Email can be an efficient way to market, submit your work, and stay in touch with clients, sources, and fellow freelancers. It can also be a huge waste of both your and your recipient’s time if you don't keep these eight tips in mind:
Specify your Subject. Your subject line should catch the recipient’s attention and let him know why you’re contacting him. When I’m sending a query to a new market, for example, I’ll use a subject line like, “Query from Kelly James-Enger: Sleep yourself Thin.” If it’s someone I’ve worked with before, I’m less formal: “Hi, Tamara/Several Timely Queries for You.”I usually avoid using the word “pitch” in a subject line. Although it’s synonymous with query, it tends to make editors think of PR, or public relations, people, who also “pitch” ideas--and editors are notorious for ignoring PR pitches.
If you have an “in” with the person, mention it in your subject line, like: “Jenny Fink suggested I get in touch/timely health reprints available,” or “Enjoyed your panel at ASJA and have a proposal for you to consider.”
Keep it Nice. Email has made communicating easier than ever before, which means it's also but it’s also made it easier to write and send something you’ll regret. Be careful about what you communicate. For example, I recently received an email from a fellow freelancer asking me about an editor I'd worked with. I'd had a less-than-stellar experience with this particular person, and emailed her that I'd be happy to talk with her by phone about my experience. Never put something negative in writing--you never know who may end up reading it.
Avoid Attachments. Hopefully you know never to send an attachment unless it’s been specifically requested. If you want to send clips with a query, include links in the body of your query, or ask if you may send them by snail mail. If your editor wants to see them, she can ask for pdfs via email. If I get an unexpected email with attachments, I delete it if my spam filter hasn’t grabbed it already.
Wait to Hit Send. I know the difference between too, two, and to. So I was mortified to discover I’d sent an email to one of my regular clients using one of them the wrong way. Typos make you look stupid, or at least sloppy--not the impression you want to make on a present or potential client, or anyone else for that matter. Proofread every email before you hit send. And please do not write a kneejerk reaction because you’re angry, upset, disappointed, disgusted, you name it. Take the time to cool off before you send an email you’ll regret later. (See my above point, Keep it Nice.)
Give Them Time. Email used to be the fastest way to get in touch; now we have Tweets, IM’ing, and texting, which make email seem glacial by comparison. Don't count on a super-speedy reply. If it’s a matter that requires a fast turn-around, call. Otherwise, make a note if/when you need to follow up and move on to your next task.
Make it Easy. Look for ways to eliminate unnecessary responses. If I send an email confirming the details of an assignment, I just ask the client to respond with “agreed” if the terms are what we discussed. When I turn a story in, I’ll write, “Please hit ‘reply’ so I know you got this okay.” Yes, you can send a “return receipt” so you the recipient received and/or read something but those pop-up boxes annoy me, so I don’t use them. I ask the editor to hit reply instead, which seems more polite.
Pick up the Phone. Just because email is available doesn’t mean it’s the right media for you to use. I wouldn’t try to negotiate a contract via email, or ask an editor to put me on the masthead on as contributing editor via email. (I might send a follow-up email in both instances, though, setting out my points or recapping our discussion.) And while some freelancers do a lot of email interviews, my first preference is phone. Agreeing to an email interview because your source requests it is fine. Requesting an email interview (which means your source is responsible for typing up his answers to your question) is not, in my opinion.
A phone conversation is often faster than an email exchange. And don't forget "real" mail, too--in a Tweet-happy world, it stands out. Snail mail shows that you made an extra effort (and even paid for a stamp) and that makes it--and you--more memorable.