Email Etiquette for Writers

Kirstin asked about email etiquette for writers. Here’s the answer…and a reminder that there are no dumb or simple questions!

I was wondering about setting up email accounts. I have a personal one (family, friends). Should I make a “writing” email separate? (i.e have that ONE email devoted to exchanges with CP’s, new writing friends, bloggers, asking for advice, submitting, commenting on others blogs with that email, etc)…and should that email account be in my full name or something else like “writingstories@gmail” etc. And do you recommend Gmail accounts as best?

email etiquette for writers, query letters to publishers
Even this cat is questioning your choice to use “suzieluuuuvscats76@gmail” for your business correspondence.

Email Etiquette for Writers: the Basics

1. A Separate Writing Email Account is a Good Idea

If you can deal with a little technical complication in your life (multiple inboxes), I think a separate writing email account is a good idea. If you really want to know, I have about a dozen different emails that I use on a pretty regular basis (one for online shopping logins, so that when the retailers start spamming me with catalogs, as they invariably will, it doesn’t go to my regular email…my personal email…my work email…my query inbox (that my work email automatically forwards queries to)…my kidlit email…etc.). A lot of these email accounts get imported into one or two main Gmail inboxes that I have, but, still, that’s an awful lot of windows!

2. Everything Makes an Impression

You all are very savvy. That’s why you’re bothering to read an industry blog and educate yourselves. So I’m guessing you have a certain measure of common sense in terms of email etiquette for writers. Hence, remember: everything you do when you interact with the publishing world (your potential employers, if you consider writing your job, which might be a good mindset to get into) makes an impression. And you want to make a good one, especially during critical first steps like sending query letters to publishers. So if your personal email is “suzieluuuuvscats76@gmail” or whatever, I think that’s a little personal and a little cutesy for business correspondence. A wacko email address is unlikely to be a dealbreaker, but it may make me look twice. (I mean, swearing, porn, or the admission that you’re a serial killer or KKK member in your email may be a huge red flag…just sayin’…) Since, again, all of my beloved readers are of above-average intelligence (and really good looking!), I trust that you’re not making this kind of no-brainer mistake.

3. Avoid Cutesy, Precious, or Too Specific

So you decide to set up a separate writer email — great! Keep email etiquette for writers in mind as you select the address, and be mindful of the impression it makes. I’ve seen the cutesy thing with writing emails, too, and I must admit that it gets an eyeroll from me every once in a while (“musingsfromthemuse@gmail” or “thebestwriterever@gmail” are a little…ahem…precious).

I’d also avoid naming your email address after the current project that’s the topic of your query letters to publishers (“endlessduskthenovel@gmail.com” or whatever). That novel may not go on to get agented or sell, and then you’ll have to either keep the same address for a different project or make another email for each new project, which is awkward. Alternately, your title might change in the revision or publication process, as many do, which would date the address.

So if you want a nice and classy writer email, go with “marykolewriting@gmail” or “suziekatznovels@gmail” or something that can apply to more than one project and that isn’t over the top in any way. That’s probably your best option.

4. Follow General Email Best Practices

Other than that, email etiquette for writers entails following general email best practices in all of your correspondence with publishing people. If you include a signature in the email, make sure it’s not too obnoxious with images or crazy fonts/colors. Maybe cut back on inspirational quotes (and definitely don’t, as one writer did in my slush, quote yourself or your novel as a signature). Don’t call yourself an “author” unless you are actually published (“writer” is just fine, and there is a distinction, even if it seems nit-picky). And no need to include copyright information with your query or sample. Check out my post that delves into the question “How do I copyright my writing?” for insight on why doing so might be a red flag for agents.

5. You Can’t Go Wrong with Gmail

As you can tell from my run-down of my own email addresses and all of my fake example emails, I am a fanatical proponent of Gmail. It is simple and easy to use but extremely powerful, in case you want to start doing fancy stuff like labels or account importing or forwarding or auto-responses, etc. I’ve definitely grown as a Gmail user in the past few years and am wild about it. It’s free and popular, and it has almost never done me wrong. Plus, it has a lot of space, is hosted online, and, because it’s Google, has great search functionality. So if you have tens of thousands of emails, as I do, you don’t have to delete them to free up space and you can find that random thing you’re looking for from four years ago quickly and easily. (I am not being paid for this endorsement, I just love Gmail, LOL!)

6. Don’t Make Agents Jump Through Hoops to Respond

Finally, some people have spam filters set up (Earthlink or something similar has a very aggressive one…can’t remember the exact program right now, sorry) where, if I try to respond to you, it makes me go to a separate page and prove that I’m not spam. Making your potential employers do extra work for something that should be simple is definitely a “don’t” in terms of email etiquette for writers.

Keep in mind that I’m responding to hundreds of queries and, I’m not going to lie, it’s annoying when I have to prove my message isn’t spam. For those of you who have such powerful spam filters that require an additional step for people trying to send you email, you may not get a response from me, depending on workload, because I don’t want to jump through the extra hoops. Maybe when you’re sending query letters to publishers, disable the spam response filter or add all the agents you’re querying to your “safe” list. We really appreciate it.

* All of the email addresses here are made-up. If I have insulted your actual email address, or you have one that’s pretty close to one of my “don’ts,” I’m very sorry. I was just thinking of some quick examples.

Did you find this practical advice useful? I am happy to be your manuscript editor and consultant for writing and publishing advice that’s specific to your work.

16 Replies to “Email Etiquette for Writers”

  1. I’m one of those writers blessed with an unusual name, so I can always sign up for a pretty professional-sounding e-mail address 🙂

  2. I’m curious–why do you take the position that only the published few can call themselves authors, vs. writers?

  3. I agree, gmail is the bomb!!

  4. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    I try to keep things simple and just use my main box at mail.com… The percentage of gatekeepers who respond to e-communications of whatever sort is small enough that I don’t complicate things by lots of e-portals. I don’t think the address/title matters much-mine’s named after an Intermediate project from a few years ago that never got off the ground- and anyway I always send hard copy query packets out because somebody at least has to physically toss them in the recycler in order to pretend they haven’t seen them! The thing that kind of makes me a bit uncomfortable is all the hopeful writers who start blogs about their latest project with updates on who they/ve queried, lists of songs they listen to while they write, etc., and other fun stuff; I get the sinking feeling when I read these that I and maybe a few other writers are the only ones tuning in; agents and etc. are busy elsewhere-which is why I don’t start one….

  5. Sara Martin says:

    I tried creating a Gmail account solely for writing purposes, but every remotely professional combination of my name was taken, so I gave up. (I guess I should have kept my rare but unpronounceable maiden name.) I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me to try sticking the word “writer” or “novels” in there! Oh, well. Yahoo! has been pretty kind to me so far.

  6. Flo Bertsch says:

    I wanted to know when submitting or querying an agent, do you copy and paste to the e-mail or send as an attachment? I noticed most agents don’t accept submissions if it is sent as an attachment.
    I’m rusty on my tech skills. So forgive me if I sound silly. What is the difference and is this the standard?

  7. I love Gmail, too. I never set up a separate “author” and “personal” inbox (though I probably should have), but I’ve recently started playing with labels and rules, and now all incoming mail gets automatically sorted for me. So I have a label for friends/family, a label for “Agent,” a label for “Kensington Books” and so on. The best part about setting the rules is that you can have all emails from a certain domain go straight to a label, not just emails from one particular person. I also like the star feature, because if I’m reading an email on the fly (like at a red light, shhh), I can easily hit the star to flag it for review and response later. (This really helps since I used to read things while on the go, and then I’d forget to respond.) My husband has been after me to import Gmail into Outlook, but I don’t see any reason to. As you said, it’s extremely powerful and very user-friendly. (Now I’m the one sounding like an ad for Google!)

  8. I’ve heard lots of weird things about emails, and this one seems to be pretty sensible, but some people have suggested that you shouldn’t use your work email. My ‘work email’ is just my university affiliation email (which drops right into my main gmail inbox). Is it a problem to use that email when querying?

  9. Dori – Your comment seems to take offense at the distinction, or imply that this is snobbery, but there is a distinction. A published author is that, an author. It is a term that refers to someone who has authored a book or article. Just like until you’ve finished medical school, you don’t go around calling yourself a doctor.

    Flo – Everyone’s submission guidelines are different, but a pretty common standard is copying and pasting into an email message unless someone REQUESTS an attachment from your personally. Attachments are pretty frowned upon in most submissions (unless, again, requested, or the guidelines say otherwise).

    Cara – I’ve gotten tons of emails from professional email addresses (universities, organizations, small businesses, military, etc.) and I think that’s more of YOUR decision. It makes no difference to me and, as long as it doesn’t make a difference to your employer that you’re using that email address, that’s fine. Only concern: if you move on from that organization, you will probably lose access to the inbox. This would be a problem for me because I love to keep records of all my emails. Your call, though!

  10. Over-aggressive spam filters are very annoying, especially if it’s someone you email frequently and you have to verify yourself every blessed time you send that person an email.

    I have my author email account setup so that any email address I *send* to is automatically added to my contacts. When that person replies to my email, even if I’ve never received anything from them before, it isn’t marked as spam because the address is recognized as a contact.

  11. Aha, that makes sense. That’s also a good reason for what I do already, which is just forward everything into my gmail box.

  12. Mary, I don’t take offense, I just have a different perspective. A “writer” could write anything. Writers of all kinds use specific titles that tell people what they write. A poet writes poetry. A copywriter writes advertisements or business materials. A speechwriter writes speeches. A journalist writes newspaper articles. You get the idea. Just the same way, an “author,” to me, is a writer who specifically writes literary works.

  13. Just wanted to comment on the author/writer thing. I personally consider an author one that is published.
    A writer practices writing. But an author is published.
    Just like a dental student is a student of dentistry, but a graduated, certified dentist is a dentist (doctor).

    I wouldn’t want a nutritionist (who has completed a 4 month “nutriiton” certificate) to go around telling me she is a dietitian (difference altogether).

    I hope this doesn’t sound snarky. Just wanted to add my personal point of view.

  14. I am setting up a new laptop, and want a professional email that is suited for receiving and sending writing projects, emails for my groups, e.g. Salt Lake CC DiverseCity writing group, plus separate my personal and writing emails.

    I like the suggestion of Gmail; it looks user-friendly, and an email is not cutesy if you don’t set set it up that way. One of my concerns too.

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