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Friday, June 25, 2010

Make your Subject Lines Work for You

A reader had a question about my last post, on letters of introduction, or LOIs--namely, how do you get an editor/potential client to actually read them? (In other words, how do you keep your LOIs or queries out of an editor's junk mail folder--and make the editor want to open them?)

First off, if you write about sex, refinancing, Viagra, or overseas millionaires who die suddenly leaving no heirs (and need help transferring money out of their countries to the U.S.), that's great...but don't use those words in your subject lines! Seriously, there are some words that will almost automatically ensure your email gets caught in a spam filter, so double-check your query, especially your subject line, to make sure it doesn't look like spam.

Second, if you're emailing a pitch or query, say so. But I like to go a little further than that if I'm pitching a market that's new to me. "Query on birth control trends from experienced freelancer specializing in health and fitness" is more appealing than "query about birth control," for example. However, if it's an editor I've worked with before, I just mention the query topic as I figure my editor will recognize my name. If it's been a while, though, I'll write something like "former contributor writing with a new nutrition story query."

Third, if I have an "in" with an editor, I always put it in the subject line. In my template LOI from my last post, one of my friends had worked with the editor I was pitching. So my subject line read, "Kristin Baird Rattini gave me your name/experienced freelancer interested in writing for you." If you've seen the editor present at a conference, or you have other info about her or her publication, mention it in your subject line. (For example, "Enjoyed your presentation at the recent ASJA conference/freelancer with a timely story idea for you.")

Finally, if I don't hear back from a potential client or editor (say, within two to four weeks), I sent a follow-up email. The subject line reads something like, "Following up/query on birth control trends from experienced freelancer." After a brief intro, I include the original query and typically use language like, "Please let me know if you're interested in this story idea. If I don't hear from you within two weeks, I'll assume you're not interested in this piece at this time and may pitch it elsewhere." This puts the onus on the editor to respond if he's interested and seems to provoke a faster response (even if, alas, it's a rejection).

Writing a smart, attention-getting subject line will not only help keep your query out of the "junk" folder--it will also boost your chances of the editor reading it. And that's the first step of getting your next assignment!

What about you? Do you have any subject line "tricks" you like to use? Or do you think subject lines aren't that important when it comes to pitching?


  1. The length of subject lines vary. On my gmail account, I can see roughly 12 words. On my windows mail box I can only see about 8. Therefore, I make the first few words of my subject line the most important.

  2. Really good comment, Carol! And Heidi, thanks for the great idea. :)