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Saturday, April 17, 2010


E-mail Queries: Avoiding the Filter

When I began freelancing, many publications didn't accept e-mail submissions. I kept ample postage and 9x12 envelopes in my supply closet, so I could send a query as soon as the idea printed on the heavy bond, cream-colored paper that contained the prerequisite watermark.

Then it was the wait-and-see game to see if my query landed in the hands of the editor or if it was held up in the filter, a.k.a. secretary or editorial assistant.

How times have - and haven't - changed in just 15 years!

Typically, editors prefer to receive a query via e-mail instead of snail mail. Still, writers play a waiting game. How can writers be certain the query lands in the editor's inbox and isn't being directed to the cyber highway's slush pile - the spam filter?

Every ISP has its own prescribed rules or filtering software; however, by following the general tips about e-mail subject lines listed below, your query can avoid ending up in technological black hole.

  1. Check and double check spelling. Take a peek at the messages in your filtered mail folder. Many contain misspelled words. Verify the correct spelling of any words in your subject title. Not only will it help your message avoid the filter, attention to spelling and detail shows your professionalism.
  2. Ditch subject lines typed in "all caps." All caps signals yelling, and netiquette warns against it. My personal exception to the rule is that I do type the word "QUERY" in this manner and type the rest of the subject line in regular type, capitalizing only where necessary.
  3. Limit punctuation use. Filtering software keys on strange - and even misused - punctuation. I checked my filtered file. The majority of the messages included exclamation points in all the wrong places.
  4. Shy away from filter-triggering words. Think about words you use in the subject line. Certain words, especially those with a double connotation, trigger filters.

Once you hit the send button, you still may play the waiting game. Keep in mind query guidelines, and if you don't hear from an editor, you may want to send a follow-up e-mail verifying your query has been received.

Keep the subject line of a query straightforward and avoid being trapped.

LuAnn Schindler is a freelance writer and editor; visit her website at

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