people), this book is a handy guide to those elusive letters you may have no idea how to format, let alone write.

The two appendices (Appendix I covers mechanics and the concrete aspects of letter-writing, such as formats and postal regulations while Appendix II discusses content such as grammar and usage and superfluous words and phrases) in combination with the massive index is the easiest way to skim through the guide. The very basic sections do get a bit tiresome and reminiscent of fourth grade Language Arts. I’m always hesitant of books such as this because I always want a unique letter that doesn’t follow the format, a mini-work of literature, but sometimes, when I can’t remember how to start an effective query, it’s a relief to grab Great Letters for Every Situation and see some examples as a jump-off point.

 The entry on Query Letters is certainly not the best in the biz (Rosalie herself recommends How to Publish Attention-Grabbing Query and Cover Letters by John Wood and How to Write Irresistible Query Letters by Lisa Collier-Cool, both published by Writer’s Digest), mainly because the book is almost ten years old and there are many books out there strictly dedicated the art of the query letter. What makes this section worthwhile though are the quotes like this one:

“A query letter is like a fishing expedition; don’t put too much bait on your hook or you’ll lose your quarry. Be brief and be tantalizing!”–Jane von Mehren