When you send an email to query an agent or publisher, or to pitch a podcast or book review, do you sometimes wonder whether your message disappeared into cyberspace because you did not receive a response? Did it end up in a spam folder? Is no response a “no”?

Could your email address be the problem? If you’re using an account from AOL, Yahoo, or Hotmail, it may well be that your email was never received. If your address is associated with your website and hosted by a company with servers used by spammers there is a possibility your email address is blacklisted by the recipient. If you have never sent an email to a particular address before, there is a good chance you will receive a delivery failure notification or end up in a spam folder. Unsolicited email (a message from someone who has no previous email contact with you) runs the risk of refusal by the recipient. Once you have been whitelisted by the recipient (by using the reply button to a message they have sent you), you can rest assured your email is being delivered. And if you’re using Apple Mail you can relax as there tend to be fewer problems with their email applications. But how do you know where you email goes?

You can take steps to make sure your email messages get delivered. Gmail is the most reliable method for business correspondence. Google Workplace (formerly known as G Suite) offers custom and secure business email with pricing starting at $6 per user per month, and it’s a small price to pay to ensure your professional email correspondence works for you. If you get a delivery failure notification, you know the recipient did not get the message.

I am not alone when I say much of what appears in my inbox is “junk.” Like you, I am wary of clicking on links or opening documents from someone I don’t know and trust. One way many professionals in the publishing industry have addressed this email problem for initial contact is through electronic submission forms either on their website or through platforms like Submittable. If you apply for grants and submit to literary magazines you might be familiar with this process. Because email is a primary target for hackers and spammers, recipients of your email may screen to avoid viruses. On initial contact through email, do not include attachments or embed links, and your message will more likely be delivered.

Getting your email delivered doesn’t guarantee your message will be read. Most professionals will consider three factors when they consider whether to open an email.

Who it is from?

What it is about?

When was it sent?

Tip #1: Send professional emails during normal business hours.

There is a sensibility that email can be sent at any time because the recipient can read it and respond at their convenience. However, it is more professional to write your emails and schedule them to be sent at an appropriate time. If your email is sent before the person is back at their desk doing business, it may get buried and lost. And the recipient isn’t going to see it until then anyway, so why the urge to push the send button prematurely?

Tip #2: The most important thing to write is a good subject line

The reply button may have been the greatest invention of the early email systems, and yet it isn’t nearly as important as the subject line. When you send an email it should be a short message about a single topic, and the subject line becomes the way to organize a stream of emails about the same topic. When the subject changes, change the subject line. Why? When you are searching for an email in your files, you can always find it much more quickly than if you don’t and have to read through hundreds of emails to find what you are looking for when you need it urgently.  The lines of conversation on action items is more efficient when organized for the business of being an author.

If you are sending out a query letter the subject line is critical. Query, Your Last Name, Working Title of Your Book. If your subject line does not read as such it will get lost. Many agents and editors set aside a specific time during the week when they read queries, and your subject line will put you in that queue.

Tip #3: Put your professional signature on all business correspondence including every email message.

Everyone has their own style, but you need a “signature” file providing contact information at the bottom of every email you send. No need to include a quote or emoticon. Be professional. If you have a website, provide the URL. Twitter handle? Add it. LinkedIn profile? Facebook Page? These are signature elements and are optional, depending on your audience, your platform, and your brand as an author. The contact information is always handy, and it’s a reach-out to the recipient to connect through other media platforms on the subject of books.

What rules of email etiquette do you practice? What works for you? I encourage you to leave a tip for upping your email game as an author in the comments section below.

3 thoughts on “The Business of Being an Author: Email Etiquette

  1. I’m curious as to what is wrong with an email address with a yahoo domain. I’ve had a yahoo domain for many, many years. I’ve thought about changing it. One woman I talked to thought it showed that I had a long-established email.

    • Good question, Naomi. In 2016 Yahoo email accounts were hacked and only in 2017 did they admit that 3 billion email accounts had been compromised. Because email from a Yahoo account is a security risk, many have been blocked by recipient servers. If I recall I received a document attached to your email account some years ago which contained a virus. It isn’t how long one has had an email account that matters; it is how secure the connection is these days.

  2. I forgot to add that as a former editor who received hundreds of emails ad day, I agree with just about everything in this article. I once had someone send me a Subject line with FW: a subject I didn’t care about. I was already scheduled to meet with this person. When I arrived at the scheduled meeting I found out that he had important information unrelated to the subject line.
    I used to get emails that said: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE…tons of them. I had no idea what they were about they were from the chamber and usually promoting some business and were not urgent. So subject lines are extremely important!

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