A good subject line’s importance is like a first impression when meeting someone new. It’s the first thing journalists read before deciding whether or not they want to open your email. So what are some ways to make sure a journalist notices your subject line and you secure that media hit?
One thing that people might overlook is their email sender line or name. But to some journalists, this is more important than the subject line, as it’s the first thing they see before even noticing the subject. Make sure your sender line is professional, that it displays your name clearly without any additional text or emojis from other connected online accounts.
Additionally, journalists are more likely to open emails from names they recognize. Build those relationships on social media by following journalists who cover your field and interacting with their content. Consider liking, commenting on, and re-sharing their articles. But again, first make sure your social media handles clearly display your name and match your email name closely enough to create that recognition.
Reign in Your Creativity
“Be creative” is pretty common advice, especially for any form of writing, but in emails, it can get out of hand. Everyone has probably read an email or text at some point and needed to analyze whether the sender was joking or upset or angry. Subject lines are no different.
Save your creativity for journalists you have a relationship with or who you know for certain will appreciate your joke or clever turn of phrase. Don’t use empty teasers, quick questions, and puns, especially if you’re only using them because they’re clever (but unrelated to the pitch). Instead, focus your creativity on writing a subject line which could easily read like a headline the journalist would write.
Length and Style
Just like your pitch, subject lines should be short and to the point. An ideal, successful length is typically 6-8 words, but subject lines as long as 10-15 words have been successful, too. If it helps you to focus the idea of the subject in such a short phrase, consider using colons and brackets at the start to announce the type of pitch you’re sending. For example, “Seeking Book Review: New Memoir from Mental Health Professional” or “[Interview Opportunity] Prostate Cancer Survivor Speaking out for Awareness Month”.
Be careful not to use click-bait material in those colons and brackets. Avoid phrases such as “This just in”, “Don’t miss out,” and “Did you miss this?” and never start a pitch with “Re:” or “Follow Up” if it’s the first time you’re reaching out. Not only will your email be flagged as spam, if it does reach a journalist, it may come off passive-aggressive. Remember, you are offering them content; they aren’t obligated to respond.
Beyond the Subject Line
In the last few years, many email services have updated their desktop display to include the opening lines of the email in the inbox list, whatever fits after the subject line that is. Another popular option is a side panel view of the inbox list and a selected email. This takes a small amount of pressure off your subject line and places it on the opening line of the email instead.
Consider this an opportunity to still use that amazing creative idea you had but which doesn’t work for the subject line. A great way to use this additional space is to genuinely mention recent articles the journalist has written that you read and appreciated. You can also compare yourself to a recent guest to show your value and relevance, if you’re pitching a podcast or radio show.
The most important thing to remember when writing your subject line is to be true to your pitch. Don’t oversell or over-promise yourself or your book with an outstandingly creative hook that the pitch can’t live up to. More often than not, simple and direct is best.
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