No one was born a writer. All writers had to go through the process of “becoming a writer” and, if you’ve read as many writer’s biographies as I have, you’ll know that it wasn’t an easy path for anyone.
Maybe you want to ask for advice from a professional writer but you’re afraid they won’t respond. It’s a logical assumption that they won’t. Except for the fact that when they were starting out, many of today’s successful writers had mentors who were experienced and established.
It’s not impossible to get a writer to respond to a cold email requesting their advice. But it is a delicate endeavor and one that requires some finesse. Here are some tips on how to persuade a writer to write you back:
Read their work
First of all, if you’re going to write to a Stephen King or a Joyce Carol Oates and you’ve never read any of their work, you might want to either pick another author whose work you do know or crack open one or two of their books to get to know their writing better. It’s only fair if you’re asking them to read your works that you’ve at least done your homework and read some of theirs first.
Do background research
Read some interviews and biographical information about them. Follow their blog, Facebook Page or Twitter account if they have one. Find out what kind of philosophies they have about writing, how they got their start, what they’re currently working on. Having a feel for this information will help you craft a more personal letter. It will also help you not tread on their toes by accident. For example, if your chosen writer is an adamantly against e-books, you might not include the fact that you’re considering publishing your work as an e-book.
Work on your subject line
As with all writing, when it comes to titles, headlines and email subject lines, it’s all about grabbing their attention. It’s worth the time you put into perfecting your subject line pitch. Otherwise, even if you wrote the outstanding letter, you run the risk of them never even opening it.
Consider sending snail mail
It’s easy to ignore an email. Hardly anybody receives real mail today. There’s something about the effort you had to go through to handwrite a letter, put a stamp on it and send it off in the mailbox. That differentiates you from someone who shot off 100 emails to a bunch of famous authors. It’s the ultimate way to personalize a message. If you do send a letter by snail mail, make sure to include your email in the letter. Don’t expect them to sit down and write you a letter in reply. Make it easy for writers you want to reach out.
Why are you writing to them?
Can you articulate why it is that you’re writing to that authors in particular? Is it because you admire their work or you’re writing a book on a similar subject as one of their books? Is it because of something they said in an interview that captured your attention? Why do you think their advice would be helpful to you? Explaining this to the writers will help them take your request more seriously.
Keep it simple
You’re probably aware that professional writers are busy people. Asking them to take time away from their own projects to help you with yours is a delicate matter, so do them a favor by getting to the point fairly quickly. Professionals will appreciate you keeping your message brief. You might even want to acknowledge that you know they’re busy and you appreciate them taking them time to read and respond to your message.
What are your credentials?
People like to help people who they think are going to succeed. If you’ve published any other works, you should reference them. If you’ve won any awards or have an MFA or worked as an assistant to a famous screenwriter or author, or have worked in editing or publishing, then it would be good to mention those things. Whatever credentials you can (briefly) provide will help them get an idea of who you are and why spending time reading your work wouldn’t be a waste.
Ask them something specific
Try to ask writing experts something specific rather than something general. For example, don’t ask: How do I get published? That’s way too general and an annoying question to most authors. Where to begin? Instead ask a specific question. Make it something that’s relevant to their work or their experience that you think they will be able to give you the best answer about. It’s much easier for someone to reply to a specific question than to reply to a request for “advice” in general.
Do you have anything to offer them?
If you have something special to offer that you think they might appreciate, go ahead and offer it. If the author lives in the same area as you, go ahead and offer to take them to lunch or buy them a coffee. Maybe their next book is set in Brazil and you lived there for three years. Offer to share some of your experiences that might be helpful to them.
Make it easy for them to reach you
Give authors a lot of options for reaching you. Everyone has their preferred form of communication, so give them your phone number, email, and Skype account. Let them know when you’re available to talk and make sure you’re available if they try to contact you.
Thank them if they write back
If you do manage to catch their attention and they decide to respond to your message, make sure to thank them. It really is a big deal that well-known writers took the time to reply to you, so the least you can do is acknowledge their effort by letting them know how much you appreciate it. It will also make it easier for them to respond to you should you reach out to them again.