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Be a Professional Writer

May 6, 2013

You’ve slaved over your novel, your magazine article, or your query, and now you’re sending it out. Are your communications with publishing industry professionals going to exhibit the same level of care you’ve put into your work?

In my one-on-one work with clients and as an editor for a print publication and several e-newsletters, I receive a lot of email from writers. Managing all that email is challenging. I love hearing from writers. But  I often imagine what it would be like for an agent, publisher, or  magazine editor who is dealing with hundreds of queries a day to receive some of the emails I do. How can you help these professionals manage their mail? And how can even your most routine communications help you to be seen as a professional writer?


Always include your name and the title of your book or article in the header of every page of your manuscript, unless specifically instructed otherwise, as in the case of contest when there is blind judging. Don’t make the recipient have to search for your name.

Don’t ever distribute a manuscript without page numbers. Do I have to explain why? Just don’t do it.

Don’t label the document file you’re sending “novel” or “article” or “submission.” You’re not the only one who labels her file “novel_final,”  either. Similarly, don’t label the image files you’re sending with “image” or “photo” or, my favorite, “me.”

It’s a better idea to give the files you’re sending a label that is both descriptive of its contents and uniquely you. If you’re sending to an agent you’re trying to attract, for example, you might label the file with your name and the book’s genre. You may have your own system for labeling your computer files, and that’s fine. But when you’re sending files out to others, make sure the labels work for them.

Yes, I can add the page numbers or change the file name on my end, and I do. But remember, industry professionals—agents, publishers, magazine editors, and contest holders—receive mountains of mail. Make it easy for them to work with your material and distinguish your queries from all the others they receive.


There are all sorts of free email addresses out there, and most Internet providers allow you to have several email addresses, so there’s really no excuse not to have an email address that you use solely for communications related to your writing career. When communicating with industry professionals:

Don’t use an address you share with a family member. Let me tell you from experience, hilarity and confusion and embarrassment can ensue.

Don’t use your work email address. An agent or a contest may not respond to you right away. Can you be sure you’ll be in the same job six months from now?

Don’t use autoresponders. You wrote to me, and when I reply, I receive an automatic message that makes me fill out a form before my email is delivered to you, and it always takes me three or four tries with the captcha code to get through. I’m going to do it, because I want your business, but can you be sure that the agent who read your partial will? Autoresponders that say things like “thank you for your mail” are useless—and annoying. No one needs that extra, impersonal email.

Think twice about using an email handle that’s silly, political, a double entendre, or gobbledygook. Is that really how you want to identify yourself in the industry? In addition, make sure your full name appears in your message “from” line. (Send yourself an email to check if you’re unsure what appears.) I’m surprised at how many people don’t show their full names—and then don’t sign their emails with their full names, either. Joe? Which Joe would that be?

Don’t send attachments of any kind, unless they’re requested. Attachments can set off spam blocks in many email programs, and this may be especially true for organizations that receive a lot of mail like literary agencies or publishers. That cute photo of yourself or the book shot you attach to every single email might be your shortcut to the junk heap. And think about it. Have you ever heard of an author being signed because the publisher liked his photo?

Do not include your industry contacts in the distribution for your joke, religious, or political forwards, your holiday letter, or your social media invitations.

Remember, every communication with an agent, publisher, or magazine editors is an opportunity to increase your name recognition and demonstrate that you’re the type of individual they’d love to work with. Take full advantage of that opportunity and impress them with your professionalism.
Mary Ann de Stefano is a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30 years of experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-on-one with writers who are developing books, she builds websites and advises on e-marketing. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

  1. May 7, 2013 11:10 am

    I can think of another problem with a generic label on your document file: it sounds like you are a complete and total newbie.

    If you are a busy, experienced writer (or want to look like one), you wouldn’t have only one novel, submission, essay, whatever that you are working on.

  2. May 10, 2013 12:41 pm

    Reblogged this on walleyeyes73.


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