In which I discuss email subject lines, imaginary book pitches, and Sesame Street.
For the last three weeks I’ve been singing the opening tune of Sesame Street while doing my mindless tasks like laundry and dishes. 🎵 “Can you tell me how to get…” 🎶 and while I do love that song especially the fact that Sesame Street has “clean air,” the truth is when you’re pitching a book you have to think of something as minute as how to get your emails opened—especially if you’re a cold-emailing author with a big dream publication. (Bet you didn’t know where I was going with this one—real exciting times over here).
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Things you need to think about when writing email subject lines:
Is location important? Do you need to include something like “Texas author…” if you’re pitching a Texas / local newspaper? One of my favorite books of this year is Erin Langner’s Souvenirs of Paradise (I hope to have a preorder link for you VERY SOON—the book is about a lot of things, but it’s also very much about Vegas. When I’m pitching Vegas folks, I include Vegas—seems obvious, but I’m saying it anyway: (“the Joan Didion of Vegas”…); when I’m pitching PNW folks I include her art museum (Frye Art Museum exhibitionist …)
Does your subject make sense for age / generation? If you’re using a recent little diddy like “She’s a ten but …” will the person in charge of books at Wall Street Journal get the joke? This goes for jokes as well as phrasing, slang, etc. You have to think about who is intercepting this email, and who you’re inviting into your world. A TikTok audience, during the right week, would love this, but a staunch newspaper editor, perhaps not.
(I realize this is a gross effect of capitalism before I type it) Are you trying to connect your work or place the book within a cultural moment, a reckoning, something timely? Perhaps this isn’t the way to go … (for the record I think this was a publisher-doing, now a Bookshop.org doing)
Can you use previous / quote praise?
Is there a quote from the book that’s especially poignant and short?
Have you followed guidelines? Some magazines or review outlets want books to come in to them in a very specific way. They might say put the title, author name, and publication date in the subject line. While this can be annoying, you want to follow these guidelines.
What stands out? Did the book win an award, get a really strong blurb, or get attention already from industry reviews / a big list?
Following-up on the last bullet, are you including relevant & necessary information? Sometimes I don’t even put “book” in my pitch, but I do usually try to nod to book or genre especially if I’m not saying the author’s name or the title. It just all depends.
Are there comps that might be put to use in a subject line?
So, this week before bed, I wrote out subject lines for some random books (on the fly, mind you!) that I might use to try to get a book person interested enough to click open for the rest of my pitch. For the record it took me about five hours to do the research and write these out and that friends, is why you hire a publicist. Aaaaand, here goes nothing.
Read through the following subjects and think about which ones would make you click open the email. Which of them hit and which of them miss? (I have misses too! sure! I try, try again).
[a side note first: ONE THING that’s true about Otessa Moshfegh is that she always writes books that are easy to publicize. And thus, they get publicity. You cannot control what you write about or your obsessions (mostly) is my belief, so don’t try].
Get out of her swamp, Odessa Moshfegh’s latest media(no)val (look, I’m not sure the blended word is working either, but this is for fun!)
witchery! deception! murder! abuse! grand delusion! ludicrous conversations! (The Atlantic)
“…cringeworthy moments of bodily disgust” - The Atlantic
First it was rest & relaxation, now it’s monstrosity | Otessa Moshfegh’s latest (might trade out monstrosity for brutality depending on the mood)
For “future-deadness” Moshfegh’s latest looks to the past
AND YET more entitlement, more barbarics & more disturbed, a 2022 novel
Because it hasn’t gotten enough press yet, Otessa Moshfegh’s Lapvona (this one is for me—sometimes I want to pitch a book that makes fun of itself)
Otessa Moshfegh’s latest an “allegoric pandemic novel” (this audience would have to be very specific because “allegoric” doesn’t make me want to immediately read something and neither does “pandemic novel”)
I want to make it clear that when I write about Marlin’s book I do not use chapbook in the subject line (and usually not in my email pitch either). The bias critics, readers, and even writers have to “certain kinds of books” makes me wary, and so I call every book exactly what it is: a book, and then talk genre. (I wish we sold books this way too, but alas).
Poetry & the Pokédex, a nerd’s dream book (or collection) | Capable Monsters (I mean the word nerd here as a term of endearment to us all. I might also replace it with fan’s / fandom’s / geek’s / collector’s / gamer’s)
Pokémon as a doorway to empathy, Marlin M. Jenkins’ Capable Monsters
“I was a stumbling block / and then /the wood cracked / straight through”
Catch ‘em All: a Black, queer, poet navigates violence & isolation through Pokémon (I try to avoid the word navigates at all costs because it’s so overused…)
Capable Monsters, strange creatures, and a boy conquering the world
the Pokédex as a way to navigate otherness & & & | Capable Monsters
Don’t dismiss it or diss it | Pokémon meets poetry in Capable Monsters
Backlist BESTSELLER, Marlin M. Jenkins’ CAPABLE MONSTERS
Pokédex as epigraph, a boy loose on the world | CAPABLE MONSTERS
Blackness, boyhood, and belonging in Marlin M. Jenkins’ Capable Monsters
Marlin M. Jenkins’ chose Bulbasaur, Capable Monsters & poet’s metaphor
Carry you through the trauma, a book of childhood belonging and gaming
The rise of the millennial “do-nothing” Mike Nagel’s Duplex
A modern day Metamorphosis, Mike Nagel’s Duplex
Fancy seeing you here, from the city to the “middle of nowhere” (if I was pitching Texas, I would say “Dallas to the middle of nowhere instead.)
Critics say it has “shades of Vonnegut” | Mike Nagel’s Duplex (I totally stole this from a Goodreads user review, thanks Nathan Holic!)
exvangelical and still full of dread, Mike Nagel’s Duplex
It’s going to take more than recycling our cans, Mike Nagel’s Duplex
Book as hangover cure? Mike Nagel’s Duplex (maybe “reading as hangover balm?” Unsure yet).
From Dallas to dread | Mike Nagel’s Duplex (February 8, 2022)—(choose wisely when to include pub date).
“A child of Vonnegut” Mike Nagel’s debut Duplex from Autofocus Lit (also choose wisely on naming the publisher (bias again) & I stole this from Claire Hopple on Goodreads)
“Read a damn good book” - Drew Hawkins on Mike Nagel’s debut, Duplex
Delivered HOT right to your shelf, Jean Kyoung Frazier’s debut novel
A book to make you try pickles on pizza, Jean Kyoung Frazier’s Pizza Girl
Preggars in a pizza shop, Jean Kyoung Frazier’s debut novel
This is in fact NOTHING like Sally Rooney & that’s a good thing (did her marketing team even read the book???)
Not Surfer Boy Pizza, but better! | Jean Kyoung Frazier’s debut novel (a Stranger Things reference would work for like one week and a very specific audience)
“the weighty calculus of being a "model minority" | debut novel Pizza Girl (thank you to David on Goodreads!)
suburban alienation from a “blazing new voice,” Jean Kyoung Frazier (this is from Andrea Lawlor’s blurb)
“a new kind of American hero” | debut novel Pizza Girl from Jean Kyoung Frazier (this is from Elissa Schappell’s blurb)
New Los Angeles novel just dropped, a debut deserving of time in the sun
Don’t call it a breakdown—Jean Kyoung Frazier’s Pizza Girl
Devour it like a late night pizza | Jean Kyoung Frazier’s debut Pizza Girl
Move over Jordan Peele, LaTanya McQueen’s novel debut has arrived
“This story is going to forever haunt me.” LaTanya McQueen’s novel debut (thanks Ashley Daviau on Goodreads)
Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds could NEVER | McQueen’s debut
For fans of GET OUT, When the Reckoning Comes chills & haunts
What we mean when we say Southern Gothic | LaTanya McQueen’s novel debut
The Reckoning is here with LaTanya McQueen’s novel debut
If [insert famous author] wrote horror for 2022, LaTanya McQueen’s debut
“Evokes the clarity and preciseness of Toni Morrison” - Bookin’ it with Ahtiya
Black. Southern. Horror. LaTanya McQueen’s When the Reckoning Comes
Real horrors in a sinister tale | LaTanya McQueen’s When the Reckoning Comes
An American Horror Story, LaTanya McQueen’s When the Reckoning Comes
And lest you say I’m cheating, here are some for a book that’s not out yet, that I have not read yet (AND a translation—double whammy!)
Named one of Granta’s Best Young Spanish Novelists 2021
Scientific method but make it lyrical—essays in-between from Restless Books
Glass, mirrors & light | essays of between-ness from a “Best Young Novelist”
Mathematical elegance & poetic precision - Terrance Hayes on The Visible Unseen
physicist, biologist, chemist AND lyricist | The Visible Unseen, Andrea Chapela
jolted alive by this meditation of science & the self | essays of in-between (used Juliet Sanches’ blurb language)
an experiment in three essays, Andrea Chapela’s The Visible Unseen (I might say “an experiment in three essays by Granta Best Young Novelist")
lyrical, introspective & methodical, Granta Best Young Novelist turns to essays
Y’all already know, I’m going to tell you to write your own subject lines. The best way to do this is to open an email and start typing in the subject line box.
Your subject should not be longer than the space provided—keep it short and snappy.
I always write 5ish subjects for every different pitch I write (which could be up to ten-ish, and then tiny tweaks as I send for months) and then I see what hits based on how folks are responding.
Again, again, again, follow guidelines.
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