Subject Line Secrets:Tips on Getting Your Emails Opened

Josie Leavitt - August 19, 2011

As I sat in the back office, trying to catch up with recent email, I noticed a pattern: I tended to hit the Delete key (message unread) when a subject header from a publishing house read simply, “August Newsletter,” or “News from Frazzmatazz Publishing.” But headers with a hook — some specific book or author or event or even a broad theme (“Frazzmatazz’s Back-to-School Blitz”) — got my attention.
I think we’re all so overloaded by email that it’s no longer enough to count on our business’s reputations to catch a reader’s interest. If you send out an email with the same subject header every month, ‘News from,” we stop attending to it.  Some days I get between 50 and 100 emails. That’s a lot of competition for my attention. A guaranteed way for me to bypass an email is when the subject says, “Do not Delete”, especially when that pops up monthly. The subject line is important. It’s a lot like the set-up to a joke. It should give me a good sense of what the email is about and tell me enough that I want to know more. Specificity and urgency are what’s missing from most subject lines.
What is your news? Just because it’s August doesn’t mean I necessarily care about your publishing house news.  But if you’ve got an amazing new book out by an author I’m likely to sell, that’s news. “New book by so-so is available now,” will catch my eye. Of course if I’m not familiar with the author, I might skip the email at first and then get back to it, but if I know the author, I will open and read the email.
Is a backlist deal about to expire? That’s news that will get me to open the email. Tell me something I care about it. “Five books now available for next day shipping,” while it’s not the most exciting topic in the world, does tell me something important. And if this is from a publisher I work with, this might be important to me.
So, don’t take the easy way out. Take an extra moment or two and think about your subject line is going to look in an inbox. It has to say something real; just being a newsletter is not enough. Is there a coupon with the newsletter, an extra discount, free shipping? Tell me more and I’ll open it.

2 thoughts on “Subject Line Secrets:Tips on Getting Your Emails Opened

  1. Donna Marie Merritt

    Thanks for the tips! Since my publisher is small, I do most of my own promoting and I’ve sent out emails with the subject line “New Poetry Book from Donna Marie Merritt.” I don’t know of a single bookstore that has bought my book based on those emails (and I sent them to every indie in the country I could find…). You mentioned that you might not open something like that (at least not right away) if you don’t know the author. Any advice for lesser-knowns like me?

  2. Christine Zambrano

    Excellent points on the wordsmithery of great email subject lines. I remember when one media’s subject lines so consistently grabbed my attention that I analyzed their appeal, then reached out to the editor to share her process. Every email subject line was crafted with much thought and tiers of writers and editors.


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