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10 Tips for Email Subject Lines

Aside from writing and publishing a new book, email marketing is often touted as the key to many authors’ success. Whether you send regular emails weekly or monthly or use list-building tactics like newsletter swaps, group promos, and reader magnets, there’s little point in spending all that time creating great content if it’s not getting opened. 

Your readers’ email inboxes are bursting at the seams with marketers vying for their attention. Learning how to write solid, enticing email subject lines that entice your readers is a skill, but these tips will help.

  1. Make the Subject Line Redundant

Email inboxes remain a personal space, so the focus of your emails shouldn’t always be about sales. It’s about playing the long game and building relationships. Show your personality, give glimpses of backstory, and make your emails entertaining enough so that your readers feel as if they know you. Then when your email pops up in their inbox, they’ll see your name and click—because they know they’re getting an entertaining email from a friend. 

Name

Pro Tip: A great place to start building this relationship is by nailing your welcome sequence with a minimum of three to five emails. Plot it out just like you would a book: Follow the hero’s journey, or go for a basic beginning, middle, and end. Don’t forget to add a call to action at the end of each email.  

  1. Give Them a Heads-Up

Many people, when faced with something new—e.g., signing up to your email—feel uncertain or distrustful, which will lead them to reject your offer. 

You can help avoid this rejection by letting them know what to look for. Let’s say you’re doing a group promo in BookFunnel and someone clicks to download your reader magnet. Telling them to look out for an email from you with a specific subject line can help them overcome doubts, hesitations, and inaction.   

  1. Be Less Forgettable

We’re so used to seeing certain words or phrases, they tend to lose their visual impact. Try the following tactics to catch your readers’ eye: 

  • Use numbers
  • Use square brackets
  • Use hashtags
  • Use emoji
  • Say it differently

Square brackets stand out, and they can be great for drawing attention to part of the subject line. For example: [WARNING] This email contains peril.

Get creative with your copywriting and use unusual words or phrases. Say it differently, and you’ll have a better chance of standing out.

  1. Less Is Often More 

With more users viewing emails on mobile devices, the amount of visible text for subject lines needs to be considered.

Devices vary in how many characters are shown in the subject line, but aiming for around thirty characters should stand you in good stead. It’s short, but this is where using the pre-header text function comes in handy. 

Pre-header, meta, or preview text, as it’s interchangeably called, is the little bit of preview text that appears after your subject line and should be around fifty characters. This offers another opportunity to stoke your reader’s interest. Each email service provider is different, so check their help pages to find out how to add yours. 

  1. Quick! Create Urgency

Creating a sense of urgency is one of the oldest tricks in the sales book for the simple reason that people hate to feel as if they’re missing out. 

Inertia and procrastination are a default setting for many, and when given the choice, they’ll always choose to put off decisions until later—unless it’s urgent and they feel they’ll be left behind. 

Pro Tip: Apply urgency in a creative yet authentic way. Using scarcity and urgency is an easy way to boost open rates, but don’t rely on them too often. Only use them when there’s a genuine call for immediate action. Otherwise, people will learn to hold back and wait until your next sale. 

  1. Evoke a Sense of Thingamy

Did you spot that subheading? Did you wonder what a “thingamy” is? It could have just said “Evoke a sense of curiosity,” but instead, this idea combines tip #3 with this tip to create an open loop. As humans, we have an innate desire for closure, so using mystery in your subject line creates an unanswered question (an open loop) in the readers’ minds—which triggers a strong urge to fill that gap. 

“SHOCKER: I can’t believe she said THIS” works as a subject line because we can’t resist not knowing who and what the person said. 

Pro Tip: Leverage curiosity in different ways by adding specificity. For example, “Before you read another book, read this” or “Before you go to bed at night, don’t do this.” Tie the action to what they regularly do to really catch their attention.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Be a Little Risque

If you’re not afraid to push the envelope, be a little more controversial. In a world where being authentic and showing our personalities is more the norm, sometimes it actually helps to use controversy to polarize your audience because so often, polarity creates popularity. 

Try something like “[genre] readers are the worst for this…” By combining a risque statement with curiosity, people won’t be able to help opening the email to find out more.

While controversy is powerful, it does depend on the audience. You need to make it relevant and have some credibility to back it up. Do make sure to answer the question in the email so they don’t feel like they were tricked into clicking.

Pro Tip: If you pose a question or make a strong statement in your email subject line, then you need to make sure that your email content answers it, or people will see your emails as clickbait, and you’ll lose credibility. 

  1. Keep It Casual, Dave

Some of the most effective email subject lines are casual and feel personal. They read like emails you might receive from a friend. Connecting with your readers on an emotional level is one of the best ways to engage with them. 

According to Klaviyo (https://klaviyo.com), a business marketing organization, addressing subscribers by their first names in the subject line can boost open rates 60 percent of the time. Another method to create emotional resonance in your subject lines is to speak to your reader’s hopes, fantasies, and dreams through future pacing. In other words, help your audience visualize what could be possible in the near future in just a few words.

For example:

  • Unleash your inner James Bond
  • Imagine yourself one year from today, Alex…
  • Erika, wanna write emails that actually get opened?
  1. Here’s Tip Number Nine: Keep It Practical

This is a practical subject line. Just tell them exactly what’s in the email: “Download your ebook here,” “7 reasons to unsubscribe from …,” “Your ARC copy link is enclosed.” The promise is clear, and they know what they’re getting when they open. This type of subject line is great if you’re sending them a reader magnet or freebie. Just cut to the chase, and in that way, you build credibility and trust—which are essential to a good reader experience.  

Pro Tip: Some words are red flags for spam filters, such as “free,” “discount,” “100% off,” and “apply now.” Email service provider Active Campaign has a handy article about how to stay out of spam filters (https://activecampaign.com/blog/spam-words). 

  1. Have a Competition—with Yourself 

You won’t be able to cram all these tips in one subject line, so come up with some variations for each campaign and go with the one that gives you the strongest emotional reaction. Then pick a runner-up and A/B split test—if it’s within your email service provider package. If not, run with the first subject line to your whole list and use the second subject line to resend the email to the people who didn’t open the first one. 

The goal is to work out the best types of subject line for the type of message you’re sending and which ones resonate with your audience. Adopt a curiosity mindset rather than viewing it as another task that takes you away from writing because it’ll pay off in the long-term—like when you have a new release or you’re pushing a promotion.

Pro Tip: Remember, it’s not the job of the email to do the actual selling. The main job of your email is to build a relationship and get people to move further down the buyer’s funnel toward the point of sale. 

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