Subject Lines Count
It’s been interesting to read the comments and reaction from yesterday’s entry. I didn’t explicitly say another reason writers should be thinking about how their email will be received. It’s like many other elements in publishing, editors have little time to read their email or much less answer it. Unlike the freelance writer, the editor doesn’t spend their day reading email or reading different websites or blogs. The editor is focused on the business of publishing. A great deal of this business occurs in various types of meetings within the publishing house. There are a litany of types of these meetings and these sessions occur away from a computer. As I’ve mentioned before in these entries, the bulk of publishing isn’t a matter of a single person’s choice. Yes this person has influence but it is often a matter of consensus building with the various areas of the publishing house such as sales, marketing and editorial. This consensus building takes time and happens at all levels of the book production process—from the mock-up cover designs to sales presentations to title meetings. Also editors have book editing responsibilities in addition to other things and the books are produced on a detailed schedule with deadlines that have to be meet to keep these products on track.
With this understanding, I come to another area related to yesterday’s topic about snap email—the subject lines of your email. Yesterday I received an email labeled “chicken scratch.” It was from a literary agent where we had a conversation this week and I could not imagine what would be inside “chicken scratch.” It certainly got my attention in a positive way. In fact, that subject flashed me back twenty years to a critique group in Southern California. One of our members was an unpublished novelist and each month he brought another portion of his work in progress which he called “Chicken Lips and Speed Bumps.” That contemporary novel was about a man and a woman who were thrown together for a cross country trip which turned into a growing attraction for each other. He called her “chicken lips” while she called him “speed bump.” See how a working title can stick? Eventually Thomas Nelson published this novel with the title Driving Lessons. I believe it is now out of print. Maybe the first title would have had more appeal. Back to my email with the subject “chicken scratch.” It wasn’t a pitch for a new project with that title but the agent explained after our phone call she couldn’t read her chicken scratch writing and wanted clarification on a few details. I quickly responded to this note.
Instead of just throwing some random words into that subject title spot, make sure you write something meaningful. If you have clicked a link which creates an automatic subject, make sure you modify it to give it a bit more interest for whoever will receive the email. My email address for Howard Books is online at the publisher’s guidelines. If you click the link, it will automatically open your email program of choice and create an email—with the preconditioned subject line “fiction manuscript.” Over the last several years, I’ve received hundreds of emails with the same subject—and not all of them relate to a fiction submission. Some times a graphic artist will send an email looking for additional work. I’m not the right person to use for such a request since I work remote from the editorial offices—but if your email is online people will use it for their own purposes.
My key point for this entry is to think about how the other person will receive your email. Even the subject lines count and you want to stand out—naturally in a positive way. This type of reader focus is key whether you are crafting an email, a query letter or a book proposal. You want to present your material in the best possible light so you can receive the best possible response.