I often receive emails from young writers asking for advice and help in various aspects of their writing, and I am always delighted to help in any way I can. To be a writer is to be a part of a community, and I am so grateful for all the writers who have offered me advice and encouragement over the years. Being a mentor and cheerleader for other writers is the best way I can think of to "pay it forward" to those people who have bettered my life with their generosity and support.
However, I am not always the quickest to respond to emails, especially
when life gets busy. Like this summer: I am in graduate school working
on my thesis, taking a summer literature class, and teaching a creative
writing class to college students. I feel like I'm barely managing to
keep my head above water by trying to write a little of my own work
every day, reading and working on papers for the literature class I'm
taking, and grading papers and responding to emails from my students!
Most writers I hear from are beyond patient and gracious. But
occasionally, I'll receive an email from a young writer that startles me
with its rude tone and unprofessionalism. Often the email will include
capital "shouting" letters, strings of exclamation points and/or
question marks, and phrases like, "are you ever going to get back to
me????" or "hellooooo???"
I consider myself to be an advocate for writers, and young writers in
particular. I love teaching writing camps and working with mentees
through Write On! For Literacy. Publishing Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing
is a great source of pride and good feelings for me. So when I get an
email from a young writer that perpetuates the negative stereotypes that
society foists upon teenagers, it makes my skin crawl.
I believe the very first and most important lesson in regards to being a writer and getting published is this: respect, gratitude and professionalism are a must.
If you send an email with a rude subject line to a publisher, editor or
agent, I can guarantee you it would be deleted without even being read.
When you send your work to a publisher, it may take six or eight months
for them to get back to you about it. That's just the way publishing is
-- editors are very busy and they receive hundreds of emails every
single day. And if you ever do email them to ask if they have had a
chance to read your work, you need to make sure you have a tone of
gratitude, graciousness, and respect of their time and busy schedule.
Here's a great article with tips and examples on writing professional emails: http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/e-text/email/.
But I think all you really need to remember is just to be
respectful and to treat everyone with common decency. When you adopt a
rude tone, you send the message that you feel entitled to the person's
help, rather than that you are appreciative of any time and help they
can give you.
I think it comes down to this, not just in writing but in all areas of
life: people will be more eager to help you when you treat them well and
are humble and appreciative of their time, knowledge, effort and
Dallas Woodburn is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories and editor of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing.
Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three
years in a row and her nonfiction has appeared in a variety of national
publications including Family Circle, Writer's Digest, The Writer,
and The Los Angeles Times. She is the founder of Write On! For Literacy and Write On! Books Youth Publishing Company
and is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Fiction Writing at
Purdue University, where she teaches undergraduate writing courses and
serves as Fiction Editor of Sycamore Review. Many of her short stories are compiled online here.