10 Tips For Writing Hooky-As-Heck Subject Lines

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Please note: This transcript is AI-generated.

[00:00:00] Okay. So what we’re doing — my brand is turning into 10 tips that’s actually 12 tips cause I can’t ever stop talking. So that’s what we’re going to do today. 12 tips for writing hooky as heck subject lines that will get your emails opened and read. Um, the art of the subject line is super, super important. Um, Your subject line correlates really to the headline on a news piece or, um, any kind of article like that.

[00:00:31] Uh, the log line in a piece of advertising that hero a line sort of piece of content at the top of a website, basically, uh, the advertising maximum is once you’ve written your subject line, you have spent 80 cents of your, of your dollar subject lines are crazy, crazy important. Um, according to, uh, opt-in monster 47% of email recipients open their emails just based on the subject line, um, The victory condition of course, is to have a list of such engaged kind of super-fan people that your subject line almost becomes irrelevant because they open based on your name.

[00:01:13] And I certainly do have some emails that I get that it really would not matter what was in the subject line, because I’m going to open that. Cause that’s from someone that I really want to read an email from, but we build to that. So you need to start from a place of best practices. So let’s talk about what those best practices are.

[00:01:32] Okay, tip number one, keep it short. Um, a lot of people read on their phones, an astonishing number, actually, here’s the place where I didn’t put a stat in, uh, it’s well, over 50% of people check their emails on their phones every day. Um, and their phone screens of course are very small. Uh, you’re going to want to keep it to seven to 10 words, tops fewer than 60 characters.

[00:01:55] 40 is better because, uh, with the small phone screen, of course the, um, subject lines will get truncated. So you will definitely want to test it on your own phone. Always be sending yourself, test emails anyway, and make sure that the entirety or at least the most important part of your subject line is showing.

[00:02:15] If it by necessity has to be a little longer, for some reason, make sure your front-load the most important parts and the parts that are most likely to make them open. However, You’d think, well, I’ll just make it really short and pithy, but just one word or even a couple of words is actually not very effective.

[00:02:31] Um, that tends to make open rates go down. Um, just maybe doesn’t have enough of the interest factor to make people open or just feels too Curt to them. I don’t know. It’s hard to know why people do what they do, but open rates actually go down quite a bit. If you, um, drop that subject line down to just one or two words.

[00:02:49] So probably best not to do that. Well while you’re keeping it short.

[00:02:55] You’re gonna want to do a what’s called opening loops. You want to open loops in your subject lines. This means that you pose a question or start a sort of an interesting sentence and it’s going to be finished inside something like that.

[00:03:08] You’re going to use the word this as a placeholder for something that is actually important in the body of the email itself. The example I like to use here is I’m a client of mine who had a subject line that said his knives out the best movie of, I can’t even remember what movie, what year it came out.

[00:03:26] 2020. Um, And I said, oh, take the, take the title out and say, is this the best movie of 2020? Because somebody sees the subject line that names, the movie and they think, yeah, or no, and they move on. But if you didn’t name the movie, they’re going to open that. And chances are once they’ve committed to opening it and they see what it is that you’ve said, it’s not that hard to hit reply and type out a quick, a quick answer.

[00:03:50] I agree with you or no it’s crummy or whatever. Um, you want to say yes to cliffhangers. You want things that make people. I want to open things that leave them with a sense of anticipation things that you could call clickbait, except clickbait is a little bit different in that clickbait gets you to open or click on something and then doesn’t fulfill the promise that you made.

[00:04:14] So that’s the important piece that you have to remember if you’re opening a loop in that subject line, you’ve got to close the loop inside of the email. Don’t ask a question that you don’t answer. Don’t promise something that you can’t deliver. Just make sure that whatever it was that hooked them in the subject line, you satisfy in the actual body of the email, but open loops are going to be your most powerful, um, tool probably in getting people to open because you just always want that, um, curiosity.

[00:04:46] Innuendo. Now I know you guys are a lot of you are children’s authors. So this particular slide doesn’t always pertain to you, but it’s also important to remember the innuendo does not have to mean something, especially adult, certainly nothing, you know, sexual. Um, one thing I remember from when I was a kid and then, uh, sort of the juxtaposition of being an adult and a parent is realizing how many of the television shows that I watched, even cartoons had a bunch of humor, some of it, you know, adult, but some of it just, you know, grown up that went right over my head, um, that appealed to my parents and made my parents laugh.

[00:05:28] And I didn’t even really know why. And now that I’m a grownup, I can see why those things were funny. If you’re in a situation where you’re not writing for children, you can definitely be a little saucy, but you don’t want to be too over. And you always want to keep your audience in mind. So, um, if you’re writing for an audience that has, you know, a particular level of understanding of whatever topic it is that you’re, that you’re going to be kind of winking and nodding at.

[00:05:54] You just want to make sure that you always keep that appropriate in my other life, where I talk to romance authors a lot, I tell them, you know, if you write sweet romance that wink, wink, nudge, nudge might just be about a first kiss because that’s kind of what that romance is, is probably building to figure out what it is that will make your, your subscriber feel like you’re making a sly little joke with them.

[00:06:17] And go ahead and let that, let that lie assume that they know how to interpret that you don’t have to overexplain. Nothing’s worse than overexplaining a joke.

[00:06:27] All right. Number four, micro copy. In case you don’t know what microcopy is, microcopy is basically just the little tiny bits of copy that you will see in advertising on web pages, things that are set off a little bit to the side, they are often literally smaller.

[00:06:44] I’ve heard them called eyebrow copy. So you’re reading down a sales page or reading an article. And there’s just a little aside and it maybe makes you laugh a little bit. They’re often kind of funny in our case, the place that you want to use, your microcopy is in the preview or pre header, text of your emails.

[00:07:02] So depending on your email software, there will be a place where you can put this little line of, um, I wish I had thought to include a graphic of this, a little line of text that shows up right underneath or right next to your subject line. So I know that you’ve seen them, particularly if you’re using like Gmail or outlook, anything.

[00:07:22] Preview pane. Um, so your subject line says one thing, and then your microcopy might, um, contrast that it might be something that’s just kind of surprising in juxtaposition with that. Um, going back to the innuendo one, um, one of the more popular ones that I saw a romance writer use, um, the first the subject line was, uh, do you like to watch?

[00:07:46] And it was about a video, not about, you know, something. Um, and then the microcopy said like, get your mind out of the gutter or something silly like that. Um, so you’re just kind of like playing these two things off against each other where you can, you want to let your personality show, it’s a great place to just put some something exactly the way that you would say it right out of your mouth.

[00:08:07] You can try to be funny if you’re, if you’re not a funny person, at least try to be a little witty. Um, it’s never, never works very well to force the funny, but you just want to surprise and delight people. They read a subject line and then this tiny little aside shows up from you and they go. Um, and it’ll make them more likely to open.

[00:08:26] Oh, that was clever. I think clever is probably the word I should use there actually. Um, and people like cleverness they’re attracted to it. They’re interested in it. And the, the surprise and the delight of that is going to push them through to want to open the email and read

[00:08:39] it. You want to use what are called trigger words in your subject lines, um, words that are well, as you can see, kind of over the top best the greatest.

[00:08:51] This is unbelievable. This is the most, I’m the happiest. This is the newest thing. This is my favorite thing. Um, you want to be sincere about that? You don’t want to just always be hyperbolic about every single thing that you ever write to them about. Um, but the example I give most often for this is, uh, in my own.

[00:09:10] Um, novel newsletter. I want sent them an email and the subject line said, I want to be rainbow rural when I grow up. Um, which is not particularly a trigger word, but it’s that like sense of like, oh my God, this is she’s so amazing. This is my favorite, whatever. And in it, I talked about a book of hers that I had noticed was on sale and it is one of my favorite books of all time.

[00:09:32] So, um, this sort of discussion of like, here’s this amazing thing it is. Got a tremendous response and that subject line that signaled to them, like whereabouts to talk about something I think is amazing. Got a really, really good open rate too, but you do really need to be sincere. Again, you do not want to be going with clickbait, do not tell them something is the best or the greatest or your favorite, and then send them an email about something that is actually kind of lukewarm.

[00:09:57] That’s not gonna, that’s not gonna fly. Um, but you want to be basically inviting them to enjoy things with you. So this is a thing that I think is the greatest, or that is my new favorite or that, um, I’m super happy about how my release is going or, um, you know, whatever, whatever I keep saying, hyperbolic, which is annoying the crap out of me, but whatever sort of hyperbolic statement you can get going, that is in fact genuine.

[00:10:26] We’ll get them to open. It also gets them to respond to you because people respond to that kind of positivity, where I’m actually going to throw at something negative in a second. But uh, people respond to that kind of positivity when you’re like, man, I love this. What do you love? They want to tell you what their favorite is.

[00:10:43] This is my favorite Nora Roberts book. What’s your favorite nor Robert’s book. This is my favorite picture book. When I was a kid. What was your favorite picture book when you were a kid? Um, and people will get really involved with those emails.

[00:10:57] So, and now we get negative, uh, number six, pick a fight. Um, people like it when you kind of stake your claim, when you kind of say, this is the hill that I will die on, but the important thing to remember, um, and I feel like this was probably always true, but guys we’ve had, uh, we’ve had, we’ve had a couple of years, right?

[00:11:18] Um, is that everybody is very upset all the time, these days. And one thing that I find people really, really love is when you stake your claim or put your stake in the ground over something, that’s actually not all that important because people love to get riled up about things that are actually fairly low stakes.

[00:11:39] So things that I’m, that I’m seeing. And actually you’re probably seeing too, if you’re on social media, um, you will get an incredible amount of engagement from questions. You know, do you prefer the edge or the center of the lasagna also works for brownies by the way, um, you get a ton of engagement from who’s the best golden girl.

[00:11:59] That’s my old standard that I haul out all the time when I’m talking to authors, um, you get just an, the, the more low stakes something is, but that it clearly has sort of a polarizing way that you can pick that the golden girls is a great example because they’re all like super different personality archetypes, right?

[00:12:21] So when somebody says, Dorothy, they’re not like, oh, I kind of like, Dorothy, like, Dorothy’s the best one. I’ll fight you. You can’t possibly change my mind. Um, and people really love that. So I will often just pick a fight. I’ll be like, here are 10 things I hate about, you know, I don’t know, romantic comedies, or here’s a.

[00:12:40] Uh, you know, best friends, dad, or whatever gross, um, whose time has just passed. I’m sick of seeing it in my genre. You might want to do a nitpick about something in your industry or a process it’s so tedious getting proofs back it’s. So, um, it takes so long to get things uploaded to the various retailers or, um, you know, I, I wish that it didn’t take so long for this or that or the other thing to happen.

[00:13:07] Um, those kinds of things, when you just sort of share something with somebody that they can get like a little riled up about, but it’s all gonna be fine. So I definitely do not mean here, the taboos, religion, politics, all of that stuff, unless that’s your brand, in which case, obviously, you know your audience and you should share whatever you’re going to share.

[00:13:26] But mostly I just let them argue about like super low stakes things and they love it. They absolutely love it. They’re in my, you know, my replies they’re in my inbox. They’re over on social media. Stay and the toilet paper goes over, not under what are you a serial killer. It’s truly hilarious.

[00:13:46] Number seven free stuff. I don’t, I don’t probably need to tell you too much more about this. Um, basically there’s a long tradition, particularly of indie authors, um, giving away, you know, free books, free swag, um, adjunct things like, uh, you know, worksheets, um, crosswords maps. If you write, you know, fantasy style books, uh, companion things, book, club questions.

[00:14:09] There’s I mean, I could, I literally could be here all day. I just wrote a book on reader magnets. So, um, if you can come up with something. That there’s this sort of sense. A lot of times that you have to give away one of your books. And I really do want to, to encourage you to think of something different than that, you do not want to be in a position of devaluing your books.

[00:14:33] You should certainly give your books in a charitable sense. That’s not what I mean, but, um, we do have kind of a problem in the indie community, in my opinion, which I think they alive will die on, I guess. So I’m picking a fight, um, that too much free stuff is kind of devaluing. Um, the work people are putting into their books, but I do love to give away something that is collateral to a book or a series or, you know, a world.

[00:14:57] Um, this will be, I think, especially good for those of you who are writing for children. You have a little bit of a disconnect and that makes your newsletter situation just a little, I won’t say harder, but just a little trickier. Um, because the person that you are sending the person to whom you are sending an email is not the person, ultimately who is the target reader of the book.

[00:15:23] Right? So you’re trying at once to speak to the parent or guardian or adult, whoever that is, um, the purchaser of the books and the person who’s receiving your emails and also appeal through them, to the kids that they’re reading these books to, or buying these books for. Um, and that, like I said, can be a little bit tricky, but if you can include, you know, if you write books that have, um, a historical bent to them, so like they take place throughout history, you’re writing about like figures in, in American history and you can include some kind of puzzle or some kind of, um, page on your website that has extra resources that they can take.

[00:16:06] They can go with the kids and read some more information about it. Just anything that will get them sort of working with the kiddos that they’re, that they’re buying the books for, helps a lot. It makes your emails something that they think about and do together. And that’s, it’s just super powerful in terms of making your emails, something that they want to read.

[00:16:29] So free stuff. And you got a signal that in the subject lines. So the problem there is that free is one of those words that can get you caught, like in a spam filter or a promotions filter. Um, so a lot of times I will say, I’ve got something cool for you, or, you know, just something that indicates, Hey, there’s something in here.

[00:16:50] And I’ll say for you, which implies the giving, right? Not just like something cool to tell you, I try to dance around that word as much as I can, but I also want to encourage you if something is free, sometimes you just have to say free. You’ve heard I’m sure that too many links isn’t good. But if you have to link to things, you have to link to things.

[00:17:09] If you want to show them a cover or an illustration, don’t worry too much about pictures. The only good news about the advances in, um, AI sort of controlling email and inboxes, because a lot of it is really bad news is that they do actually seem to be learning what real engagement looks like and concerning themselves.

[00:17:32] I say themselves like they’re people, the filters seem to concern themselves less with hunting down every little red flag, possible spam word, and actually just looking instead at the way, people in aggregate interact with your emails. So the good news is the, the, um, open rates become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

[00:17:52] If you can just start getting them up. So, uh, don’t worry too much about saying free, but I do dance around it where I can.

[00:18:00] Number eight, personalize your subject lines. This is another one that’s going to be a little bit tricky because of course you’re going to be speaking directly to the parent, but they’re, they’re not exactly your audience, but they are the purchasers.

[00:18:15] 26% more open. That’s what you, what in general, I should say people see when they personalize a subject line. So whatever email marketing service you are using, you know, mailer like convert kit, active campaign, whatever, um, they will have a way for you to insert a placeholder for, um, that. What is it called?

[00:18:37] A merge tag? My goodness. They’ll have a way for you to insert a merge tag, which will then when the email goes out, pull the first name from the database for each person who you have an email address for. If you’re not asking for first name or if you’re making it optional, it can also fill it in with a placeholder.

[00:18:57] So I’m over there at Newsletter Ninja, right? So if somebody didn’t give me their first name, which I think pretty much everyone does, um, it just substitutes the word ninja. So somebody whose name I have it says, Hey, Blaine, blah, blah, blah. Here’s the email. But if I did not have Lane’s name, it would say, Hey ninja.

[00:19:15] And that’s like, that’s my brand. That’s how that works out. So, um, I know people who say, Hey reader, um, Hey loves, Hey friends, Hey, whatever. Um, but you’re going to want to personalize for those people whose names you do have because the name catches their eye and it just psychologically makes people more likely to open.

[00:19:34] There is also a much higher click rate, which of course is just math because you’re getting a lot more open. So there’s that, but also it’s higher, you know, it’s, it’s higher than just the percentage increase in the open rates. So it seems to me that there is also some sort of benefit to that kind of personalization makes them more open to clicking on the thing.

[00:19:58] When they open up the email, they just feel like, oh, someone sent me an email as opposed to, oh, I got a, you know, a mass marketing email. Um, and in terms of purchases, which is not always our goal with any particular newsletter campaign, but certainly when we have releases, we’re excited about purchases. Um, generally speaking, you’ll see, six times the transaction rates, the actual like buy through on the other end of that click, um, will be 6%, six times higher than in emails that have not been personalized.

[00:20:29] So that is, uh, very exciting news. Um, So do that. If at all possible, there we go.

[00:20:39] Number nine, ask for a favor. So that can be, um, I could, uh, use a review or, um, could you come over here and look at this thing? Can you answer this poll? Can you, whatever, just ask them to do something for you. It’s important to make it very easy, but people like to help.

[00:20:59] They really do like to help. So if you say to them, I’m trying to decide between a and B and all they have to do is click a link right there in the email, in front of them. That is so easy for them to do, and they are super, super likely to go ahead and follow through. That’s good on a couple of different levels.

[00:21:16] It gives them a certain level of buy-in with interacting with your emails. And that is not to be sneezed that for sure. Um, it also technologically they’ve just clicked something and that we were just talking about the AI, um, that tells the algorithms, the little robots, the, what I call them, the gremlins.

[00:21:35] A lot of times the little gremlins that are running Gmail or Hotmail or whatever. It tells them that people interact with your emails. They open them, they look at them and they click on the stuff inside. That is the trifecta. You want to get that as much as you possibly can from people. Um, and you can then offer them something in return.

[00:21:55] So the next time you send out a campaign, so many of you answered the question in my poll. I’m super grateful. Here’s a little something, something for you that I made for you. Um, because I was so happy to see the results. Um, then you get a little quid pro quo Boeing. They realized that if they do something for you, you do something for them.

[00:22:12] And that’s always nice. Um, and it’s just overall just a great, a great situation to be in. You don’t want to overuse this, obviously you don’t want to constantly be asking people to do stuff for you. Um, but it really does. It really does help. Um, and I’m always very straightforward about it. If something like that happens in, um, In the course of sending a campaign, I’ll say, you know, I could use your help.

[00:22:35] I generally don’t say what the help is. Uh, going back to that, that idea of using this or obfuscating somehow what it is that you’re asking for. Um, so I don’t generally say I need help with reviews, but I will say I could use your help or I need a hand, or can you do me a favor and then tell them what that favor is on the inside.

[00:22:55] Because of course not having the exact answer right there in the subject line is one of those open loop things that makes them want to check it out.

[00:23:04] So there’s that number 10 split test. This is super, super important because like literally everything I’ve told you might not work for your people, which stinks.

[00:23:18] Um, but the good news is if you discover that, then you do the other thing and you’re off and running with your particular list and the things that your particular list wants and enjoys. Um, Generally speaking people who do split testing over time and record that data and you have to record it. You’re not going to remember if you’re it’s me.

[00:23:40] I’m talking to me. I always think I’m going to remember. I ran a split test and it’s going to have whatever. And from now on, I’ll keep that in mind when I send my next campaign. And then I forget, I forget what the result was last time, because of course I do so record the data, but among brands that split test, subject lines, record the data, do the retesting and continue to implement.

[00:24:03] You know, they tend to like, um, subject lines that are structured in this way. Our people don’t open. If we use this, you know, word or they don’t open. If we do this thing. Anyway, among brands that like keep their eye on that and try to optimize that. Click through rates, go up by as much as 25%. And that, again, nothing to sneeze that you’re going to want to retest it often because your subscribers come and go.

[00:24:33] Um, that is John rhe dependent. Of course. Um, if you’re writing in a, an adult genre like romance, or I don’t know, uh, police procedurals or thrillers or whatever, um, your audience probably is going to stick with you for a very long time. They liked the sort of books that you write and they are of a certain age.

[00:24:50] They’re not like going anywhere. Um, but if you’re writing for an audience that has churn and that’s basically going to mean anybody under the age of like 18, um, people are coming into your sort of age range and then they age out and things change. People, change, trends, change. So you’re gonna want to retest.

[00:25:11] A couple of times a year, at least, just to make sure that the choices you made from the old data about what subject lines were most effective are still effective in this new kind of era of people. Um, I think of it like high school, right? So if you’re a principal, every four years, you got a whole fresh new crop of people coming in.

[00:25:31] Um, so just keep that in mind that you’re, you’re going to have to, you know, keep, keep checking to make sure that you do actually know what your audience wants and get ready to be wrong because I’m not kidding. I don’t think I have ever correctly guessed which subject line would win a split test. When I have sent out emails to my list, I’m genuinely not kidding at all.

[00:25:55] I don’t think I have ever guessed correctly. So guessing is not the right way to go and get ready to be surprised because you’ll think it will be, it will be one thing. And then it turns out it will be a totally other thing, which is fantastic.

[00:26:11] All right. Number 11, we’re into the bonus round now, emojis.

[00:26:16] So I don’t know if you guys like emojis. I thought they were very stupid a few years ago and now I speak almost entirely in emoji. Sometimes it happens emojis in the subject line. Generally speaking increase open rates. But if you look at this percentage, you’ll see 56% of brands see open rates increase with emojis.

[00:26:37] I mean the 44% don’t if I just did that math on the fly correctly. Uh, so that means this is one you’re going to have to test for sure. Your people might not like it. Then again, they might, it’s a really hard to tell until you actually try it out. I have a feeling. It is also obviously dependent on you matching them to your brand, to the themes of your books, to your genres, to whatever holidays are going on.

[00:26:59] All of that kind of thing. Um, you’re not going to send robots to your romance list. You’re not going to send. Any plans to your military science fiction list. Like obviously there’s emojis that are good and emojis that are not based on who it is that you write to. So this is one you’ll have to test, stick with your brand, but there’s some that are just tailored me.

[00:27:20] Why aren’t you using robots? If you write science fiction, why aren’t you using, I don’t know, zombies, if you write horror, there’s a, there’s an emoji for just about everything.

[00:27:29] All that said that brings us to number 12. The best emoji is the poop emoji. It increases open rates more than any of them. Um, emoji does buy like five extra percentage points, um, that people just love the poop emoji you guys.

[00:27:48] I don’t know what to tell you. Uh, I’m going to say use it judiciously. I’m pretty sure I’d never sent it to my romance list. I don’t think they’re interested. Um, I would send it in an appropriate subject line that seemed to lend itself to the poop emoji. I would send it to my newsletters people for sure.

[00:28:05] My Newsletter Ninja people, but you’re going to want to use that judiciously. Like I said, there are others though that do very well poop emoji. Isn’t gonna work out for you or you’re not an infant and don’t find poop. Emojis. Funny. Other high scores are the lips. You know, there’s just like a little lip print.

[00:28:22] People love that the gift box probably makes them think they’re going to get something cool. Not a bad idea to include that in your subject line, when you say I’ve got something cool for you gift box, like people can put that together. Um, champagne bottle or flutes, anything celebratory, really the, um, there’s like a, I don’t know, like a noise maker maybe.

[00:28:40] And there’s some confetti and there’s like, there’s all kinds of just little like yay ones. People love the, those, the celebratory ones. The spider does very well. People like a spider people like the little fire emoji, um, and anything that’s holiday specific. So, um, around Valentine’s day, you’ve got your hearts and whatever.

[00:28:58] And then, you know, around Halloween, there are some there’s like witches and zombies and spiders again are, are pretty big event. Um, new year’s obviously the champagne and so forth. If you include ones that are holiday specific, they are generally very well-received and they will boost open rates, perhaps not as well as the poop emoji might have.

[00:29:18] But I also feel like that’s one of those things that is very dependent on the listing question. So use your best judgment on that one.