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What Not to Say in an Introductory Email

...and How Readers React If You Do

Emailing complete strangers for advice, assistance, guidance, help, favors or anything else involving their time and effort can sometimes be productive-- but only if you can make a really good case for yourself, why you're emailing them in particular, why they should pay attention to what you're doing and what you need, and most importantly, what's in it for them to help. If you expect to have any success whatsoever, take some serious time to think through your requests, write them up in a way that shows you actually care about the person you're emailing, be specific about why you're emailing them in the first place, and tell them what you're offering in exchange for their assistance.

As for what not to do, avoid using the following words, phrases, cliches and requests in any introductory email you send to someone you don't know unless you make perfectly clear what they have to gain from the relationship. And even when you do make yourself perfectly clear, it's best to ease into the part where you start making requests for help. You might think you're being entirely reasonable by simply asking someone to look at or consider your situation and respond to it, but unless you specify how everyone will benefit-- not only you-- the people you email will often interpret your requests in very different ways from how you would like them to be interpreted. For example:


How it's written: "Perhaps there's some way we can help each other."

How it's taken: "Perhaps there's some way you can help me." If you are the one who needs the help, say so. And be prepared to offer something in exchange for that help if you get it.


How it's written: "I'm wondering whether you would be interested in collaborating."

How it's taken: "I'm wondering whether you would be interested in working on my behalf." Collaborating means working together to achieve a shared objective or common goal, so know what your goals are, and how do they mesh with the goals of whoever you're emailing. Unless you can establish a common interest in terms of what you both stand to gain, then you are not collaborating; you're asking someone to do something for you.


How it's written: "Let's work together."

How it's taken: "Let's help me together."


How it's written: "I'd love to buy you lunch."

How it's taken: "I know how much you charge for your consulting or advisory services; lunch is much cheaper."


How it's written: "I just want to reach out."

How it's taken: "I just want to call and ask you a bunch of questions about myself and my situation."


How it's written: "Let's touch base."

How it's taken: "Let's talk so I can ask a bunch of questions about myself and my situation."


How it's written: "Please give me your feedback on my art."

How it's taken: "Please take time out of your day to look at my art, critique the work, come up with some good ideas about what you like the most, what I can do to improve etc, and then write it all up and email it to me. I'm offering nothing in return for this service."


How it's written: "I would be interested in exchanging links."

How it's taken: "I have hardly any traffic on my website; you have much more. If I can get a link to my website on yours, then I can increase my traffic."


How it's written: "I would really appreciate your opinions."

How it's taken: "I would really appreciate if you would review everything I've emailed you about my art, and either call and speak with me, or write up a report with your opinions on what I'm doing now, recommendations on how best to proceed from this point forward, and then send it to me."


How it's written: "I'm looking for names of agents, galleries or collectors who might be interested in my art."

How it's taken: "I want to increase my exposure and make more sales... at your expense."


How it's written: "I'd like to pick your brain."

How it's taken: "I'd like to ask you a bunch of questions about me and how I can improve everything I'm trying to do." First of all, that expression is gross. What does it even mean? That you want to take a lobster fork and root around in there? Any way you look at it, if you want something from someone, be direct and compelling about why you are contacting them, why they should help you, and what you're offering in return.


How it's written: "I'm open to any thoughts or ideas you might have."

How it's taken: "Please review my situation, circumstances, resume, art, work history, website, approach to growing my following, business plan, overall presentation. Then write up a report with your ideas and recommendations and email it to me. In return, I might thank you, but only if I think your input is worth it."


How it's written: "Can you give me any advice on how to sell my art?"

How it's taken: "Review how I'm doing things now, my prices and approach, how I'm organizing and presenting my work, and then think about how I can do those things better, write up a report with your advice and email it to me. In exchange, I'll give you nothing."


How it's written: "What do you think about my art, my website, my statement, etc?"

How it's taken: "Please take time out of your day to write your thoughts up in a report along with your recommendations and email it to me. In return, I will thank you, but only if I like what you have to say."


How it's written: "What can you do for me?"

How it's taken: "Review my materials, think about what you can do to improve my financial status, stature, following, profile, and quality of life, write up a proposal about how you intend to do that, and then email it to me. I'll look it over and decide whether you're good enough for me to work with." Hint: maybe next time, try something like, "Here's my proposal about what I think we can do for each other...." Whatever you do, don't dare people you don't know to try and satisfy you. That's an immediate "Delete".


Related article: Hopeless Artist Emails and How to Make Them Better

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(art by Frank Stella)

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