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B&N Week 130: Approaching Via Email

| June 18, 2013


We’re back with another Tuesday! It’s feeling like one of those lazy days, where you just want to take your time and do things. No need to move too fast. That’ll only wear you out faster.

This week, I want to talk about how you approach people. It takes a lot of courage to approach someone in the hopes of working with them. Let’s get into the Bolts & Nuts of that, shall we?

How you approach someone will determine how far your collaboration will get. You will only get out of it what you’re willing to put into it.

Most of the time, you’re going to approach someone through email. This will be because you’ve either followed their work for a while and are just now in a position to work with them, or you’ve been introduced to them through a mutual acquaintance. Sometimes, that mutual acquaintance will just give you an e-mail address without making an introduction. Then you’re on your own, somewhat.

When you write that first email, the very first thing you want to do is write a subject line that states the reason why you’re writing. Is it a rate inquiry? Something you would like their advice on? Something else? State it here, and try to do it in such a way that it doesn’t sound like it’s spam. If the person has a robust spam filter, you want it to get through to them, and if the heading of your email sounds like spam, it may never get through.

After deciding on your heading, the opening paragraph should be pleasant and polite. State who you are, how you got their email address, and what it is you want as soon as possible. There are several reasons for this.

First and foremost, stating who you are lets the recipient know you’re not a spambot. As soon as they know you’re not some African businessman who’s having trouble getting money out of their country and would like you to help, they’re more inclined to read the email with more interest.

Telling them where you got their email address further disarms the recipient from thinking you’re a spambot, especially if you got it from a mutual acquaintance. If you got it from somewhere else, say so. If they write a blog or articles or have written a book or are doing some sort of promotional advertising, letting them know that their efforts are reaching people is a good thing to know.

Finally, letting them know what you want from them is the hardest step. This is where most people tend to ramble. You don’t have to be direct, but you do have to be succinct. Few people are going to want to read a long, rambling email right off the bat. It’s a turn-off, and you don’t want to do that. This is your first impression. This is your chance to make it a good one.

This is the part where people also like to name-drop. I’m going to tell you what name-dropping is, what it does, and my own outlook on it.

Name-dropping is trading on someone else’s name to cover your own work in the hopes of impressing someone else. Generally, it shows a weakness or a lack of conviction in your own work. It’s akin to a celebrity endorsement. My own outlook on name-dropping is this: I don’t like it, and I’m not impressed by it. I had a family member of a celebrity send me an email asking me to check out their work. I don’t know if they thought they were going to get special treatment from me because of to whom they were related, but they were in for disappointment. I don’t do the whole “star struck” thing, and I generally don’t care who the person is.

I have three personal heroes. These are people whom I would like to take pictures with and keep for my own posterity. They are, in order: Prince, Stan Lee, Jim Shooter, and Mark Waid. I would love to work with any of these creators at any moment, and would probably lose my entire mind for a moment while doing so. To me, everyone else is a regular human being. Someone dropping Kevin Smith’s name doesn’t do me any good, and it makes me look at their work even more dismissively than if they didn’t say anything at all.

Why is that? Because they’re trying to trade on someone else’s name in order to get ahead, instead of doing the hard work themselves. If you know Janet Jackson, then that’s good for you. However, if you’re writing to me to check out your work, everything better be up to snuff, because you have access to money to allow for great art or training in your chosen bailiwick. If you then say that you’re trying to do it on your own, then why bring up their name to begin with?

Don’t name-drop, unless that person is actually a mutual acquaintance.

When you end the email, don’t give something that is extremely open-ended. You want some sort of acknowledgement that the email has been received, so you want to set up some sort of expectation to be written back, without putting too much pressure on the recipient.

Now, this comes out in a couple of ways. The first way is simple: if you’re looking to hire someone, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re going to get back to you within a reasonable timeframe. To me, a reasonable timeframe is three days. People get busy, so emails may get read but go unanswered for a little bit, but if you’re talking business, three days is ample time to read and get back to someone who’s proposing a gig. And believe me, freelancers are almost always looking for their next gig.

If it’s just advice or anything besides a gig, then you want to use the word “soon” as you end the email. This lets them know you’re looking for an answer, but gives the recipient the power of when they write back to you. Depending on how busy they are, they may never get back to you. It may slip their mind totally. But at least you tried, right?

Guess it’s time for an example.


From: Kletus Jerkovitch

To: Graeme McFreelancer

Subj: Available For Work?

Hello, Mr. McFreelancer. My name is Kletus Jerkovitch, and I’ve been a big admirer of your work for a while now. I got your email address from Steven Forbes, who said I should mention his name to you when I wrote.

I have a story that I’m trying to tell. It’s about radioactive monkey clowns having misadventures in a robotic zoo. What I’d like to do is to tell this in a comic strip format, online, possibly updating three times a week. I can write, color, and letter, and while I don’t have a lot of money to pay you, I’ll gladly pay for your supplies. I will also pay all the domain and hosting fees. Is this something you’d be interested in?

Thank you very much for your time and consideration, and I hope to hear from you soon.



That’s a decent letter. It has a nice hopeful tone, it lets the recipient know where you got their address from, it gets to the point, has a bit about money, gives something of an expectation of the workload, and sets up an expectation that the writer would like a response sooner rather than later.

Now, for some background, Kletus happens to know Steven Spielberg as well as Steven Forbes. Spielberg has taught Kletus everything he knows about storytelling, and Forbes has taught him about adapting for comics. Kletus could take this story to Spielberg and try to get it made as a movie or tv series. Spielberg has connections aplenty for that. But just like Nicolas Coppola, Kletus wants to go his own way and be known for his own success. Don’t know who Nicolas Coppola is? That’s the birth name of Nicolas Cage. Anyway, this letter doesn’t name drop. It’s a decent letter.

If you’re going to approach someone for the first time, you could do a lot worse than emulate the above example.

That’s all for this week. See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at for rate inquiries.

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