Comments often give me interesting ideas and trains of thought to follow. This post was triggered by recent blog discussions about seeking information. It struck me that a request for advice or help might not work out because of asking the wrong person, asking the wrong question, or asking in the wrong way.
All writers – no, make that all freelancers – know that framing your pitch or query letter properly can make the difference between positive response and stony silence. So what’s the best way to approach someone for advice or information? Here are seven simple principles that may help:
1) Be clear what your question is. A short, simple, straightforward query is more likely to get an answer than a long rambling one.
2) Do your own research first. The less you waste someone’s time, the more willing they’ll be to help you. Get on the net, dig out everything you can on the topic you’re interested in, and make sure that your question is something you really can’t answer yourself. Want to know what manga competitions you can enter? Read the rules. Want to know what kind of submissions a publisher accepts? Read the guidelines on their website or in their publications. Want to know if you can work for a company? Read their website.
3) Ask the right person. Would you walk into a car showroom and ask them to do a valuation on your house? Studios, distributors and publishers are businesses, there to make a living. They will not have time to respond to enquiries outside their core business. Don’t ask Shueisha or Madhouse to tell you how to get published in Japan or authenticate your rare piece of merchandise.
4) Do NOT go straight to the top. Hayao Miyazaki, Katsuhiro Otomo, J.K. Rowling and other major names are unlikely to answer your query in person. If they did, they would never have time to do any work. Find out how to contact the publicity department or press office, see if they blog, or send an email to the contact address on the website.
5) Make sure they can understand you. If you’re writing to a foreign company, do it in their language, not yours. Why should a Japanese, Korean or French company spend money translating your query from English? If you can only write English, contact their English-language distributor or agent, or hire a translator.
6) Be reasonable. Reading a script or comic, answering a letter, researching a query, all take time. You are asking busy people to help you, so don’t make them even busier by chasing them. If they don’t reply within three months, you might send one polite query, just in case your letter/email got lost. Then let it go. And never expect anyone to return unsolicited submissions.
7) Ask yourself: what’s in it for them? If the answer is “nothing”, don’t expect a reply, don’t badmouth them if you don’t get one, and say thank you politely if you do. And please don’t say “This will help to promote their business.” Unless you have a high profile, helping you out won’t add anything to the bottom line or the prestige of the business or individual you are contacting. Be aware of this and behave accordingly.
To sum up: be brief, be polite, be reasonable and, if you get the help you asked for, be appreciative!