Etiquette 101: How to Contact a Writing Website

By site owner Milli Thornton

DO YOU CARE about the impression you make when you contact a writing Website?

If you do, then you’ll appreciate getting some inside tips. On the other hand, if you haven’t thought about “making an impression,” you may be shocked to hear that it takes more than just good writing to make it as a writer. The good news is that a little commonsense (and common courtesy) goes a long way in the eyes of an editor.


Writing Websites are not anonymous machines that crank out Web pages with no human intervention. Yet I never cease to be amazed at the people who email me as if I’m a computer chip with no human traits.

Take the time to put yourself in the editor’s shoes. Writing Website editors are busy people who usually don’t have any staff to help them. We answer all inquiries ourselves, as well as attend to the trillions of other things you have to do to run a writing Website.

Even if you’re just making a simple inquiry (rather than a manuscript submission), etiquette is still all-important.


This is true of all people, not just editors. We all want to be addressed by our names and have our names spelled correctly. This is the oldest, most basic way of acknowledging another person, but it has never lost its magic.

Strangers who email me an abrupt question without addressing me (and sometimes without signing their own name!) may not realize it, but they have my defenses up immediately.

“Dear Milli,”

Two simple words, but they make such a difference.


Believe it or not, most owners of writing Websites care whether you have a personality and know how to express it. There are many situations where writing a personable query will get you much further than writing an overly formal, impersonal query (or an abrupt one-liner).

Here’s a great example from a true situation.

I run an online creative writing course. Below is the first step in the enrollment process, plus three sample responses. If you were a writing Website owner and you had to decide which applicant should be given a place in the course, which one would you pick?

Fear of Writing Online Course

Applicant #1

Subject: RE

I would like the frist writing course you all have to offer

Editor’s Note: Typo and lack of punctuation as shown. There was no first or last name anywhere on the email.

Applicant #2

Subject: (none)

I am not sure how much this costs, but if I can afford it i want to sign up. I didn’t find the price anywhere on your website.

Editor’s Note: This applicant did not specify what it is she wants to sign up for—don’t assume the Website owner can read your mind! Capitalization error as shown.

Applicant #3

Subject: Course Enrollment

Dear Milli,

Help! I’m an editor and a technical writer and have managed to frighten my inner writer into the depths of a deep, dark, musty coat closet, where she survives on the occasional crust of bread and sip of water. There are characters in my head—I fall asleep thinking about them every night lately—and I have an idea for a world that I’m really enthusiastic about, but all of it is flat as a pancake when I try to write about it. I’m so frustrated!

May I please take your class?


Beth Brooks

Editor’s Note: You guessed it! Beth was our choice. She hit the bulls-eye on every count, including expressing her personality in a memorable way. And how hard does it really look? Anyone can learn to do this.


Not everyone had the benefit of a great spelling teacher in grade school and some writers are genuinely dyslexic.

On the other hand, if you habitually throw together an email in 30 seconds flat and send it without looking it over, you’re missing a great way to develop yourself as a writer. While it may be OK to send a close friend an email that’s been dashed off, it definitely won’t win you any awards with the editors of writing Websites.

In the above illustrations, Debbie and Nameless wrote very short messages. How long would it take to go back and correct the spelling and punctuation mistakes before hitting the Send button? About 25 seconds for Debbie and Nameless—or a minute or two if the email is longer like Beth’s.

Time well spent, wouldn’t you agree?

You may argue that Debbie and Nameless are the very people who need my course. But I don’t teach spelling or how to write an email inquiry. I teach creative writing.

It’s not worth the enrollment paperwork unless the writer wants it bad enough to try her best. The same could be said about any kind of submission at a writing Website. Or, for that matter, a book you’ve finished and want to show to mainstream publishers.

Please, take care of your budding writing career by paying attention to the little courtesies that win friends and influence people.

Believe me, editors do notice.


Copyright © Milli Thornton