Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Subject Line Is Your Pitch

When you speak to someone about your book, especially a savvy member of the news media, you have  about 15 seconds to win them over.  Your ability to be concise and economical in your word count will be just as important as the appeal of what you have to say.  If they don’t hear something that interests them quickly you will have lost them.

The same holds true with e-mail.

Before a journalist opens an e-mail your e-mail must do two things:  pass a spam filter and its subject line must be interesting enough for the recipient to continue reading the rest.

What makes for a great subject line?

<1. Keep it short and to the point.  If the subject line is not clear as to what the recipient should expect to read, he or she will send it to the trash.

<2. If it’s in all caps and shouting at the journalist, it too, will likely get deleted.

<3. The subject line should reference that you have a guest or story idea.

<4. Something general could work if it’s timely.  For instance, let’s say the presidential debate just happened and you have a book on tax policy.   You can use a subject line like this:  “Tax Expert Author Disputes Romney Numbers.”  You didn’t have to name the author –unless he’s well known, you didn’t mention the book title – unless it’s a bestseller, and you didn’t reference which Romney numbers are in dispute.  Save the details for the email –and even then -- don’t go on and on.

 5. Throw in words like “new” or “future” or “trend” –the media likes to feel they are treated something fresh or insightful.

<6. Reference other media – if it’s big. For instance, maybe you were just featured in Glamour magazine.  Use that to leverage more media exposure, such as to radio or TV producers.  Try this:  “What this author didn’t tell Glamour.”  It invites mystery.  Or, how about, “Glamour Magazine Author Reveals 6 Relationship Secrets.”

<7. Highlight a point of view: “Author Says Parents Are Failing with Homework” or “Author Reveals Why Drugs Should be Legalized.”

<8. Issue a warning; “Author Warns of the Flu Epidemic” or “Author Calculates Oil Gone by 2046.”

<9. Do not curse or use obscenities, especially if it’s the first thing a journalist sees.

<10. Personalize it.  Keep in mind what you know of the show, blog or publication when you write the subject line.  For instance, if it’s a pitch related to comedy that’s going to The View, appeal to Whoopi Goldberg as a comic.  Try:  “Guaranteed to Make Whoopi Laugh.”

<11. Stay away from religion, politics, and sex unless that is what your book is about.

<12. Be cautious on making statements on values – the journalist may not share your values.

<13. Don’t offer something in the subject line that you can’t back up in your email.  If the subject line is too outrageous or unbelievable it will be discarded.

<14. If the email is time-sensitive, say so.  For instance, if the email is about an event in the journalist’s city then say something like “Author to Speak About Obesity at Oct. 25 Event.”

<15. Consider using a question as your subject line, provided it invites the recipient to read on.  “Author Asks:  Should Congress Act to Protect Animals?”  or “New Book Asks:  Is It Time to Raise Taxes?”

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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