As a book publicist, I often correspond with journalists and bloggers, via email as likely as not, these days. If I’m reaching out to someone with an unsolicited email, I want to make it as easy as possible for the recipient to get back to me — either by email or by phone — or, if they forward on my message to another, for that person to respond. The reverse should also be true … but you’d be surprised at the number of bloggers and journalists who ask for review copies of books but who fail to provide mailing addresses. Enter the esignature.
There is lots of information that you can include in an esignature (Twitter handles, forthcoming books), but here are some features that I consider “must haves,” in order of priority:
- Include your full name in your esignature. Contemporary business etiquette allows us to sign off with just our first names. (And of course you get those folks who sign off with their initials.) Which is all well and good, but it means that unless your full first and last names appear in your email address, recipients won’t know you from Adam.
- Include your email address. A lot of people assume that the email address pops up in the message itself. Usually it does — but not always. Even if it does show up, many people copy and paste an esignature into their address books — if the email address isn’t in the signature, it means having to copy-and-paste the information twice.
- Include a phone number in your esignature. While voicemail may be an inefficient way to do business — the jury’s in on this one — the phone still has its uses and if you use an email address for business purposes, it’s only professional to include a phone number in your corresponding esignature.
- Include a URL. Either for your company or, if you are self-employed, include your personal website. If I’m going to provide a (complimentary) review copy of a book, I need to know that the recipient is a legitimate journalist or blogger.
- Don’t include a logo in an esignature — if you can help it. Some companies require employees to use a standardized esignature with a logo; if you are not required to do so, don’t. The logos — no matter how small — are read as attachments by the recipient’s system and that makes it more likely for the message to land in a spam filter. Messages with attachments also take longer to load.
- Set an esignature for Replies and Forwards. If you have a long esignature, set a different, shorter, one for Replies and Forwards that includes just the vital information — full name, email address, phone number. Messages are frequently forwarded to people not on the original recipient list and if you jump in with a reply but do not include your contact information, you might as well be Jane Doe.
- Set an esignature on your mobile device. Do you use your iPhone / iPad / Blackberry for business purposes? Then you need to take two minutes to adjust the settings and add an esignature. If you can’t be bothered to include your full esignature, at least include your full name, your email address and your phone number.
- Use proper punctuation and capitalization. Unless you’re five years old (which maybe you are — kids these days are pretty tech savvy), you need to use capital letters. (Again, if people copy and paste your esignature into an address book, you don’t want them to have to correct all your information.)
What are your must-haves, likes and pet peeves in esignatures?
Since we are all writers and / or work in the publishing industry and word smithing is how we earn our keep, I thought it might make sense to discuss how to communicate more efficiently in email messages, given that we are all swamped (and often checking messages on the fly on a mobile device about half the size of my palm). Here are some of my top Do’s and Don’ts.
- Use a descriptive, specific and accurate subject line. Also, amend / clarify your subject line if the topic of the message changes. When busy people scan subject lines on the hundreds of messages that arrive daily in their inboxes, guess which messages get opened first?
- Make sure your response (and electronic signature) appear at the top — not the bottom — of a message chain. Remember that many people are accessing email on Blackberries and other mobile devices and can only see the first few lines of an email without scrolling.
- Make sure your contact information appears in all messages (new ones as well as replies and forwards) as well as on messages sent from webmail accounts or mobile devices so recipients have your contact information at their finger tips at all times. Many people have been creating increasingly complex signatures, some of which take up a lot of space. If you have a long electronic signature, consider using it for new messages only, and then create a second signature with just your email address and phone number for replies, forwards and mobile devices.
- Include your email address in your esignature. You may think it is redundant since the address appears on your email message. However, depending on if / how the message is forwarded, the email address does not appear.
- Consider creating a discussion group, like Google Groups or Yahoo Groups, if you know you will have a lengthy and ongoing exchange between a number of people. This way, all responses to a particular topic easily stored in one place (and referred back to in the future). You can also set preferences so that you receive a notification email every time someone posts in the group, once a day, once a week or once a certain number of posts have accumulated. Ideally, you want to participate with a Gmail or Yahoo email account, but you can do so from any email account.
- This one is not new, but it continues to be a problem. Do not, not, NOT Reply All when it is not necessary. If you need to respond to more than one person on the distribution list, please show some consideration for busy colleagues and take 30 seconds to remove the people who do not need to receive your response.
- Also not new: do not send unsolicited, large, i.e., 500 KB+ attachments. Most email providers limit the size of the user’s mailbox. Once the limit has been reached, the user can no longer send email messages (although received messages usually are stored. Somewhere). If you need to send a large message, consider uploading it to a document-sharing site like Google Docs or a file-sharing site like You Send It. That way, the recipient can simply click on a link to download the document directly to their hard drive. (Of course, if someone has just asked you to send a JPEG of an author photo or cover, it’s a good bet they’re ready to receive and deal with a massive file landing in their inbox.)
- Do not set a rule requesting a notification when the recipient opens or deletes your message. If you don’t get a bounce back, assume the message has been received. If you don’t get a response, assume the recipient is really swamped. If it’s really important that you do get a response, send a follow-up message with a subject line that indicates the urgency of the message or give the person a call. Being asked to notify someone when I read their message is a bit like telling my manager every time I go to the bathroom — some things just don’t need to be shared.
What are your top email tips / pet peeves? Please feel free to weigh in with your own in the Comments section.
One of the reasons why I haven’t posted in a while is because it’s been really crazy — as fall often is for book publicists — and I’ve been madly booking interviews (and rescheduling them, as so often is the case). Lots of late nights and heading to the office on weekends. Now more than ever I’ve come to appreciate that some people are easy to reach and others … not so much.
For example, some producers routinely list three phone numbers in their electronic signatures — direct number, show / studio line, cell phone — while others don’t even have an esignature. Although I do prefer email to the phone, I still use the latter (particularly when I’m not getting a response by email). Guess who gets the hot, last-minute booking?
Many other people request review copies of books and when mailing addresses are included in email signatures, I can easily pop books in the mail. But some fail to include mailing addresses in esignatures. So on a busy day, when I barely have time to go to the bathroom, guess who doesn’t get the book?
Of course — the knife cuts both ways. Reporters and producers who can’t reach a publicist are liable to move on to the next book or author. At the end of the day, most of what this boils down to is an email signature. So make it a good one.
I’ve checked email on the treadmill, while rollerblading, in the bathroom and at other moments that would generally be considered inappropriate. I check it on my computer and on my phone. I check it at work and in bed, while watching TV and reading magazines, and on the subway. I’m really comfortable with email and I use it a lot, both personally as well as professionally as a book publicist.
But sometimes even I think it can be too much.
With the amount of email messages we all receive today, it’s vital to send a message only when you have something important, informative, useful or at least amusing to say. When I say “important,” I’m using it the loosest sense: “important” could mean everything from, “Oprah wants to interview your author,” to “I liked the book jacket,” to “I saw this article in which you might be interested,” and anything and everything in between. Unsolicited information is useful too, which is why I don’t mind getting (book-related) press releases or news about stores and events — in my line of work in book publicity, that’s important information.
But don’t be the person who automatically contributes to an email conversation without new or vital information. Or the person who sends a thank you message to an entire distribution list. When people repeatedly send worthless email messages (usually with an old and / or unrelated subject lines — you know what I’m talking about), I eventually stop checking their messages — at least until the end of the day when I take some time to clean out my inbox, at which point I delete their messages.
So here are some suggestions for how to not “cry wolf” on email:
— Do not send “You’re welcome” messages. (Thank you messages, however, are useful — not to mention appreciated — particularly when important information has been sent so that the sender knows that you have, in fact, received the information.)
— Do not simply repeat what someone else has said. For example, if one person on a distribution list says it’s raining, responding by saying “Yes, it’s raining hard,” is utterly useless. (On the other hand, saying, “Yes, it’s raining now, but it should clear up by lunchtime,” is useful.)
— For the love of all that is holy, DO NOT USE REPLY ALL UNLESS IT IS NECESSARY. (And yes, it was necessary to use all caps — if you don’t believe me, check the mess that is most peoples’ email inboxes.)
It’s high time we all learned how to use the Internets really good. Unless you’re one of those people who has to hold for the operator because you still have a rotary dial phone.
What are your top “extraneous email” peeves?
Last week, The Bad Pitch Blog, recognizing the prevalence of email, posted some rules to consider when sending email. I don’t agree with all their points — like answering all email messages within an hour — but they do provide some valuable tips such as, “Answer all questions, and pre-empt further questions.” (In book publicity, for example, a good pitch will answer — and pre-empt — questions like what the author can talk about, where they are located, what their availability is, how they can be reached, etc.)
As book publicists, we sometimes rely on blast emails (among other forms of communication) to spread the word about books — after all, there are only so many personalized pitches you can write when you are trying to reach every single pets reporter in the country. But it’s important to keep in mind that some corporate spam filters will quarantine these email blast messages. And if your message does go to the recipient’s spam filter, you won’t get a message saying it wasn’t delivered because, after all, it was delivered … to the spam folder.
Also, make sure to check *your* spam folder on a regular basis. Those of us who receive a lot of messages from people we don’t know — like publicists — should regularly check the folder for messages erroneously condemned as spam. The other day, for example, I pulled two legitimate messages from my spam folder, one of which was from an editor asking for a JPEG of the cover of a book she wanted to feature (and neither message of which contained four-letter words, offered to make me money or promised to increase the size of my … you get my point. Sometimes the system just makes a mistake.) Although it might be argued that someone who really wants something will email again or call, it might also be argued that someone who sort of wants something but who can’t get it from one publicist will simply go to another publicist to get information about another book.
Moral of the story: while spam filters can save us from drowning in a flood of junk mail, they can also prevent legitimate messages from reaching the intended recipients.
A long, long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away, of course), I decided to start a feature on this blog called “The Papyrus Files” about outdated practices / systems / technology / etc. that are still in use. Except then it lapsed for lack of inspiration. Until now.
I had thought Earthlink’s drawbacks as an email provider were limited to the most antiquated spam filter in the post Civil War era. Apparently, I was wrong. I’ve been emailing back and forth with a producer, but it’s been difficult actually reading her messages because the Earthlink account she uses places her responses … at the very bottom of the message chain.
Now, anyone who has ever used a Blackberry, iPhone or other PDA knows that only a small amount of information in an email message can be viewed in the absence of an Internet connection. (And now those of you who never have, do.) Needless to say, this “small amount of information” does not include responses that appear at the very bottom of message chains. Which means, then, that anyone viewing messages on the go — including a preponderance of journalists, producers and bookstore event coordinators — are well, not viewing those messages on the go.
Earthlink also boasts a spam filter that I thought went out around the time the British army decided it actually was not an appropriate badge of honor for their officers to be attired in red (which was, coincidentally, around the time German marksmen were searching for targets for their newly-invented machine guns in the haze of the French countryside). The way the Earthlink filter works is anyone who is not already in the users’ address book — including a preponderance of well, everyone — must click through to a spam filter page and type in the series of letters they see in order to ensure delivery of their message. Often, the spam filter link does not actually work. While this serves as a deterrant to spammers, it also serves as a deterrant to, say, a book publicist trying to respond about a requested review copy of a book or interview. Also deterred are literary agents being queried about submissions, as Colleen Lindsay has pointed out.
Devoted Earthlink users who simply can’t bear to part with their accounts should — for the sake of anyone and everyone with whom they do business — set up a Gmail account and then simply activate the forwarding function that allows Gmail to be sent to any other email address. (This will allow people to bypass the inconvenient and frequently faulty Earthlink spam filter.) Also, there should be settings options that allow one to change the location of responses so that they appear at the top rather than at the bottom of messages.
This has been a Public Service Announcement from The Book Publicity Blog.
I missed my lunchtime Pilates class earlier this week because I was busy sifting through 96 messages I had filed in my “Follow up” folder for a certain book over the past few months. (We published the book in hardcover last April and by the time the winter rolled around, the author wasn’t keen to continue doing interviews.)
So there I was, plugging the information from the email messages into our publicity database so I could make sure to send copies of the paperback book as well as follow up with the reporters / producers. Well before realizing that a sandwich consisting entirely of pate (even a hearty, meaty concoction like country pate) is not advisable, I noticed a trend: people would request interviews and, while most included a few sentences about their story / organization (thankfully!), a good three quarters of the journalists neglected to include mailing addresses.
Eliminating “desire to maintain aura of mystery” as a reason for failing to include complete contact information, I’m guessing journalists don’t want to be inundated with packages, books, press releases and other assorted and unwanted items that arrive in the mail. All well and good. Except when they want something. If I were less thorough, I would likely have deleted requests that came in without mailing addresses. (Read between the lines, here, folks.) But I am thorough, so I either responded asking for an address or looked up the organization online. I got what I needed, but let’s face it: my time — anyone’s time — could have been better spent in numerous other ways (like doing Pilates, perhaps).
Email signatures — on new messages, responses / forwards and on Blackberries / other PDAs — are vital. Would you leave a voicemail message for a professional contact without leaving your full name and phone number? Hopefully not. So what makes it okay to sign off an email with just your name and not a word about your company or its website?
I know some of you are rolling your eyes and wondering how much more I could possibly blather on about the finer points of electronic signatures, but this is important because it makes business quicker and easier to conduct. Help me spread the word about the importance esignatures (and then hopefully I won’t have to post about this topic so often). See, I really can go on forever.
I’ve railed often enough about people who cold call when sending an email with the information would be more efficient (although, as a publicist, I’ll book interviews by any and all modes of communication from carrier pigeon to Twitter) so I must confess I find it highly — if perversely — amusing when journalists call, and, frustrated by my barrage of questions, proceed to get impatient and … hang up on me. (Yes — this has happened. More than once.)
When I contact an author to facilitate the scheduling of an interview, I need to know a lot. I need to know the possible day, time and length of the interview. I need to know who else is being interviewed if it’s not a book interview. I need to know if the interview is live or taped and if it’s live whether there is listener call in. I need a studio / main number the author can call if something falls through at the last minute. If it’s not a show I’m familiar with, I need to know about the show and who else has been interviewed. This is all pretty basic information that an author should have prior to doing an interview (and, really, prior to deciding whether to do an interview). All book publicists should be asking these questions and hosts / producers should be willing to pony up this information. (Hint: boilerplates come in handy right about now.)
If you think calling to book an interview is easier than sending an email, you might think again. Calling me is a commitment.
The other day I received a message from someone whose subject line was “From Jane Doe.” (No, not actually “Jane Doe,” but you get my point.)
First of all, a subject line with your name is redundant since your email alias already identifies you and if it doesn’t, it should — unless you’re in junior high. Second, a subject line with your name is meaningless if you don’t know Jane Doe or recognize the name (and in this case, I didn’t). So even just opening that message plummeted to the very bottom of my To Do list, to be read possibly some time before never and after going through the 7,000 stories in my RSS reader. (And when I did open the message, there was no email signature — natch.)
Most people do use an email subject line for messages (although my system once malfunctioned and sent out a slew of messages without — the horror!) but it is important to use a subject line that is:
Skip subject lines with your name or with the first few words of a message (pointless — get to the meat of the message). Now that so many of us are swamped with electronic communications, people have taken to strategically ignoring their email for an hour or two (or three) so they can get work done. I specify “strategically” ignore because these folks typically respond to urgent messages — if they are marked as such.
It’s also important when to know to change the subject line on an email exchange and when to keep it the same. For example, if the content of an exchange drastically changes, consider changing (or at least modifying) the subject line so it continues to accurately describe the content of a message (and so that it reflects the message’s new / current content). Years ago, I remember having a conversation with one book publicist friend who successfully recycled email pitches — with different (and up-to-date) subject lines.
On the other hand, sometimes you shouldn’t tinker with the subject line of a message because people sometimes organize their email inboxes by subject line — particularly if the person is anticipating a lot of replies (like event RSVPs, for example) — or run searches for certain topics / key words.
An appropriate email subject line is like a firm hand shake and good eye contact. And you know what they say about first impressions.