3 tips for writing an irresistibly clickable subject line to a photo editor
You have the best idea for a photo story. You found a publication that is so perfectly suited for it. You’ve spent hours polishing an amazingly well-crafted pitch. You hit send with a few little jitters in your stomach but feeling really certain about the potential for a YES.
But… you did all of the things! What happened?
There’s one gigantic hurdle you have to leap before you can strike up a conversation with an editor about your pitch.
The editor has to open your email.
We live in a culture in which there’s so much information overload we don’t even notice we're overloaded anymore. Emails come spilling in so quickly that it feels impossible to ever see the bottom of an inbox.
Editors suffer this plight as much as anyone else. It is your job to make your email stand out in that inbox so they not only see it, but click on it.
Here are three keys to writing an outstanding subject line that stands out and is irresistibly clickable.
Use your best words, as they say, and no more than you need to. But it's not just about getting to the point – it's also strategic based on how we access our email.
A hefty 46 percent of emails are read on mobile devices, and there's only so much space on those wee screens. You want as much of your subject line as possible to be visible when an editor is scrolling through their emails while on the go, and you only have between 33-43 characters before that subject line is cut off.
So, to optimize your subject line readability for mobile devices, try to stick to 30 characters or less. That's about six to eight words in length (depending on the words, of course).
Can super long subject lines be very clickable? Of course! But if your long subject lines are getting ignored, it's time to try a different tack.
I know that getting a subject line down to six or eight words seems really tough, especially if your story is complex. But if you use the right words, then you will actually make the subject line more enticing by leaving details out. And this is where the second strategy comes in…
Keywords that spark curiosity or surprise
One of the most powerful drivers of action is curiosity. Use it in your subject line and earn that click (or tap) from the editor who now really wants to know more about your story idea.
Think about the keywords of your story. These are the single words that sum up the who, what, when, where, why, or how. So if your story is about wintering ducks that are devouring wolves that come to drink from ponds (I mean, it could happen…) then your keyword list could look something like:
Consider your story and write a list of the two or three keywords for each of the WWWWWH components. Things like species names, location names, behaviors, times of year, activities, consequences, or interactions can all be added to the keyword list.
Use this list to form subject lines that are punchy yet truthful, that spark curiosity or surprise without being cutsie or cliche. Your subject line can even pose a question. Just make sure you're using your best words, and focusing on sparking that drive to read more.
To visually stand out in an email inbox, consider using brackets to surround a word that an editor would find important. For example, you could write:
[Pitch] My amazing story inside
[Timely] Something cool happens only once a year
[Exclusive] This story is unfolding as I type
For the love of all that's holy, don't actually use those subject lines. You'll likely be added to spam faster before the editor can even finish rolling their eyes. But you can see how brackets can help your subject line stand out a bit better from the collection of words on an email inbox page.
And there you have it! By using these three tips and taking an extra 15-20 minutes to really focus in on your subject line, you can dramatically improve the click-through rate of your pitch emails, which is a sure-fire way to make progress on getting more YES answers from editors.
Your story is important. Make sure it doesn't get lost in the noise.