3 Lessons Spammers Taught Me About Marketing to Strangers

marketing to strangers

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

I get lots of spam mail. So much, I could open a spam factory, sell it back online, and make a profit. But what do those spam trolls want? They’re usually trying to sell something. They want me to review/share/buy whatever they cram into my inbox without building a relationship with me first. I condemned that behavior until I started doing it myself.

Um, say what?

I’ve recently launched a sci-fi book. And in order to make sales, you need good reviews. And to get reviews, people have to read your book. Sounds simple, unless you’re a nobody in the (indie) book world. So to get started with a few initial reviews, I’ve approached readers on Goodreads and asked them to read my novel for free in exchange for an honest review. The challenge?
I’m approaching people I don’t know and I’m asking for a request in the first email, just like the spammers that invade my inbox.

But thank goodness I’ve received so many spam messages, because now I know how NOT to approach perfect strangers. Out of the ten people I asked on Goodreads, four of them replied to my email and actually asked for the book. In the paragraphs below, I reveal the top three lessons I learned from spammers for marketing to strangers.

Address like an ace.

Nowadays, I decide within a second whether I’m going to read an email based on how they address me. Yep, with my time being more precious than the one ring to rule them all, I check the title and determine whether I should read the next line. When I read a subject like ‘Dear marsdorian team’ I know Mr. Spam’s magic is at work. The drone/human who penned this cut-and-paste email didn’t spend one second crafting a personal message, so why should I care about their offer/request?
Here are other failed subject lines that people have used to address me:

  • To whom it may concern (seriously)
  • Hey You! (spot the exclamation mark, this email must be important!)
  • Hello (no addressing whatsoever)
  • and my current favorite: Dear mr. marsdorian.com (.com must be my family name)


Whenever I write to someone I don’t know, I want to make sure I know how to address that person. To figure that out, I check out their Twitter bio, or their about page, and try to figure out whether they are solo, part of a team, or carry a PhD.

Sounds easy, but more often than not, laziness gets in the way. Don’t let it.

Make it relevant to me and wait for my answer.

This is another no-go step that should blink like a red stop sign in front of your tormented eyeballs. I often get requests from perfect strangers. The terrible template goes as follows:

Hey (blank), I have (blank), can you (blank)?

If you’re a good writer, maybe you could get away with it, but probably not. Here’s the problem with this template:

  1.  Usually, what they’re selling is not relevant to my interests or audience.
  2. The seller has already attached the image/infographic/ebook they want me to share/review/read before I’ve had a chance to reply. So if you ask if I would be interested in sharing your infographic, at least wait for my answer and don’t sent the infographic in the same email.

This seems obvious but too many people screw it up. Here are a few examples:

“Hey Mars, can you review my ebook? I’ve attached it in this email.”
(no, I can’t and I won’t, because I don’t read Paleo food diet ebooks)

“Hey Mars, are you interested in sharing my infographic with your audience? It’s relevant to your readers. PS-I’ve attached it to this email.”
(If you knew my audience you’d know I never share infographics)

“Hey Mars, I’ve written a round-up post with the 30 best bloggers. I’ve included you of course and posted the link below. Please share it on your social media channels.”
(No, no, no. That’s like knocking on my door asking for donations while you’re pulling the money out of my wallet.)


First, make sure your pitch is relevant. I only write to readers on Goodreads who not only like sci-fi, but also dig indie space opera with a military flavor, because those are the the category keywords of my novel. Second, ask and wait for the response before you send the object you’re selling, it shows you care about the recipient’s response.

Leave in style.

Politely reply even if the person you write to has denied your request. This is another simple and yet effective way to deal with a first timer request. In the rare cases I DO reply to spammy-ish mail and decline the offer in a polite way, I don’t get an answer in return. This shows the mail was 100% spam and that the person behind it didn’t care about my answer in the first place. So when I’m on the other end of the computer and writing the requests, I try to be as courteous as possible.

When a potential reader on Goodreads declines my offer, I always follow up with something like:
“Ok, no problem. Thanks for replying, I appreciate you taking the time,” or “Thanks for getting back to me. It means a lot” — something along those lines.

This shows I’m thankful for their reply and the time it took to write it. Why? Because I don’t take it for granted that perfect strangers might reply to an email from me that comes out of nowhere. When they do, it shows they took the time to consider my offer, which is a sign of respect in itself.


It’s 2015 and people still spam like it’s 1999. Making requests without building a relationship first is tricky business, but if you follow my lessons above, you can craft a courteous message that will get results.

How do you approach perfect strangers online with a request?

Mars Dorian draws funky illustrations and pens sci-fi thrillers for the Internet Generation. His latest novel is a mix between Star Wars and Silicon Valley called Attack Planet
which you  can check out on Amazon for just $2.99! Consider his artwork for your next project: http://www.marsdorian.com
Original illustration by the author.

All posts

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast!

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details

Share via