What is a form letter? And why you shouldn’t send one

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What is a form letter? The word “form” should give you a clue. Here’s a detailed explanation as to why you should never send one….

Are you guilty of sending form letters?

I have a long-established blog about writing and I get about a dozen form letters a week from people who would like to post to my site. Trouble is, I have never accepted guest posts. 

But here is a pitch that landed in my in-box with a dull thud last week:

Dear Addressee,

Name’s  Stevie XXX [removed to protect privacy]; a huge admirer of your Website as you are sharing quite winsome and productive information. I intended to reach you out for I’ve really been enjoying your writing style. Purpose of my reach out extends an opportunity as I have unique topics at my disposal. I’d very much like to contribute to your blog. Here is a list of the topics that I think would do really well with your site audience.

Titles are,

Early heart attack symptoms in female and prevention

Heart Disease VS Stroke, Symptoms

4 signs of fake heart attack that you should not ignore


How Can I Reset My Body After Eating Badly?

Here Are the Potential Health Benefits of Star Anise


Top Easy Tips to Avoid the Struggle of Winter Weight Gain

Mentioned topics are on a Health niche.

Please let me know if you are interested in publishing such content on your blog. I’ll write it for your site, make them unique and be sure to promote it on my social media profiles.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Thanks & Regards.

Stevie must have thought I had just fallen off the back of a turnip truck.

His or her fake bonhomie — suggesting they were a huge admirer of my website and cleverly using an unusual and complimentary word like ‘winsome’ momentarily grabbed my attention. But the subsequent list of article suggestions proved beyond a doubt that they had never read a single word on my website. I blog about writing — not health! 

Then, although my eye had skidded past the salutation on the first read-through, I eventually noticed that they had emailed me as “Dear addressee.” And the arbitrary use of all caps stuck in my craw a little, too.

Then, it occurred to me how I might be able to wrestle something positive out of this train wreck. As a reader of this blog, you might be sometimes tempted to send a form letter yourself. Here are circumstances when the urge might overtake you:

  • Trying to find an agent for your book
  • Trying to land a publisher yourself
  • Trying to find a home for a guest post you’d like to see published
  • Trying to sell an article to a magazine or other publication

Let me give you four important suggestions that will stop you from offending the recipients of your offer and dramatically increase the odds of your success: 

1-Always know the name of the person you are approaching. No dear sir, dear madam and certainly no dear addressee. If you don’t know their name, you have no right to email them. It exhibits both laziness and sloppiness. You can always find a name with a google search or a quick phone call. Do the work. Make the effort. 

2-Investigate whether this person has any “submission guidelines.” Most people do. All book publishers do. In these guidelines they spell out how they want to receive the material (by email or print and if digitally whether it should be in the body of the email or as a separate attachment.) If these guidelines strike you as arbitrary or wrong-headed, no matter. Follow them anyway. You will be showing respect, which will make the person take your offer more seriously. 

3-Make yourself very familiar with the history of the website or publishing company. Read about two years’ worth of material they’ve published (yes, two years’ worth) and make sure that your proposal meshes with that person’s or company’s mission and history. When I wrote my first piece for a national magazine as a 22-year-old at the very beginning of my writing career, I spent many hours at the public library combing through their previous publications so I would be well informed. (And after about a year of effort, I landed a contract.) This type of research is currently so much easier with the internet. There is no excuse not to do it.

4-Don’t be overly familiar with a person you don’t know. Stevie’s decision to drop the use of the definite article carried the insinuation that we were perhaps previous acquaintances. But as soon as I read the rest of his/her email, I could see they didn’t know me from Adam.

Here is the response Stevie received from me:

Not interested. 

This is an automated form letter to let you know that if you are proposing a guest post, I do not accept them. 

Please do not contact me again and please remove me from your list. FYI, your email address has now been added to my “junk” file, which I do not review before discarding. -d

I’ve developed my response, which probably sounds a bit harsh, because I’ve learned that many people who send form letters refuse to take no for an answer and continue to pester me with inept emails offering further wildly inappropriate ideas for my site. This is a waste of their time, effort and bandwidth. And a waste of my time as well.

Don’t waste the time of people you want to win over. 

I know, when you’ve written a book or have a terrific idea for a blog or magazine piece you’d like to write, trying to find a place to publish it feels like an annoying and insurmountable hurdle. Why should you have to do all this extra work when you’ve already done the substantial — and more important —job of writing the book or piece?

Just remember that you’re contacting this person because they have something you want. Either money or a large audience. Strangers don’t owe you favours. 

Find the sweet spot where you can be seen as doing something useful or helpful or beneficial for them. That’s when you’re far more likely to succeed. 


Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours. 


My video podcast last week addressed how to improve your grammar. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.


How do you avoid sending form letters? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Feb. 28/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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