I don't mind being asked favors. After all, I frequently ask favors of others too. I rely on many other writers to make Go Teen Writers possible, from guest posts to giveaways to judging contests. So I don't mind when people ask if I can read something for them or write an endorsement, but there's a good way to ask a favor and a not-so-good way.
The following advice can also be applied to finding an agent and writing query letters as well.
1. Grammar Matters
Maybe this seems basic (I hope it seems basic) but I'm shocked by how often I receive emails that say something like this:
I have always really like too right. Would you read the first chapter of my fictional novel?
You know what goes on my head? If you can't manage to write a few decent sentences, I'm guessing your manuscript is in horrible shape.
Maybe that's an incorrect assumption ... but I have no way of knowing because I've never said yes to a request that looks like that.
Look, we're all people. I can never remember if I should use effect or affect and typos happen. But I'm pretty sure I can tell the difference between a typo and pure laziness. If you're too lazy to proofread your emails, that communicates to me that you're too lazy to pour energy into your manuscript. And if you're too lazy to write a decent email/manuscript, why on earth would I invest my time in it?
2. Why me?
I don't have exact stats on this, but I would say I'm 75% more likely to do a writing favor for someone if they establish why I am being asked. Is it because of Go Teen Writers? Did a personal friend recommend me? Have they read the Skylar books?
I don't need to be flattered, though heartfelt compliments certainly help. Especially unique ones, like, "I had a friendship exactly like Skylar and Jodi's and reading So Over It gave me hope that we could repair the damage we had done to each other." If that person asks me to read the first chapter of their manuscript, I am way more likely to say yes. Not because I feel flattered or obligated, but because they've established a connection with me. They are soliciting my opinion for this specific reason.
This is valuable for agents as well. Why are you querying them, they want to know. So you might say, "Dear Mr. Agent, I really enjoyed speaking with you and the such-and-such conference." Or if you haven't had the good fortune of meeting them, you can say, "Dear Mr. Agent, I notice you represent this author, who's one of my favorites." Or, "Dear Mr. Agent, I've read on your blog that you're looking for vampire dystopian chick lit set in an Amish community, and that's what I write!"
After all, if you received a random email from someone you didn't know and they were asking you for something, wouldn't your first question be, "Um, who is this person? Why are they emailing me?"
3. Be specific
When I'm asking an author to endorse a project of mine, I'm as specific as I can get. I provide a description of the book and offer to send them a portion or all of it if they're interested.
Or if I'm trying to get them to come on the blog or judge one of our writing contests, I get as specific as I can. I clearly lay out what kind of time it will take and what will be expected of them. Then I tell them what the benefits will be.
Yet I regularly get emails that are incredibly vague.
- "Can you read my book?" Well ... how long is it? What's the genre? What's it about?
- "Can you do an interview?" I don't know. What's the blog? What kind of traffic do you get? How long will the interview be? What are my expectations the day it posts?
Being specific makes it clear that you are professional, courteous, and that you...
4. Understand the value of time
Time isn't like money, where if you spend it all you can just earn more. There are only so many hours in the day. I am instantly fond of anyone who expresses in their favor-asking-email, "I know you're very busy." Referencing my two little kids earns bonus points. (They've obviously taken time to research me, and honestly it feels like a validation of my feelings anytime someone expresses, "You have two little kids to take care of - you are busy.")
Look, if you hang out on Go Teen Writers, I automatically wish I could read your book. I wish I had time to brainstorm with you and critique your query letters and visit your blog everyday. I want to, but I have my own books to write and (as mentioned above) two little kids.
I used to close all my query letters to agents with, "Thank you for your time." It's a nice way to recognize that someone is using their valuable time just to read your email.
And, while we're on the subject, thank you for taking the time to regularly read Go Teen Writers.
5. Don't include your "stuff"
By which I mean, don't attach your first couple chapters without an invitation to do so. Or copy and paste them into the author's contact form. It's presumptuous.
6. Don't close with "write me back!"
This is also presumptuous and really grates on me. It's kinda like when someone send you an email and everything is in capital letters. I have a cousin who inexplicably wrote in all caps all the time. I assume she just didn't understand that all caps = yelling in cyberworld, but I still found it grating.
7. Make it look nice
And I'm not talkin' about spritzing perfume on your query letters or using pink text. Regardless of what Legally Blonde would have you believe, the best choice is always white paper, black text, and a simple font. Let your words do the work for you.
8. Don't send "but" emails
I've had this happen to me a couple times where I respond with a "thanks, but no" and I receive a "but" email back. Like, "Okay, but could you just look at the first chapter?" Which then forces me to send yet another "thanks, but no."
I know it's tempting to give it another go - I know that because I'm completely guilty of sending "but" emails - but it puts the person in an awkward position.
It is nice, however, to send a response of some kind. A simple, "I understand. Thank you for your time" kind of email will suffice.
If you're worried about making a good impression on agents, editors, and other professionals in the writing world, these eight rules will take you far. This is an industry that not only relies heavily on email, but that also values words. Developing good email etiquette is key to success.