Like coming to Casablanca for the waters, I was misinformed

You and I are kindred spirits, Mr. Blaine
Kindred spirits you and I, Mr. Blaine

I really, really, REALLY do not like making mistakes, especially when it comes to things related/connected to screenwriting, and even more so when it comes to trying to get a career going.

This time around, it’s regarding query letters. Even though a majority are now done via email, for the sake of the discussion, they’ll still be referred to as ‘letters’.

Query letters are a tricky beast. Getting them just right takes an inordinate amount of effort. Some might even say just as much as goes into your script.

I actually don’t mind researching appropriate recipients, or spending the time crafting the letter (which also includes getting feedback on it from those who know more about it than I – a hearty thanks to those who’ve offered their invaluable insight & suggestions!).

What really gets my goat is when I learn, usually after the fact, that I’ve done something that can only be classified as straight-up stupid, or at least counterproductive.

And it all stems from one small, seemingly insignificant thing: what goes in the subject line.

Turns out – not so insignificant. The subject line is your one shot to grab their interest and get them to keep reading. But what should it be? There are several schools of thought about this, but more on that in a second.

I couldn’t tell you where I read it, but the advice (from an “expert”, mind you) I’d heard recommended listing the title, followed by the word ‘query’.

Wrong. Wrong! WRONG!

Apparently including the ‘q’-word is just one big kiss of death. It screams out “Amateur!” and pretty much guarantees your email will probably be deleted without even being read.

So don’t do it! Avoid at all costs!

What should you use? As stated above, several options.

-Just the title

-Title and genre

-A noteworthy contest award (e.g. “2015 Nicholl semifinalist”)

-The hook of your story. Keep it brief!

-“THIS meets THAT” (Opinions are mixed on this. Some writers have said they use it, but a few consultants say not to.)

-Referred by _____

The floor is open to other suggestions.

As for me, lesson learned as I gear up to re-send all those emails in the coming weeks. A weighty project, but whatever it takes. I’m leaning towards just the title or the hook.