Thursday, February 20, 2014

Query Tip: Use your subject line deftly

I recently received an email from an author I've long admired. I've yammered on about his books, tweeted about them, subscribed to his newsletter, the whole kit and caboodle.

Thus, when I got an email from the author and the subject line was From: (author's name) my first thought was "oh, it's the newsletter" and because I had 186 unanswered emails, and I am barely holding on to my sanity after almost two weeks away from work, I was poised to delete it unread. (The first trick of email triage is to discard news letters and news feeds if you're behind)

Thankfully some benevolent force in the universe stayed my fin/ger because it wasn't a newsletter, it was a query for representation. 

I almost missed it! But really, I only want 15% of the blame for that. The other 85% is his for not using the subject line correctly.

If you are querying, put QUERY in the subject line. Even if you know me. Even if you know I know you're querying.

On this same note, a former intern of mine recently wrote to ask for a letter of reference.  Thankfully I check my spam file pretty often because that's where her email had washed up. Why? Her subject line was Hi! and my spam filter sees that more often than not as a red flag for spam.

There's absolutely no reason to ever use Hi! on a piece of business correspondence.

The subject line is the first thing I see after your name. I use it to perform triage on my incoming mail.  If you need a letter of reference, say so.  Those are things I'll do right away so I can get them off my to do list.

If you're writing to me with a question for the blog put QUESTION FOR THE BLOG in the subject line.

In other words, tell me succinctly what the email is about so I know to answer you promptly and NOT discard you unread.


Stephen Kozeniewski said...

I need a letter of reference.

JennaQuentin said...

In France I learned to put an "object" subject line on every paper letter. No more than three words to say what this is about. I try to use that principal for emails too. Thanks for the post.

Janet Reid said...

Jenna, I like the idea of a three word limit!

Thomas Pluck said...

"There's absolutely no reason to ever use Hi! on a piece of business correspondence."

Thank you.
I am amazed at how rare the skill of writing a professional business letter is.

Um, hey I was just kind of thinking of asking if maybe you'd be interested you know and if you get back to me I'd really appreciate it


Unknown said...

I would like to submit a question to the soon-to-be queen of the known universe. What do I need to do to get her to notice/respond to my question? I received an odd comment in a personalized rejection note.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this. With the internet and email so informal in so many settings, I think people tend to forget that staying professional and precise is the best way to go.

Joyce Tremel said...

Even worse is an empty subject line. I've even yelled at my kids for sending me emails like that.

Anonymous said...

Putting QUERY in the subject line is critical. I suspect many agents have instructed their mail programs to automatically shift anything with QUERY in the header to a specific folder.

Your unlabeled query could spend a long time languishing in some digital backwater, and there's a risk it may never be seen at all.

Janet Reid said...

oh Joyce, yes indeed. The infamous empty subject line.

And don't get me started on everyone who has their priority set at "highest" for every damn email they send.

Yes, I'm ok with being a nit-picky shark. I embrace it actually.

Michael Seese said...

Subject: Can I borrow $100?