Query Letters + The Subject Line

To get to the subject line we need to decide a few things first.

How formal are you going to be?

.All query letters are business letters and it’s up to you to decide how formal they valentine-145353_1280will be. Remember this is your first impression.

Personally, I think my usual email messages are too informal for a first meeting with someone so important. I’m going to put on my best manners, acknowledge that they have little time to waste and assume (until I stand corrected) that my story is exactly what they are looking for.

Business Letter vs Email, what’s the difference?

If you want to see what I mean by a business letter, here’s an example. Right away you can see the differences between an informal email and a business letter. At the top, the more formal has all the contact information for each of you. Both should also have a date, salutation, closing, and a subject line.

What you included in your email can make it simple for both of you. In the writer’s case, all the formal information helps you keep track of what you submitted and to whom. You might want to BCC a copy to yourself to file away.

For the editor/agent it is also simple. Your facts are presented quickly and without fuss. Yes, the letter is to them. They see you’ve included your contact info, for response. They also know at glance if they should keep reading — if you’ve chosen your words carefully in the subject line.

What Goes into a Subject Line?

This is the first stop when submitting. Go to their twitter #mswl, website/blog posts and find out exactly what the editor/agent is looking for. Know what it is and send them exactly that. Then state it simply and clearly in the subject line. For example: Fantasy: Work Title, finished @ ##k

Every editor/agent is looking for the next big find and they go through a mess of letters-286541_1280works to find that one piece of gold. Check out #tenqueries in twitter. Submissions get rejected because they don’t follow guidelines, do obvious massive submissions, or it’s the wrong genre. Those aren’t the only reasons, but ugh wouldn’t you kick yourself if you did something this silly.

Our egos don’t need more battering. Aim for acceptance by at least trying to be in the right place at the right time. So pick out your possibilities carefully as much for you as for them. Once you’ve selected ten victims, get to know them. Look for their reasons why they would love your work.

This leads to my next post about personalizing the first paragraph.

Writers: Any tricks or tips on the subject line you’d like to share? Are there other places to look to find out what an editor/agent wishes for?

Book Bloggers: What helps you cut through all the applications for review? Do you use the subject line as a guide?

Gleaned from:

• Twitter following #tenqueries + #mswl
• http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/get-published-sell-my-work/basics-of-a-solid-3-paragraph-query
• http://theeditorsblog.net/2013/03/17/writing-the-query-letter


28 responses to “Query Letters + The Subject Line

  1. Great info. Had to laugh at “victims.” Yes more formal than an email, but still retain the flavor of your personality.

  2. Good suggestions. I have no tips. I guess when that day arrives, I’ll try to make the subject line my voice.

  3. Great tips! Love that you called them victims, as a sense of humor is vital to authors! Don’t know how you guys do it, but I admire your determination in the face of all that rejection!

  4. As a blogger they subject line usually indicates a review and then I check it out on Amazon to see if it’s something I would like. Usually the book has it where you can look inside so that’s usually where I decide to review it or not.

  5. Great tips. I was thinking, don’t people know this stuff, but realized that most don’t. We live in a casual society, so they ignore, or never learn what a proper business letter looks like, or formal writing.

  6. You always have great advice! Personally I like the email method better but if I was a writer and contacting agents versus a blogger, I might go the letter route, or both.

  7. When I write a query, I feel like I’m at the head of the class and clam up. Thank you for this post. Maybe I’ll be able to get rid of that road block with your advice. Lisa, co-host AtoZ 2015, @ http://www.lisabuiecollard.com

  8. I count as a book blogger and to answer your question I always read the subject line and the first paragraph to decide if the book is worth reading.
    I love catchy subject lines and originality is super important (please you are a writer I’m sure you can write more than just: review request).
    Great post

    Ruty @Reading…Dreaming

  9. I use a form and simply delete all requests from authors that aren’t from the form..so no help there. I can only offer..read reviewer’s policy. When I send emails I try to make the subject the main topic of the email.

  10. jenniferbielman

    great suggests. No tips though, sorry.

  11. Ha! I never even thought about the subject line of the query. Shows how much I know. Thanks for the info.

  12. You must include the word “Query” or “Submission” depending on what the agent’s website states, because otherwise it could get caught in the spam folder. Other resources to find agents in your genre are: Literary Agent Undercover’s Agent Directory, John Herman’s Guide to Literary Agents, Publisher’s Marketplace, to name a few. And always check Predators and Editors to make sure you’re not submitting to a scammer. Happy querying!

  13. Great tips. My usual emails are so casual, but they are mostly to my friends so it’s all good. I could never go that casual with an agent. 😉

  14. Pingback: Personalize Your Query Letter | Elements of Writing

  15. Pingback: Query Letters — Bio and Closing | Elements of Writing

If you're new to writing, ask me anything and if you're experienced, feel free to share what you know. Learning something new in the craft is always welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.