Secret strategies for getting people to reply to your emails

  1. Use their first name in the greeting. If you can’t remember it, do a quick Google search. But don’t make it obvious. Pretend you did it on purpose. Getting the name wrong is worse than not using the name at all. It indicates that you either don’t care or just don’t know who they are, which isn’t very flattering. And make sure it’s spelt correctly. If your understanding of whether it has an ‘i’ or a ‘y’ is based on how their website spells it then you’re in trouble.

  2. If you’re writing to them because of something they’ve said publicly, such as a podcast or a column, then refer to it. Make clear your reason for writing.

  3. If you are pitching them an idea, start by sharing an idea that they have already done that you liked. You can do this in the subject line if it is short. The point is to let people know that you get them and that you have the same mindset and therefore might be interesting to work with.

  4. Be concise but let your personality show through. Be brief, but not too brief. Say what it is you want to say in three or four sentences, but don’t make them super-short sentences devoid of human warmth and light. If you do that your email will look weirdly robotic and perhaps even unfriendly. Show some wit, show some sparkle. Don’t just be functional and businessy and bland. Put in a joke if you want to, but don’t feel you must. It only needs to be a joke if the culture suits it. But remember this is an email about work, so don’t overdo the jokey bit. Maybe read over it once more to make sure it isn’t too long or too short or too jokey or lacks jokes. But don’t think about it too much as that will slow you down (and this advice is intended to get things happening quickly—no point in emailing someone unless you want a reply). You should write this email like they are someone who deserves your respect, but also likes communicating with people who have some sparkle in their emails.

  5. Keep everything short and snappy apart from the subject line, which should be long and contain the full name of the person you are contacting, so that it stands out from the dozens of other emails they receive every day with subject lines like ‘Hey’ or ‘Regarding our chat on Friday’ or ‘The proposal’ (which sounds like a divorce) or ‘[Name]/[Name]: Confidential Re: [Subject]—REVISED!!! FINAL!!! READ FAST AND RESPOND!!!!!!!!!’ (pretty sure no email written in capital letters deserves a response), or ‘Check this out!’ (actually just wrote that one as I am about to send an email about this article). Just keep the subject line short if you want people not to open your e-mail, by which I mean if people irritate easily don't use these subject lines!

  6. If they are ignoring your emails then try texting them instead. Not just because phones are more accessible than computers these days, but also because texting is more instant than emailing and so tends to elicit more of a knee-jerk reaction which can be helpful when dealing with people who may have put you off their radar (if they changed their phone number then they are ignoring you). Start by saying: ‘Hi [name]. This is Matt Haig, trying out your new number? Thanks for updating me/giving me your number (delete as appropriate)’ before going on to ask whatever it was that made you text them in the first place (perhaps mention how well their book is doing?) then use the techniques described above for getting them to reply by text. Or don't text at all! Just email! Texts are just emails sent to phones. And that is how they are treated by the recipient. As if they came from a phone. So if you want to be treated as one of their peers, or even as a fellow writer, then send an email rather than a text. The idea of this article is to encourage replies that are about getting things done, not about networking. Networking seems to take up a lot of time these days.

  7. If this person is someone you know in real life, then don’t use email at all. Time to make a phone call instead. Maybe even an old-fashioned voice one, rather than a WhatsApp call. Because if you have the person’s phone number then you have their number for a reason.

  8. If you are contacting them to get some help or advice and they ignore you, then try googling ‘websites like [their website name]’ and see if there is anything similar they run that they might want advice with or an opinion on or someone to write for; that way you can email them as if you were contacting them about a website they haven’t got involved with yet and although they may be sceptical, remember that everyone likes an opportunity and if it is only short and snappy and you read through it once more before sending it then there is no way it should annoy anyone enough to totally ignore it.

  9. If they still don’t reply to this email or text (and it is certain that they saw it) considering calling them once then leaving them alone forever—it’s probably not personal, just busy

  10. Wait a day or two before emailing them again (just one ‘follow up’ email seems best—too many is annoying) because chances are there was just something distracting them (like themselves). Or don't follow up at all, perhaps wait for another opportunity, sometimes the ball is in the other court and sometimes the ball has been swept from the court entirely on the windy black ice of time!

  11. Try this subject line for extra power: ‘Help: [name]’ —a subject line that also works via text message according to veteran journalist and screenwriter Paul Laverty whom I always text when he is travelling as I know he won't reply but he usually does when he gets home because everyone loves someone asking them for help (so long as they are not someone being annoying!) [/end of advice]