QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Don't Be Spam

As some of you may know, QT is starting up our email newsletter again. (You can subscribe on QT's home page, here.)

Of course, we don't want the newsletter to end up in people's spam and junk folders, so certain steps were taken to prevent that. While doing so, it occurred to me that this anti-spam information could also be helpful to writers sending out e-queries.

As a writer, there are two different situations you'll need to prepare for: When sending queries, you don't want them to end up in the agent's spam folders. And, when receiving replies from agents, you don't want those to disappear into your spam folder. We'll look at both of these situations separately.

When sending queries, you are at the mercy of the agent's spam filter on the receiving end. Even though you don't know how strict their spam settings are, you can still take some precautions to help your chances of staying out of their spam folders.

  • Don't use any commonly spammed words. Hopefully, your query letter does not depend on words like "Viagra," "replica watches," or any of the other typical spam words. Unless you're writing a really weird book, you'll probably avoid this one without even trying. For a complete list of other words to avoid, just browse through your own spam. Unfortunately, you'll find plenty of examples there.

  • Don't use over-sized or color fonts. It's not only a spam giveaway, but it's also very unprofessional in a query letter.

  • Put the word "query" in the email's subject line. Many agents have a special filter set up to accept these emails. Check the agent's query guidelines, often they will specify exactly what should be in the subject line. If they don't specify anything specific, putting "Query for" and then the title of your book is a good bet.

  • Limit the number of links you place in the email. This should also be an easy one to avoid since you shouldn't be sending a lot of links in queries anyway. A single link in your signature line pointing to your website, if applicable, should be the only link you need.

  • Do not attach files unless the agent has specifically requested it.

  • Don't send to an email address alone. In other words, include the agent's name and email address in the "To" field. This can be done by entering something like "Agent Name" (The agent's name in quotes, followed by the email address in angle brackets.) An easier way to do this is to add the agent's name and email address to your address book, then your email program will include the name automatically when you send the query.

By some strange coincidence, these spam-safe rules are very similar to the rules for sending good e-queries, so you should already be following them. If you absolutely have to break one of these rules, don't worry too much. It is unlikely that any of them singly will put your email in jeopardy of becoming spam, but you should avoid combining multiple offenses in the same email. There's no point taking chances with your query letters.

On the other side of the spam are the replies you receive from agents. You certainly don't want them going to your spam folder.

If your email system offers "white listing," then add the agent's email address to your white list. A white list is a list of all email addresses that you trust and are willing to accept messages from. And, just so you know, there is also a thing called a black list. This is where you put the email addresses of people you never want to receive messages from. The terms go back to the old western movies, where the good guys always wore white hats, and the bad guys wore black.

Not all email programs offer white/black lists. If yours does not, then the next best thing is to add the agent's name and email to your address book. Many email programs will use your address book as a sort of white list, with the reasoning being, if they are in your address book, then you must know them and want to receive messages from them.

When it comes to fighting spam, nothing is for certain, but these guidelines should help. Good luck, and happy querying.

-Patrick McDonald


Unknown said...

Patrick, I would think Viagra would be a word you'd use if your book was about viagra.

Good list, thanks.

I want that email system that can differentiate between black and white lists.

Jessie Mac

Stina said...

Great post, Patrick! My email is set so that it doesn't dump spam in the garbage. It just marks it as spam, and I can delete it based on the email address or subject heading.

Eric W. Trant said...

I would add this one:

Use a business email address, if you have one. Avoid anonymous emails such as YAHOO and GMAIL and AOL and so forth.

If you have your own website, it should come with email addresses. Use those.

Also, use your NAME in the email address. Don't use a silly pseudonym, as that is likely to be filtered.

The filters pick up on these points.

- Eric

Anne R. Allen said...

Very useful post. I didn't know that about putting the agent's name in quotes in the address line. Thanks!

Patrick said...

Eric, those are very good points, especially the part about avoiding the free, anonymous email services.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for all the great advice.

Steve Westover said...

I had never given that subject a thought before, but its good info. Thanks.

Silke said...

If your email allows for a reply to (and it should) make sure it's the one you want the reply to go to.
If you have Spam Assassin or Boxtrapper on your server, and they are enabled, make sure you add the agent email (or the domain) to their white lists.

Patrick said...

Those are great additions, Silke. Thanks.