Tuesday, April 20, 2010

You really want me to smack you around, don't you

What is it with subject lines?

Either you think they're stupid and thus don't use them, or you think they are somehow the source of all good and, if you stuff as many words in as possible, one of them will sprout an offer of representation.

Knock it off!

The subject line is how my email is sorted. And I utilize THE dimmest sorter on the planet: my mail management software.

Sadly, MMS does EXACTLY what I tell her, with zero imagination, intuition or ability to integrate information. Working in your favor however is that dear old MMS doesn't get anywhere near as impatient or crabby as I do.

So, let's review:

GOOD: Query for (TITLE OF YOUR BOOK HERE)

BETTER: Query for (TITLE OF YOUR BOOK HERE) a novel OR non-fiction

BEST: Query for (TITLE OF YOUR BOOK HERE) a novel OR non-fiction/category



Bad: Query for TITLE (and by this I mean you simply write title. yes I've seen it)

Bad: RE: Query for...
(the problem here is using RE: That makes me think it's a reply to a query or an ongoing conversation. Because the RE comes first, MMS does not recognize it as an initial query.)

Bad: Query for your consideration

Bad: "Query" (the quote marks confuse MMS)

Worse: Query for "Title" by "Author" with "enticements"

Worse: Hi!

Worse: Hello!

Worst: Drinks tonight?


Get the idea?

Simple works best.

I really notice this when I come back from a long weekend without mail access and I have 479 emails piled up. I sort by subject line and there are always 20 or so people who just can't quite figure out what to do with the subject line.


I make a very serious effort to get my queries handled in a timely manner. If your query isn't recognized by the MMS it just sits there till I get around to it. Since you're not a client or an editor, or any of the other people I know, it can sit for a long long time.

19 comments:

Sydnee said...

Good to know! For some reason I was drawing a blank when it comes to what to put in the subject line of a query e-mail.

...Please don't tell me someone actually queried you with "Drinks tonight?" in the subject line!

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm not surprised by the "Drinks tonight?" line. "What better way to entice someone with alcohol?" is surely someone's line of thought. Still, it made me laugh.

Kate Evangelista said...

Putting Query for (insert title) is nerve wracking enough, what more for those who want to get creative? Sigh.

#1 Dinosaur said...

What if your novel is called "Drinks Tonight?" I suppose the correct way to send the query would be, "Query for novel: Drinks Tonight?"

Then again, what if the "Drinks tonight?" email is from Brad Pitt?

Margaret Yang said...

What if someone has a question or some blog fodder? It's not a query, so that subject line is out. I put "blog fodder?" in the subject line and hope for the best.

Simon C. Larter said...

Would "Drinks over lunch?" work for you?

Janet Reid said...

Brad Pitt can go whistle for his query! I'm not running afoul of his current paramour, not even a little.

Also, if your book title is something akin to Drinks Tonight, you'll notice the titles are in all caps. You'd say: Query for DRINKS TONIGHT, a novel.

And drinks over lunch works just fine for me. Bring sushi to the office, I've got the scotch.

Lumpy Dog said...

Scotch, yes. Sushi, yes.

Scotch and sushi, I'm hesitant.

Renee Pinner said...

Subject: Re = Fiction Novel

BPatterson said...

Someday someone will invent a smarter mail-sorter program, one that will auto-respond to badly done queries (4 or more typos, "To Whom it May Concern" found within text body, no capital letters, 8 or more explanation points..) with a virus that prints "OM NOM NOM MORONS ARE DELICIOUS! Please follow the instructions found _____ to properly submit your query where someone may actually consider reading it." on their computer screen.

They could call it SharkSort(tm), and it would be a boon to mankind and hardworking agents.

Josin L. McQuein said...

So this:

Query for The Book You've Been Waiting For; a Fiction Novel about Whatever Your Favorite Subject Is. Seriously, tell me what it is and I'll have you an outline in like two hours. Is it Okay if I Query you with it?

would be a bad thing?

I'd wager the "Re:XXXXXXX" are intentional to make you think you've seen something or even requested it. (Because it's not like you'd actually keep track of that sort of thing. >.<)

JS said...

I had a vendor once who kept sending and re-sending an email from her Hotmail account with the subject line "Look at these pictures!"

She seemed astonished by the idea that no, I was not going to open an email from staci9956@hotmail.com that said "Look at these pictures!" and that "Pictures for the UltraTech Annual Report" would have been more appropriate.

So are you saying that this is why my query for VIAGRA: A LOVE STORY has gone unanswered for so long?

Mike said...

Hey, the sushi lunch is a GREAT idea! And I'll even buy the scotch! (What the heck? For what I spent last year going to conferences, trying to meet agents and escape the slush pile, I could fly round-trip first class to NYC, stay at The Plaza, have the sushi flown in from Tokyo, buy a gallon of the best single malt, AND pay you $500 for an hour of your undivided attention... no, no ,no...don't even go there! And still have money left over. Sheesh, why didn't I think of this before?)

Kelly said...

Glad to know I've been doing it right all these years. Gosh, why would writers ever think that longer and more complicated is better?

Christi Goddard said...

"You really want me to smack you around, don't you"

That's the sort of question my first husband would have asked a person.

I can somewhat proudly say that I am at least querying with a proper subject line. It's the rest of the query that must be under the 'worse:' classification, even after all your fabulous help. Not a single partial request yet. C'est la vie. There's always the next one.

Sun Singer said...

When the subject line looks stupid, I assume the message is computer-generated or moron-generated SPAM.

However, "drinks tonight?" might get my attention for a nanosecond.

Richmond Writer said...

What about requested material? As in I pitched to you at a conference and you said send it. What goes in the subject line?

Annette Lyon said...

The first BAD example had me so confused for a minute--I had to erase a few brain cells before it made sense.

It's hard to believe people actually do that.

John said...

@Richmond, probably:

Query for (INSERT TITLE HERE) novel/genre OR non-fiction/category (Requested Materials)

And in the body of your query, state that she requested this when/where.