The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

Why email subject lines are so important

The other day I received a message from someone whose subject line was “From Jane Doe.”  (No, not actually “Jane Doe,” but you get my point.)

First of all, a subject line with your name is redundant since your email alias already identifies you and if it doesn’t, it should — unless you’re in junior high.  Second, a subject line with your name is meaningless if you don’t know Jane Doe or recognize the name (and in this case, I didn’t).  So even just opening that message plummeted to the very bottom of my To Do list, to be read possibly some time before never and after going through the 7,000 stories in my RSS reader.  (And when I did open the message, there was no email signature — natch.)

Most people do use an email subject line for messages (although my system once malfunctioned and sent out a slew of messages without — the horror!) but it is important to use a subject line that is:

1) descriptive

2) specific

3) accurate

Skip subject lines with your name or with the first few words of a message (pointless — get to the meat of the message).  Now that so many of us are swamped with electronic communications, people have taken to strategically ignoring their email for an hour or two (or three) so they can get work done.  I specify “strategically” ignore because these folks typically respond to urgent messages — if they are marked as such.

It’s also important when to know to change the subject line on an email exchange and when to keep it the same.  For example, if the content of an exchange drastically changes, consider changing (or at least modifying) the subject line so it continues to accurately describe the content of a message (and so that it reflects the message’s new / current content).  Years ago, I remember having a conversation with one book publicist friend who successfully recycled email pitches — with different (and up-to-date) subject lines.

On the other hand, sometimes you shouldn’t tinker with the subject line of a message because people sometimes organize their email inboxes by subject line — particularly if the person is anticipating a lot of replies (like event RSVPs, for example) — or run searches for certain topics / key words.

An appropriate email subject line is like a firm hand shake and good eye contact.  And you know what they say about first impressions.


February 2, 2009 - Posted by | Email |


  1. I just looked in a folder from one of our lead titles from a few seasons ago and sorted by sender and subject line and I have over 150 emails from the author where the subject line is the title of the book. Helpful!

    Comment by John Mark | February 2, 2009 | Reply

  2. Good points. Thanks for sharing the great tips. My publisher asks that we put the title of our books along with the release date in the subject line. Makes good sense.

    On lists, I wish more people would change the subject line when their comment no longer applies to the original topic.

    Comment by Maryann Miller | February 2, 2009 | Reply

  3. Send by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe is a great reference for topics like this post:

    Comment by Katie Freeman | February 2, 2009 | Reply

  4. I was talking about this very topic with my magazine writing students last week. We went over what to put in a subject line to an editor, a prospective interviewee, etc. Thanks!

    Comment by Delia | February 2, 2009 | Reply

  5. Yen, how should you proceed when you have replied to an e-mail and thought that you might get a response but you have not? Should you write a follow up e-mail?

    Comment by vick mickunas | February 2, 2009 | Reply

  6. The other thing I would recommend when pitching is putting the name of the producer/editor/whatever in the subject line so that he or she knows it’s not a mass email but specifically addressed to them

    Comment by Cynthia | February 6, 2009 | Reply

  7. […] subject line is the first impression of your message. It’s important to understand that it can be the one […]

    Pingback by Approach to Subject Line Testing | July 13, 2011 | Reply

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