As I was scrolling my Twitter feed late last year, I stumbled across an announcement for something called CYMERA. Billed as ‘Scotland’s Festival of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Writing’, the announcement stated that the first-ever CYMERA would run from 7–9 June 2019 and bring a plethora of talented writers to Edinburgh to discuss their work and celebrate all things speculative fiction. As someone who regularly chooses to read about dragons in her spare time, that sounded downright magical. After reading the full write-up about the festival in The Herald the next day, I knew I wanted to be involved. I just needed to figure out how to make that happen.
As CYMERA is in its first year of existence, there were no established work placements or internships in place. This meant that there were no application forms to peruse, no previous interns I could pester, and definitely no established list of dos and don’ts. Frankly, the whole thing was a bit like going on a quest without a map. Or detailed directions. Or a compass. In complete darkness without a single sliver of moonlight to illuminate the path ahead. As such, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I learned while pursuing my placement and going through the nerve-wracking process of composing and sending that first email to a complete stranger. Forge ahead for some tips and Marie Kondo gifs.
Tip #1: Do Your Research
Before I contacted CYMERA, I made sure I did my homework. I watched their Crowdfunder campaign video, read every page of their website from top to bottom, and found out as much as I could about the people involved. Since I started out with very little information, this research filled the gaps in my knowledge and unearthed all of the avenues I could potentially use to try to contact CYMERA. By the time I finished, I knew what CYMERA’s mission statement was and what I could offer the festival as an intern. As an added bonus, my research also made me feel more confident and less anxious about the task ahead.
Tip #2: Follow Any and All Guidelines Provided
When I started working on the content of my email, I pulled up CYMERA’s Get Involved page for guidance. Not every publishing-related company or organisation will have an explicit list of guidelines you need to follow, but they will often provide advice through official channels to nudge you in the right direction. I like to use Twitter’s list feature to filter my timeline and make sure I don’t miss out on important and/or beneficial tweets. Additionally, some companies will host helpful Q&As on Twitter or divulge useful information in articles, TV interviews, newsletters, podcast episodes, or in-person at industry events. In my case, CYMERA provided all of the information I needed to choose where to send my first email on their website but not who to address or what to put in it. This prompted me to conduct a number of frantic Google searches and leads me to my next point.
Tip #3: Address Your Email Properly
The internet is full of advice on this topic, but I think the following items are key:
- If you can, find out exactly who you’ll be emailing and address them in your greeting.
- If you can’t find that information, tailor your greeting to the specific company, department, or job title of the person in question. For example, I knew Ann Landmann was the director of CYMERA but didn’t know which of CYMERA’s inboxes she handled or even if she handled them at all. To be on the safe side, I chose to address my email to the ‘CYMERA Festival Team’ instead.
- Don’t use gender-specific terms if you aren’t sure who you are addressing or what their preferred pronouns are.
Not counting the subject line, the greeting will be the first thing the recipient sees. If it is generic, robotic, or just plain wrong, it will not spark joy.
Tip #4: Show Enthusiasm and Confidence
Speaking of sparking joy, Marie Kondo’s method for tidying up one’s home can also double as a way to figure out what should and should not end up in the body of your email. Including a sentence that demonstrates you thoroughly researched a company before contacting them? Sparks joy. Including multiple spelling mistakes? Definitely does not spark joy. In all seriousness, I think the most important things to include in an email asking for a placement are confidence and enthusiasm. Both qualities can be exhibited in a number of different ways, and I found that I organised my thoughts better during the writing process when I kept them in mind. Also, don’t be afraid to use your research in creative or unexpected ways. I casually threw in a line about CYMERA’s call for volunteers so the festival team would know I had a sense of their overall schedule and not just the event itself.
Tip #5: Breathe
This last tip is one I would have liked to receive five months ago after I had finished composing my email to CYMERA but hadn’t pressed the dreaded send button yet (especially since I ended up successfully securing a placement with the festival). So, for whoever might need to see this, breathe. If you’ve been polite, stated your case, and checked for errors, you can press send. Waiting for a response (or lack of one) will be difficult, but you’ve finished the hardest part—putting yourself out there. As Marie Kondo would say: