Establish Your Identity

Okay, this might seem like a really nitpicky complaint. I’m sorry. But here goes, a mini rant. Trust me, it’s just one more way I’m trying to help you, dear writers, understand how to begin creating a positive, professional image for yourself, from the very first time you come in contact with an agent or editor.

You know when you send an email to someone, and it shows up in that person’s inbox, with a particular NAME beside it? Like:

From: Jane Smith. Subject: Query – Women’s Fiction

The name that appears in the inbox is your display name. Here’s my observation. An astounding number of people do not send queries from an email address with their OWN display name attached to it.

Like, today. The line in my inbox said:

From: Esther. Subject: Query. (Name changed, of course.)

So when I opened the email, my mind was already primed for a query from this dear lady “Esther.” I read the query, which was for an action-adventure novel, striking me as strange coming from Esther. Lo and behold, at the very bottom it was signed, “John Smith.” (Name changed again.)

It messes with my mind, I tell you. IF you are going to be a writer, and IF you are presumably going to write under your own name, it makes sense to get started by having your very own email address. Free email addresses are available everywhere. It doesn’t really matter what the actual email address is—what’s important is the display name. Your address could be as long as your display name is YOU.

I come across this most often in emails from women using their husband’s email address. OR, when people have a single “family” email address. Like, “gardnerfamily4” and it shows up in my inbox as “Gardner Family.” I’m pretty sure the query was NOT written by the entire family. I frequently get queries from people with display names like “Mommy of 3.” Now, I know that might be your main identity, but this is about being professional, and showing editors and agents right from the get-go that you are going to treat your publishing career professionally.

You’re trying to create an identity for yourself as an author. I want to receive a query from YOU, and I want to begin learning who you are right from the very beginning. The first time I ever come in contact with you is when your name appears in my inbox. That’s when I start forming a picture in my mind of who you are.

So, writers, please get your own email address. And if you have your own, and your display name is something like “mommy of 3,” please change it to Jane Smith. Or, um, whatever your name actually is.

Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Heather B. Moore on March 20, 2009 at 4:55 PM

    >I just don’t get it when people share email accounts. How do they keep things organized?

  2. M. L. Kiner on March 17, 2009 at 10:46 AM

    >”The Hong Kong Connection” is a legal thriller about a gutsy female attorney who takes on high ranking International officials. It’s a taut, rollercoaster of a ride from New York to Palm Beach to Washington D.C. to Hong Kong. The plot is expertly woven, the characters persuasive, and the dialogue snappy and spot on.

  3. Amber on March 17, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    >I think this could be said of online account names and user-names, too! Take pride, people!

  4. C.T. on March 17, 2009 at 12:53 AM

    >Guilty of using my husband’s account, until today. Set up gmail.

  5. ~Jamie on March 16, 2009 at 7:54 PM

    >I was just asking my twitter friends about this… like my email address is

    That domain name tag is my personal blog, one that I have had for years, and I love…

    So, is it silly for THAT to be my email? Or does it make me stand out? I wonder in a world like this if it isn’t a good thing to be a little different?

  6. Sharon A. Lavy on March 16, 2009 at 6:23 PM

    >Thank you. Again!

  7. Timothy Fish on March 16, 2009 at 6:23 PM

    >The idea of women who use their husband’s account–I highly doubt men do the same thing!

    L. C., I think that’s about the funniest thing I’ve heard all day. I nearly swallowed my teeth.

    I think a few people are missing the point, somewhat. The e-mail address doesn’t matter. If you really like sharing an e-mail address with your husband, there’s no reason you can’t do that, as long as you send your e-mail messages out with the right display name. In practice that would be bothersome, but the important thing is the display name.

  8. Anna on March 16, 2009 at 4:42 PM

    >ta love… much appreciated!

  9. Solvang Sherrie on March 16, 2009 at 4:37 PM

    >Well, I guess I’m one of the boneheads that never thought of this! I do have a gmail account as SolvangSherrie, but I always send my emails directly from the main account…sherrieandcraig. I won’t make that mistake again!

  10. L.C. Gant on March 16, 2009 at 2:17 PM

    >Wow. I had no idea something like this needed to be explained to people. It would never occur to me to use an email addy that didn’t have my name on it. I find that so odd, especially the idea of women who use their husband’s account–I highly doubt men do the same thing!

    It reminds me of something my dad used to say when I was a kid: “Common sense really isn’t that common.”

  11. Jennifer Hudson Taylor on March 16, 2009 at 11:58 AM

    >Amen and Amen. This is sort of a pet peeve of mine as well. I hate getting emails from other women who share their husbands email as if they don’t even have their own identity. It drives me nuts!!!

    When I send something to them, am I talking to him or her? I love my hubby and we share many things, but email isn’t one of them.

  12. Krista Phillips on March 16, 2009 at 11:01 AM

    >LOL, I sent myself an e-mail just to be sure. It’s working fine! *phew*

    Funny story though. My sister just sent out her resume to a job online, and had tweeked an old one.

    She called me an hour later, very angry because she realized that she hadn’t updated her e-mail address and the one she’d listed was closed.

    I was a good sister and tried not to laugh at her, while she was on the phone anyway:-)

  13. T. Anne on March 16, 2009 at 10:52 AM

    >My is set up with my name. I always appreciate it when I get an email from others and it’s theirs as well. I like to know what I’m getting and from who. Thanks Rachelle!

  14. lynnrush on March 16, 2009 at 10:00 AM

    >Oh yeah. So true. I figured out that from box thing later than I should have.

    Well, along with quite a few other things I’d been doing wrong……

    Thanks for the post.

  15. Dara on March 16, 2009 at 9:59 AM

    >Thanks for this! That wasn’t something that I ever thought about but it makes a great deal of sense. My husband and I have a shared email and I use another one that still has my maiden name (oops!).

    After reading this, I went and created an email account specifically for querying. Thanks again!

  16. Anonymous on March 16, 2009 at 9:27 AM

    >OOooops! I do have a boring e-mail but it gets so much spam, I gave up and use a more unique name. Is it OK if it’s related to your writing in some way? Like if yu write historical fiction and your name is LadyJane or ?

    So far, I’ve gotten several requests so maybe it’s memorable? Thanks for your thoughts!

  17. Richard Mabry on March 16, 2009 at 9:23 AM

    >Good point, Rachelle.
    With Gmail, your email address doesn’t have to be your display name on outgoing mail. From any Gmail page go to Accounts, click Settings, then “send mail as.” Enter your real name (not JK Rowling–that’s taken) and you’re done.
    Haven’t tried this with other email services (I have several accounts) but some variation of this should allow you to change your display name without changing your email address.

  18. Litgirl01 on March 16, 2009 at 9:01 AM

    >Point well taken. 😉

  19. lotusgirl on March 16, 2009 at 8:57 AM

    >Such a great point. Thanks for the advice.

  20. Jessica on March 16, 2009 at 8:32 AM

    I made this mistake early on, but have hopefully fixed this. It’s just not something I’d thought of until it was pointed out.

  21. Anonymous on March 16, 2009 at 8:18 AM

    >Thanks for the post.


  22. Mark H. on March 16, 2009 at 8:10 AM

    >Darn. I was going to send mine under “J.K. Rowling”. Sigh…

  23. dianecurran on March 16, 2009 at 7:52 AM

    >I don’t understand why a family or even a couple would want to share an email address anyway. I have five different email addresses alone, including the ‘actual name only’ one for submissions and job applications (but I do have one for my cat!)

    You are so right about the silly email addresses. I worked for a email team in a govt dept and I once said to a customer that you can tell a lot about someone by their email address. His address was “his name” followed by a not-so-euphemismistic term for a penis. He thought his email wouldn’t go through, that it would be filtered out – unfortunately our staff aren’t that lucky.

  24. christa on March 16, 2009 at 7:21 AM

    >I have this same conversation with my students. They have email addresses such as: brn2Bwild,
    sk8rdork, rk8rgurl,monkyboy,and hotchick.

    I suggest that before they begin completing college admission essays, they may want to consider a second email address. One of those boring ones…using their names outside of school.

  25. Timothy Fish on March 16, 2009 at 6:34 AM

    >I’m going to send this blog post to my friend Esther John Smith. I’m sure he’ll enjoy it.

    I went and checked all of my e-mail accounts in Outlook this morning just to make sure I hadn’t revealed my secret identity in the name field. You know how it is with Clark Kent. He can’t go anywhere these days without someone calling him Lois Lane.

  26. Joyce on March 16, 2009 at 5:46 AM

    >I am so glad to hear this. It is something I have been harping about for a while. Why would anyone who wants to be taken seriously as an author use a display name like Poopsie23 or GaGa90 or any other basically insipid names. Would they put that on their business cards or website headers? Yikes, I’m sorry if I sound harsh but part of finding success in this extremely difficult business is not only excellent writing but also presenting a professional image. It shows you care about your work, yourself, the editor and agent. Silly display names, however cute and meaningful to the author make an immediate first impression.

  27. Cassandra on March 16, 2009 at 1:20 AM

    >And there’s a bonus if you use gmail: you can link gmail accounts all into one inbox so you don’t have to keep logging in and out all the time. And you only have to use one gmailnotifier. And you can reply using the different email address. And you can use filters and tags and color coding and highlighting and these fun little icons that are stars! Gmail is wonderful!