Monday, July 31, 2006

E-mail: Say It In the Subject Line

E-mail is the main stop on the information superhighway — one of the primary tenants in cyberspace real estate. It has replaced many of the letters and memos business people used to write, but the ease of sending and receiving creates inherent problems. People have a tendency to prepare e-mail messages on the fly and fire them off to everyone in the universe. Always remember that e-mail is a serious business tool, and you should treat it with the same respect as any other business document you write.

Create a Compelling Subject Line

The subject line is the most important piece of information in an e-mail message. It’s the first and only hint as to what your message is about—unlike a letter where the body is in full view. There are people who get hundreds of e-mail messages a day, and they can’t possibly read them all. So, if your subject line doesn’t seduce your readers, they may never open your message. If you look down the subject line column of your inbox, perhaps you see subject lines such as these that give you absolutely no information and no reason to read the message.

Two things…
Something else
Can you help me?

I’m sure you’ve read USA Today. The front page has a column called “Newsline” that gives informative headlines of what’s happening around the world. You can read the headlines and get a snapshot of major stories. Wouldn’t it be informative to read the subject column of your inbox and get that same level of information? Always include in your subject line a key piece of information so your reader can get the gist of your message at a glance. Notice the following sets of subject lines and how much more information appears in the line with the asterisk.

* 15% profit expected for Q2
Profit report

* We were awarded Waller project for $2.5 million
Waller project

* MIS: Urgent meeting May 20 @ 2 PM in Blue Room
MIS Meeting

Think About the Benefit to Your Readers

When you craft your subject line, think about why your readers should want to open your message. Make the payoff clear. Will your readers learn some valuable industry news? Will your readers get a great deal? Will your readers save time or money? And never be misleading. If your e-mail is about a computer product, don’t pretend in the subject line that you have free tickets to the World Series.

Deliver Your Message in the Subject Line

When you can, deliver your message as the subject line and don’t bother writing in the text box. For example, you may write I’ll finish the report tomorrow morning—SLR and not even deal with the text box. When you put your initials at the end of the message, your readers get to know that the message “is” the subject line. You can also use –END or –EOM, for end of message. I don’t recommend this type of electronic shorthand when you write to someone you don’t know. It’s for colleagues you communicate with regularly. However, you should always use a descriptive subject line, even when you write in the text box.

Following is a series of e-mail subject lines I exchanged with a colleague. We rescheduled a meeting, and neither of us ever had to open the text box. (I usually don’t recommend scheduling appointments via e-mail because of the back and forth. However, this colleague doesn’t respond to voice messages but checks her e-mail a gazillion times a day.)

Mon. doesn’t work. How’s Tues? —SLR
Tues is NG. How’s Wed? —MN
Wed. is fine. —SLR
See you Wed. at 3:15 —MN

Note: When you first start sending subject lines without writing in the text box, most people will “get it” right away and start to respond in the same manner. A few, however, may let you know that they “didn’t get your message.” You can merely tell them that you try to save them time and deliver the message in the subject line when you can. When they see your initials at the end, they’ll know you’ve done that. They, too, will start responding with this electronic shorthand.

Copyright (2006) All Rights Reserved. http://www.sherylwrites.com/

Thursday, July 06, 2006

So You Wanna Write A Book

When people hear I’ve had a number of books published — 20 to date — they often share with me an idea for a book they are writing or want to write and ask me for suggestions. I’ve coached dozens of people, have gotten lots of free lunches, and have added several inches to my hips as a result. A number of colleagues have gotten published by some of the big names.

Do you self-publish? Many authors opt to self-publish or go to independent publishers. If your goal is to have a product to sell or to see your name emblazoned on the cover of a book, this may be the path for you. However, it takes a Herculean effort to market and distribute a book. That’s why I’ve always opted to work with an established, well-known publishing house — without an agent. I write the text; leave the printing, marketing, and shipping to the publisher; and collect royalty checks. How good is that?

My road to success was paved with lots of bumps and pot holes, yet I believed in myself and refused to take no for an answer. For inspiration, I tacked on my bulletin board an article that appeared in Time magazine. It told of John Grisham’s struggle to get his first book published. A Time To Kill — which became one of Grisham’s hot sellers and a hit movie — was rejected by 25 publishers. Here’s what worked for me and colleagues I’ve coached. Perhaps it will work for you.

Know what the competition is doing
Before you even think about submitting your book idea to a publisher, learn all you can about other books in that genre. Check bookstores, libraries, and online booksellers. Nearly everything has been written, so be prepared to tell the publisher how yours is different or better. Prepare a market analysis in grid form and include Title, Author, Publisher, Strengths, Weaknesses. (Of course, the weaknesses of each book become the strengths of yours.)

Caution: Never say there’s no competition or there’s never been a book like this. That shows you either haven’t done your homework or there’s a good reason there’s nothing out there like it.

Prepare a plan of attack
Get a copy of the latest (annual) Writer’s Market, and make a list of all the publishers you want to target. Also, check out bookstores, libraries, and online booksellers for others that aren’t listed in the publication. Then you’re ready to put your proposal package together. Here’s what to include:

Query letter: Address your letter to an editor, not just the publishing house. You find names of editors in the Writer’s Market as well as sample query letters. As an option, call the publishing company and inquire. Include in the letter your target audience; why you’re qualified to write the book; how your book will make the world a better place; and any other books, articles, or publications you’ve authored or co-authored. Present your thoughts clearly and concisely. And make sure to use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Just one typo will stand out like a tarantula on a piece of angel food cake.

Market analysis: Following the query letter in your package, include the market analysis discussed earlier.

Annotated outline or synopsis: For non-fiction, prepare a table of contents in which you briefly describe each chapter. Limit the description to one or two sentences. For fiction, include a one-page synopsis.

Sample chapter: Submit a sample chapter so the editor can get a feel for your tone and writing style. This doesn’t need to be the first chapter, just one that represents your best efforts. (It was an annotated outline and sample chapter that got me my first contract.)

Postcard: Include a postcard to make it easy for each publisher to close the loop, even if it is with a rejection. (If an editor is interested, he or she may send a letter or call instead.) Put your name and address on the front of the postcard and the following on the back:

Title of Manuscript

[ ] Yes, I’m interested in reading your manuscript with a view
towards publishing it.

[ ] No thanks. Your idea doesn’t fit into our current marketing

Name of Publisher

It’s not necessary to have a completed manuscript ready to send. If your proposal is accepted and you’re offered a contract, you’ll be given ample time to complete the manuscript.

Get yourself psyched
To get myself mentally psyched, ten times a day I’d put my pen to paper and write: “Sheryl is a successful author.” I also prepared a sign that said “Sheryl is a successful author” and placed it near my computer, where I could see it easily.

Create a motivation chain
Unless you’re extremely lucky or your idea is the greatest thing since sliced bread, you must anticipate rejections. But don’t let that stop you from forging ahead. Here’s how I kept myself motivated the first time I tried to get published: I divided the list of target publishers into increments of five. Before I sent my proposal package to the first five, I prepared the next five with postage and all. All I needed to do was put the date on the query letter. As each rejection came in, I sent out another package and prepared one more. Therefore, I always had five in the hopper.

I kept this up for two years. I wasn’t sure if I was motivated or just plain foolish because I could have wallpapered the entire Taj Mahal with my rejection letters. Yet I believed in myself and always had a proposal package ready to replace each rejection. I also stared at the article about John Grisham so often that the words started to fade.

After two long years, I got a call from an editor at Arco Publishing. She reviewed my proposal and liked my writing style. Although she wasn’t interested in publishing the topic I was pitching, she was in the market for a writer for topic in my field. I’m proud that 20 years later that first book is now in its 4th edition.

Since my first book for Arco, I’ve written 20 books for many of the leading publishing houses. Several have been translated into different languages. Titles include Business Writing for Dummies, Technical Writing for Dummies, Loony Laws & Silly Statutes, Strategic Business Letters & E-mail, 135 Tips for Writing Successful Business Documents, and more.

The lesson learned is this: Believe in yourself and don’t take no for an answer!
Copyright (2006) All Rights Reserved. http://www.sherylwrites.com/