As many of you know firsthand, I send and receive a lot of emails. Over the past year and a half at Stareable, I’ve learned a lot about everything from how to phrase and structure unsolicited requests for advice or promotion as well as the appropriate boundaries to set when planning a call or video chat with a relative stranger. I’ve also learned that as a community we could all do with a set of common rules to follow.
First, though, some things to keep in mind when you’re sending emails to people you don’t know (at all or very well), especially if you want something from them. Stareable Founder/CEO Ajay Kishore, fellow All-Emailed-Out person, also contributed to this section.
- Keep in mind that everyone else is just as busy as you probably are, if not more. Don’t take it personally if you don’t get a response right away, or if their schedule is seemingly always shifting. In my experience, if a person wants to blow you off they will, but if they keep trying to schedule with you they’re making an effort, so don’t take it personally.
- Be specific about what you want, whether it’s a 30-minute call for advice about a topic or help scheduling extras for next weekend’s shoot. Don’t be vague- be direct. This allows busy people to easily determine if they’re able to say yes without having to go through five follow-up emails.
- Don’t go for video-chat as a first request. Especially in a professional sense, it’s both far-too-intimate and almost certainly unnecessary. It also requires the invited party to consider background, webcam angle, and tethers them to their laptop on a day they might need to stay mobile.
- The “why” is important. Why are you asking for this thing or reaching out? And why are you reaching out to this person in particular? I’m not saying you have to flatter everyone before you can ask a quick question, but especially if your message is unsolicited, the subject needs to feel like you’ve done some research and there’s a reason they’re the one getting the request.
- Following up is completely acceptable, but use common sense. If your email isn’t on a timeline, following up the next day (or even the same day) isn’t a good look. But if it’s been a week and you haven’t heard anything, a quick reminder message is totally acceptable! Definitely don’t try following up via social media, especially the same day, unless it’s a literal emergency. Spoiler alert: it’s probably not.
- Please copy edit before sending, especially if you want to impress the person on the other end (to write about your series, to collaborate you, to offer you advice as a colleague). Typos are sloppy and so easily fixable, so fix them.
Let’s break the rest of this down by type of email:
Subject Line: I often attach the prefix “Press Request:” then in 5-8 words try to entice whoever I’m messaging. I’ll make it clear the content of my request is relevant to them by catering the framing to their preexisting slate or interests. For example, my web series Sam and Pat Are Depressed could fall into a couple buckets- female filmmaker, mental health, comedy, asexual representation, and LGBT+ representation in general. If I’m reaching out to a mental health blogger, I’ll do something like “Press Request: new dark comedy series about therapy and mental health.” If I’m reaching out to an LGBT+ outlet, I’ll try “Press Request: inclusive web series seeks funding for second season.”
In any case, I briefly communicate that I’m seeking press coverage, my topic is topical (“new” series and “seeks funding” both imply urgency), and that my topic is relevant to them in particular.
Message Body: As I recommend in my press release article, for this email type, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Your first paragraph should have already given an overview of who you are, what you’re announcing, and why the announcement is timely to write about, so just retool that to also include why you’re reaching out to this outlet or writer specifically. “I loved your recent article on [other web series] and if you were a fan of them, you’ll definitely enjoy [my web series], [description of web series that makes it sound similar but unique from the other web series].” OR, “Our show [show name] covers a lot of the themes your [site/blog/articles] covers, like [short list of themes].”
I like to end my email bodies with a quick “the cast and crew are available for interview, and we also welcome reviews” to give the writers I’m reaching out to the opportunity to mix up what kind of coverage they’d like to give us. Not every press coverage has to be a feature- a review or a short interview is just as valuable!
Note: Stareable no longer accepts press releases, but you can always try to tweet us @stareable with crowdfunding links and if you’re looking for a longer-form way to promote something, pitch me an article for Stareable Film School! You’ll be able to educate your fellow filmmakers while also promoting your project.
Subject Line: Since this email is likely being sent to someone you don’t know, don’t be too familiar or casual in the subject line. Try something like “filmmaker seeking advice about [topic].” If you’ve done your research, “[topic]” should immediately be a public expertise of the person you’re reaching out to. For example, if someone reaches out to me with the subject line “filmmaker seeking advice about construction vehicles,” I’ll know they either haven’t done any research into me OR have wildly misunderstood why “human bulldozer” is in my Twitter bio.
Message Body: First, briefly introduce yourself. "I’m Bri Castellini, a writer and award-winning independent filmmaker based in New York City. I specialize in short-form comedy (specifically web series and short films) and I have been a fan of yours for a while.” [I linked my Stareable profile page when I mentioned web series and my short film’s YouTube page, because my Stareable profile has 6 whole shows I’ve been associated with and because my short film has a decently impressive amount of views that they’ll see even if they don’t opt to watch.]
Next, tell them why you’re reaching out to them. “Your work has been a huge inspiration to me” or “I’ve read all your articles and have found them endlessly helpful on my own filmmaking journey” or “your Twitter feed is always full of heavy construction machinery and I think that’s neat.” You don’t have to lay it on crazy thick (“I would be a shell of a person without your #relatable forklift content”), but you’re asking someone for their time and consideration and you need to make it clear you’re doing so for a reason.
Finally, ask for the advice you seek, and the form you’d prefer to get it back in. Do you want to pick their brain via email by sending over some questions about [topic]? Do you want to set up a coffee (you’ll pay, of course) or a phone call? Don’t leave it up to them- this is your request, so ask for what you need and why you need it. “I’m also a New Yorker and would love to buy you a coffee and pick your brain about the differences between loader and gantry cranes as they relate to construction.” (is the horse dead yet?) If you’re asking for a lot and would be happy with less, you can also add a section acknowledging this- “if you’re too busy, I would also be honored if I could send you a few questions via email for you to answer as your schedule allows!”
It’s best if you can just ask your question or questions right in the email, though. Remember: people are busy and writing a single email answering direct questions is far easier than trying to schedule a time to call or see each other in person.
This article ended up being longer than anticipated, so we’ll cover collaboration emails, introduction emails, and production emails next week! Once it’s up, you’ll be able to click here to read that.