I often receive emails from young writers asking for advice and help in various aspects of their writing, and I am always delighted to help in any way I can. To be a writer is to be a part of a community, and I am so grateful for all the writers who have offered me advice and encouragement over the years. Being a mentor and cheerleader for other writers is the best way I can think of to "pay it forward" to those people who have bettered my life with their generosity and support.
However, I am not always the quickest to respond to emails, especially when life gets busy. Like this summer: I am in graduate school working on my thesis, taking a summer literature class, and teaching a creative writing class to college students. I feel like I'm barely managing to keep my head above water by trying to write a little of my own work every day, reading and working on papers for the literature class I'm taking, and grading papers and responding to emails from my students!
Most writers I hear from are beyond patient and gracious. But occasionally, I'll receive an email from a young writer that startles me with its rude tone and unprofessionalism. Often the email will include capital "shouting" letters, strings of exclamation points and/or question marks, and phrases like, "are you ever going to get back to me????" or "hellooooo???"
I consider myself to be an advocate for writers, and young writers in particular. I love teaching writing camps and working with mentees through Write On! For Literacy. Publishing Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing is a great source of pride and good feelings for me. So when I get an email from a young writer that perpetuates the negative stereotypes that society foists upon teenagers, it makes my skin crawl.
I believe the very first and most important lesson in regards to being a writer and getting published is this: respect, gratitude and professionalism are a must.
If you send an email with a rude subject line to a publisher, editor or agent, I can guarantee you it would be deleted without even being read. When you send your work to a publisher, it may take six or eight months for them to get back to you about it. That's just the way publishing is -- editors are very busy and they receive hundreds of emails every single day. And if you ever do email them to ask if they have had a chance to read your work, you need to make sure you have a tone of gratitude, graciousness, and respect of their time and busy schedule.
Here's a great article with tips and examples on writing professional emails: http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/e-text/email/.
But I think all you really need to remember is just to be respectful and to treat everyone with common decency. When you adopt a rude tone, you send the message that you feel entitled to the person's help, rather than that you are appreciative of any time and help they can give you.
I think it comes down to this, not just in writing but in all areas of life: people will be more eager to help you when you treat them well and are humble and appreciative of their time, knowledge, effort and support.