03 Sep Journalism 101: What NOT to Do
Editors actually do read their email.
All of them.
Every single one.
Maybe not on the very day it comes into their mailbox. But they do read it.
I think one of the biggest strengths I can bring to you, my dear readers, is that I play both sides of the fence. I write. And I edit. I send out pitches. I accept pitches.
I’m a switch hitter. A bi-writer.
So I know what editors want.
And I know how they treat the communications we send them.
It starts with a subject heading.
If your subject heading seems spammy, janky or whack, your email may be immediately deleted.
When I’m pitching an editor I don’t know well but we have some connection, I put that in my heading.
“Referred to you by Akiba Solomon.”
Editors will open that up. Then I have to convince them to keep reading and give me what I’m asking. Akiba’s name will just make them open it up. Not necessarily respond. Or accept my request. It takes way more heavy lifting than that.
Same goes for me. If I see a subject line that says, “Referred to you by Joyce Davis,” I will open right away. I trust Joyce, so if she tells someone to reach out to me, I know this person has been vetted already.
So if you and I meet in cyberspace and you seem normal and hardworking, I may tell you to reach out to so-and-so and tell them I sent you.
(Speaking of which, um, Cheo? That kid I referred to you? Email ’em back why doncha? It’s been like, a month. We know you’re busy and all. But he’s a good kid. I promise.)
Anyway, if it’s an interview request you’re after, say it plainly in your subject line: “Interview Request for XYZ Magazine.”
Sometimes, I get subject headings that say, “Can I have two seconds of your time?” or “Hey Aliya, What’s going on?”
Those emails get opened two weeks later while I’m standing on line at the grocery store catching up on emails.
The emails that say, “Does this pitch make sense?” or “Is XYZ the right editor for this piece” will get my attention faster.
[Sidebar: I also respond to red flag subject lines. But ONLY from my dear readers. Sometimes you guys hit me up and say ALIYA HELP PLEASE! and I try to answer right away. But that only works for names I recognize from the blog. Being a dear reader gets you instant responses. (Most of the time.) Just recently a dear reader hit me with a red flag subject line because she had a *really* good story idea and there was a time factor involved. So I hit her back right away with my thoughts. Again, save the red flag subject lines for true emergencies. And if you’ve never communicated before with the person, probably best that you don’t red flag at all]
Oh, and then there’s always my go-to phrase: “Quick question”
I don’t know about other writers/editors. But I always open up an email labeled Quick Question. (Even quicker if the name is familiar.)
If it’s a true quick question. (Quick enough for me to answer on my new iphone without too many grammatical errors, I’ll do it right away. Most of the time).
But don’t fake the editor out with a Quick Question subject line and then a whole long post. Not cool.
Okay. I just gave you a whole bunch of what-to-do.
Here’s what NOT to do:
Send a crappy email.
It seems so elementary, doesn’t it?
So why am I (and other editors) getting poorly worded, gramatically incorrect emails from folks who should know better?
What is going on?
First of all, I blame the Blackberry/Iphone/Sidekick phenomena.
DO NOT SEND ME AN OFFICIAL PITCH OR REQUEST FROM YOUR BLACKBERRY.
There, I said it.
Maybe other editors/writers don’t care. But to me, it’s a sign of unprofessionalism.
It makes me envision you brushing your teeth and feeding your dog while dashing off a submission to me.
No. I want your behind seated in a quiet space. At a proper computer, thinking about what you’re writing and editing that joint. And spell checking.
Hell, let a friend read it before you send it out.
And when I see sent from my i-phone, blackberry, sidekick, carrier pigeon at the end of an email, it turns me off.
I don’t mean after we’ve already connected.
I mean that first introductory email.
Maybe I’m old school and old fashioned. But I think other editors feel the same.
So last week, I get an email from E. Monique Johnson, editor of Upscale. Here’s what it said:
This really disturbed me so I’m sharing it with those of you who I know work with or come into regular contact with students and other young people. This is an actual e-mail I received from the publicity office of a rather well known black celebrity this afternoon. Assuming that the message was sent on a mobile device (excusing the all-lowercase lettering). I was still stuck on the grammar and lack of sentence structure.
I removed the identifying info and anything I replaced is in red, but everything else is as it appears. It may be a good teaching tool for up and comers on why talking a good game is not more important than mastering the basics—like putting together a complete sentence.
Here’s the email. Brace yourself:
hello mrs. johnson
im reaching out too you via email and hopefully face too face ,as you may know CELEBRITY CLIENT is a clinet of mines and a advid reader of you all magazine with THEM filming THEIR new realtiy show with TV NETWORK we would love;love too have on a cover of Upscale Magzaine with a very indepth interview with all a first look as too whats too come with CELEBRITY CLIENT.
thanks again mrs. johnson
fyi-your receptionist is the best.
Do I even need to say anything else?
I’d like to think my dear readers are beyond this. Y’all know better, right? No one who reads my blog would ever send out an email like this to the editor of a national magazine. Right? RIGHT!?
I’m speechles. So I asked Ms. Johnson to handle this. Her thoughts:
In this “instant” culture (IM, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) the importance of professionalism and decorum is too often lost in the mix. It is obvious that this professional representative felt comfortable using casual address, however it was not/is not appropriate in reaching out to any professional medium, whether you are a student or public relations representative. I imagine their client would be horrified if they knew and that the PR rep would be out of a job. It didn’t make me want to not cover the person, but it did make me want to pull the rep to the side and say something (which I did not). I was concerned about them representing themselves to other publications that way because it has the potential to become their standard. And that is not ok.
We all have to master the domain in which we have chosen, but we have to be savvy enough to know who we are dealing with and the best way to reach them. I have to do this daily when dealing with various celebrity representatives. My tone may be more business casual when dealing with music industry reps, who are generally more laid back and relaxed. This may also be a result (and thereby a benefit) of having been schooled in Atlanta during the era of LaFace, Rowdy, Dungeon Fam and having gone to school with or knowing most of these folks personally or within one degree of separation. My mannerisms with West Coasters however is more measured and particular to the talent I’m dealing with. Hollywood reps tend to be more hurried and have more layers to peel through to get to the source.
This is Business 101 and the cardinal rule: You only get one chance to make a first impression and this one was less than impressive.
How does someone who represents a well known celebrity send out an email like this. How?
Do you send out introductory emails from cell phones? Do you have that annoying sent from my… message on your cell phone? Do you triple check your pitches and all correspondence before you send it out?
I’d love to hear from you.