I work in the education field, but someday (someday!) I hope to be a “real writer,” whatever that means. Through a family friend, I received the email address of a famous (to me at least) writer that I would like to contact for advice. I’ve never emailed someone I admire from afar, let alone someone I respect as much as this author. I would ideally love for her to be my writing mentor, but I am sure that is a huge long shot, so I would be happy with just getting a response from her. Any tips for crafting the perfect email?
Congrats—it’s awesome that you got the email address of someone you admire, and it’s the perfect opportunity to, at the very least, get some advice for starting out in your writing career. Here are some tips to help ensure you get a (great!) response.
1. Make Your Subject Line Compelling
As someone who used to work in email marketing, I can tell you that subject lines are extremely important, whether an email is coming from a brand or from a person you don't know. "Hello," "From a Fan," or something similar is too generic, especially for someone who might receive hundreds of emails each day.
Keep the subject line short but eye-catching, hopefully referencing something she doesn’t see every day in her inbox. You might include an obscure work or blog post she did (“Inspired By Your Research on XYZ”) or name-drop the person who gave you her email in the subject line ("From Molly Ford's Friend")—only, of course, if you know that she knows and has a positive relationship with that person.
2. Reference Something Specific
Once you are into the body of the letter, start mentioning specifics. If you don’t mention your mutual connection in the subject line, make sure you state how you received her email address in the first paragraph.
You’ll also want to tell her specific reasons why you’re interested in her work. Bonus points if they aren’t the things she’s typically known for—for example, if she is currently writing nonfiction but used to write poetry, you could include a reference to one of her favorite poems that you enjoyed. Specific references to her work will help differentiate your fan letter from others and show that you’ve really done your research.
It’s also helpful to mention what you and this person have in common. Beyond professional interests, don’t be afraid to talk about hobbies—say, that you’ve traveled to the same places, are from the same region of the world, or both like to fly fish, anything you would know from normal researching or a book review.
That said—be genuine and honest. If you spend three paragraphs telling her how much you loved an obscure book she wrote in the early 80s that you’ve only skimmed once, and she asks you to meet, it will become instantly obvious you lied (if it wasn't already obvious in the email).
3. Ask for What You Want (Nicely)
Someone can't help you unless she knows what you want. So if you are looking for a writing mentor, say that. If you want to get invited to her next book signing, say that. You might not get exactly what you want—but you won’t get anything if you don’t ask.
On that note, remember that this author—and anyone else you email—is busy, and she might not have time to honor your request. So give her a smaller baby step that’ll give her an “out” without feeling awkward. For example, “I am looking for a writing mentor and would be honored if you would meet with me once a month. But I know you are incredibly busy, so if this isn’t possible, would you be willing to answer some questions over the phone?”
4. Keep it Short and Sweet
You're busy. This author is busy. Keep it short, so it feels both easy for her to read and less of a chore for her to respond. People usually, consciously or not, try to keep email responses the same approximate length as the message they’re answering—so if you write a short novel, you can bet she’s going to dread having to come up with a response that doesn’t feel curt or rude.
5. Say Thank You
Always. Both at the end of the email and if you get a response. I can't stress this enough. People love to help others out, but they also love to be appreciated for their efforts. And thanking her for her time in advance will go a long way in building a long-term relationship.
Good luck S! Hope you get an awesome response.
This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Credible Career Coach in the subject line.
Your letter may be published in an article on The Muse. All letters to Ask an Expert become the property of Daily Muse, Inc and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.