Authors: Why Your Emails Don’t Get Replies

Email can be an author’s best friend by helping an author reach people around the world and make contacts, ranging from finding an agent or publisher, to a publicist, or by sending out newsletters to readers. But authors carefully need to word their messages to make sure they are really communicating so they are not ignored.

Although for the past twenty years, email has been regularly used in business and by people for their private communications, people are still adjusting to how to use it properly. It is intended for quick communication, and it succeeds—you can send a message and receive a reply sometimes within a couple of minutes, and expectations are that a reply will be received within a couple of days at the longest. Frequently, however, I’ve heard authors complain about not getting responses—from literary agents, publishers (not just traditional but subsidy or print-on-demand publishers), printers, publicists, journalists, and others involved in the book publishing world.

Not receiving a response to your email message, whether or not you are an author, usually results from one of three reasons:

  1. The intended recipient never received the email. (The message might have been deleted as spam or your provider may have failed to send it). In this case, it’s fine to follow-up with a second email after a few days to make sure your message was received. You might also use the “request confirmation” feature so you know the recipient received the message even if he or she isn’t able to reply at the moment.
  2. The intended recipient is too busy or “out of the office” and can’t respond right away. Busy might include being swamped with emails—it’s not uncommon for people to receive 100 or more a day, and even if most are junk, it takes a lot of time to filter them despite all the tools to help; or the person may be on vacation, in which case the person should have set up an “out of the office” email response for you to receive if your business is important to him or her.
  3. Your message was not communicated clearly or was not interesting enough for the intended recipient to want to respond. I’ll spend the rest of this article explaining why this situation may be the case.

While email is supposed to be fast, it is wrong to view it as informal—at least the first few times you communicate with someone. I don’t mean you necessarily have to address people as Sir or Madame, but you do want to take the time to communicate effectively in that first email and also to give a good impression. First impressions matter a lot, and when they are just words on a computer screen, they have to work harder to convey your message. Good communication is essential, but sadly, many authors don’t know how to communicate well, especially through email.

As a provider of author publicity services, I receive dozens of emails every day. I try to reply to every legitimate request—after all, I’m running a business and need to keep the customers’ happy and the employees employed. But I do feel frustration when I don’t know what an author is trying to communicate to me. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I will still make an effort because I know a lot of my potential clients are first time authors for whom publishing and promoting a book is a big learning curve. But when authors cannot communicate properly through an email, it makes me wonder whether they will be “high maintenance” and more trouble than they are worth. Worse, it makes me wonder whether the author is also a bad writer and his or her book of substandard quality.

Let me give you a few examples of author emails I’ve received over the years and why messages are unlikely to get a response (in each case, I did still respond, but I am pretty sure most publishers, agents, publicity services, etc. would not reply to these emails; some of them are real emails; others are representative of typical ones I receive regularly).

  1. The Two-Word Email. “How much?” Yes, those two words were the entire email. My response should have been “How much for what”? But in my reply, I made a point of listing our various publicity packages and providing the link to where all the information was on our website. The response I received was. “Okay. I’ll let you know.” Is this really an author? Authors are supposed to be writers, and good writers are good communicators. Furthermore, such abrupt messages are rude. The author apparently couldn’t be bothered to look at the information on our website, or even to thank me for taking the time to send him all that information. In short, it was a waste of my time—I never heard from the author again. If I got more emails like this one, I would quit replying to them.
  2. The Pointless Life Story Email.Just as a really short email is rude and abrupt, so is a really long one. We’re all busy. I don’t need to know your life story in order to promote your book. What I need, at most, is about three paragraphs, one to tell me briefly about your book, one to tell me briefly who you are, and one to tell me clearly why you are contacting me—how you want me to help you.I think something about email makes people decide not to think clearly, to ramble, and not to give as much thought to what they write as they would with a postal letter. Remember that your intended recipient receives over 100 emails a day. He or she doesn’t have time for your life story, however interesting it is. If something about your life is relevant to your book, include it, but no other personal information is required. I’ve actually received emails so filled with life story details that one author even told me how his father bought him a prostitute when he was sixteen—too much information. Then after all this personal information, none of it related to the author’s book, he ended by asking me, “So, how about it?” How about what? I waded through about a dozen paragraphs only to have no idea what he wanted.

    Keep your email simple. As I said, tell me briefly about you, your book, and what you want me to do for you. If you feel the need, add, “If you would like more information about me or my book, please feel free to contact me” and then leave it up to the recipient whether he or she wants to know about the prostitute, your childhood abuse, your cats and dogs, the six different places you’ve lived, or what have you.

  3. The Too-Friendly Email(s). Often, once I agree to provide a service to an author, I get deluged with emails from that person. Authors treat their books like they are their children, and being an author myself, I certainly understand that. But, if I’m going to review your book or provide some other service for you, give me time to do so before you send me numerous extra emails. If I want more information, I’ll ask for it. In fact, many review companies have policies that authors are not to contact the reviewers, both to avoid the author feeling pressure to give a favorable review, and to avoid a deluge of information from the author.

A lot of authors are so excited to have someone interested in their book that they want the publisher/agent/reviewer/publicist to become their new best friend. Of course, you want the human element from the person you’re working with, but you also want a professional. A friendly professional is a good thing, but asking the reviewer out to dinner or to come visit you in another state is going a bit far the first week you work together. Be friendly, but not too friendly. If the person you are working with is interested in a friendship, let him or her make the first move. Don’t forget those one hundred plus emails a day that people in the book world receive. It would be impossible for every publisher, agent, or publicist to be friends with every client he or she represents. Remember your boundaries and you’ll receive the professional care for your book you initially wanted. Be too friendly and—yes, people will quit replying to your emails.

In summary, here are the key points for authors to remember when sending emails about their books:

  • Be professional
  • Be polite
  • Use proper spelling and grammar. You don’t have to be super formal, but abbreviations and slang may not be appropriate and may suggest you are not a good writer, thus hurting your book’s chances.
  • Communicate well. State clearly why you are writing and what you want as a result of the communication.
  • Give the recipient a reasonable timeframe to reply (there’s room for argument here, but one business week is reasonable).
  • Politely follow-up if you don’t get a reply.
  • Don’t deluge people with emails.

You can make email your friend when promoting your book by using these simple, common-sense techniques to communicate with publishers, agents, publicity services, the media, or anyone else who can help make your book a success. Then, not only will you get your foot in the door, but your emails will be answered.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.