If you don’t know what an email thread is and why it is imperative that you respect their integrity when corresponding with publishing professionals, well…. please pull up a chair. We need to talk.
Literary agents and other publishing professionals are very, very busy people. At any given time, a literary agent may be corresponding with several dozen clients, three times that number of editors and other in-house publishing employees, several dozen more prospective clients, lots of colleagues and acquaintances, and oh yes, managing thousands of incoming submissions.
It’s a huge ever-growing mountain of email, and staying on top of all of that correspondence is a herculean task.
Don’t make that task even more difficult with poor email etiquette.
Make a publishing professional’s life easier
Before we even get to what email threads are for the uninitiated, let’s start with some basic principles.
It’s very important to remember that you are one out of several hundred people an agent/publishing professional is talking to at any given time. They’re not going to remember every single detail of your previous correspondence. And particularly if you’re not yet a client, they might need some reminding about who you are entirely.
This gets us to Email Thread Principle #1: Include all of your previous correspondence when emailing a publishing professional
If your previous correspondence is in the same thread it’s easy for the publishing professional to dip back into the old emails to refresh their memory, to find past documents, and to have everything in one place.
Do. Not. Just. Send. New. Emails. Without. Including. The. Previous. Emails.
Let me repeat. Do not ever respond to a publishing professional by starting a totally fresh email with a different subject line that has no past correspondence.
That brings us to Email Thread Principle #2: The reply button is your friend
Here’s how to respond to an email from a publishing professional: Hit the REPLY BUTTON, type an email, hit send. That’s it. If you utilize the reply button you don’t have to go out of your way to include your previous correspondence because it happens automatically.
And whatever you do… Email thread Principle #3: Do not change the subject line no matter how insane it is. Do not. Don’t do it. Even if the subject line is something like “garbled 2#&*% who knows how th!s even started??!?,” do not change the subject line. It’s not helpful (I’ll explain why in a bit).
Need to reply to your own reply? Remember Principle #2: just smash that reply button. It’s your friend.
Once more for those in the back:
- Include all of your previous correspondence when emailing a publishing professional
- The reply button is your friend
- Do not change the subject line no matter how insane it is
That’s… pretty much all you need to know. If need convincing and/or you want to know why these principles are the way they are… read on.
How threads work
Prior to the invention of Google’s wildly innovative Gmail on April 1, 2004, emails came into an email inbox one at a time. If you had a conversation going where five different people replied to the same email, it came into your inbox in five different places.
If you’re using a legacy email program: this may still be how emails come into your inbox.
Gmail changed the game. Rather than having emails coming in from all different directions, Gmail groups conversations into threads. If five people reply to the same email it comes into your inbox as one thread under the same subject line rather than five different emails like so:
This approach to email (which is now mimicked in some newer versions of Outlook and other email clients) makes it very easy to find old emails and documents within a longer conversation. But it only works if people just utilize the reply button and don’t change the subject line.
If you change the subject line: Gmail treats it like a completely new conversation and it breaks the thread, making it much more difficult to find previous correspondence and documents. A publishing professional will then have to go hunting for your old manuscripts and documents.
Things can get very scattered very fast.
Respect threads even if you don’t know the publishing professional’s approach
Now, there’s no way of knowing what email program an agent or publishing professional is using. They may not be using Gmail and don’t care much about threads. They might even change the subject on you themselves because they have a different email organization system that works for them.
But again, remember: they’re probably corresponding with way more people than you are. Defer to their approach.
If they change the subject line? Cool beans. On your end just utilize the reply button and try to be as helpful as you can making sure the publishing professional has your previous correspondence, even if it means copying and pasting it in.
I hope you have found this ode to the reply button helpful! Take to the comments with any questions!
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Art: Cornelis Gerritsz Decker: Interior of Weaver’s Workshop
Angela L Brown says
In the Chutes & Ladders & Glass-Ceilinged world of corporate America, I find the Reply button to be quite useful as well. I would be interested in hearing your take on the sometimes-misused Reply All.
Ken Hughes says
Great advice. Keeping the subject line (which Reply does) really is that important for letting your message sort right, out of the hundreds of mails someone gets. Basically, *not* using that means you’re diving back into the slush pile.
Also: if there are other people in the CC line, use Reply All instead of Reply. The sender had a reason to include them, and you’d need a good reason to change that. (Assuming this isn’t some company email that went to dozens of people. Using a Reply All to those is a classic oops.)
Reply All has one other use: if you want to follow up your own message before you get a response, you can Reply All to that and keep all the settings right. (Reply would only send your followup to yourself.)
Actually, I think gmail is smart enough to reply to the other person even if you sent the last email 🙂
Gail Ansel says
Oh, shoot! What about the advice to add “requested MS” at the start of the subject line of a reply? That’s actually breaking the thread? Damn. What to do?
I feel so seen. Thank you. Any advice on how to ask other professionals that are more or less at your same level not to start a damn new thread with every email they send? I don’t want to offend…
Nathan Bransford says
I copy the errant email to a reply in the existing thread and say something along the lines of “copying your email here so we have all of our correspondence in one place, going forward can you please reply to this thread?”