Using the Subject Line To Make Your Pitch Stand Out

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The hook, the attention grabber, the interest-piquing words of my pitches need to be apparent from the get-go. That means they are in the subject line of my pitch email. 

With a good attention grabber, it’s more likely my email (out of the hundreds an editor receives each day) will be opened and not deleted.

The perfect example is a response I recently received from an editor:

He said, “You know Bel, I generally never read these emails because I get 87 a day and most of the time, they are worthless. For some reason I clicked on yours and didn’t automatically delete it.”

Why do you think that is? Because mine stood out. My subject line stopped the dreaded deletion from happening—the worst thing that can happen to a pitch.

And not only that, the standout subject line landed me double the payday when the editor commissioned two articles instead of one.

Do you want to know what the subject line was? 

My pitch to a beekeeping magazine simply read—Article proposal: Mayan Jungle Honey and Mexico’s Oldest Bees.

That laid out the story in just seven words. Not only was it very clear what the article would be about, but also I knew as a bee lover the title included two topics that would pique the editor’s interest: Mayan jungle honey and Mexico’s oldest bees.

Add those two topics together and you get a double hit that ensured my pitch would be opened while the other 86 were deleted.

It was so effective the editor replied within 10 minutes. No, I’m not kidding. Almost as soon as I hit send, he opened it, read it, and got straight back to me with a commission for two articles. 

Here’s another recent example:

Article pitch: Forget Aladdin: Antigua’s Magic Carpets Are Better.

Now tell me that doesn’t pique your interest. When reading those words, you automatically think “What magic carpet?”, and your curiosity goes up a notch.

The editor loved it and even made it a featured article. That means I’m also in the running for some prize money.

You can see how just a few carefully crafted words can end in success. Editors love clear, concise subject lines with pitches. They hate wasting time.

You need to include two things in your pitch: where and what it is about. It’s that simple. If you include that information, your open chances skyrocket.

I remember being told at a GEP workshop by Kyle Wagner, former travel editor of the Denver Post, “Don’t try to be funny or clever” when sending in an article pitch and it has always stuck with me. A straightforward, concise subject line outlining exactly what the article is about is the way to go.

That said, take a moment to make every word count. Both of those pitches were only seven words, but each word was chosen for maximum impact. 

It has taken me over a year to get the hang of a good subject line. I look back at some of the pitches I’ve sent and think “Geez, no wonder I never heard back.”

They were bland. Boring. Uninteresting. So much so that I am going to go back and re-pitch some of these ideas with a great subject line to see if I can get that very busy editor to stop scrolling and click open my email. 

I think this is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far—because if an editor doesn’t open my pitch, I’m dead in the water. I’ll never get published. My wonderful words will sit idle when they could be entertaining thousands. The biggest perk of all is that now I actually enjoy writing pitches. Making up fun, informative, and precise subject lines has taken the scariness out of pitching. I hope it works for you too and makes your pitches shine.