Why Won’t You Open My Email?

You’ve worked hard on your proposal and know it shines. But what if it is never opened or, at least, not opened promptly?

So. So. Busy.

Think of your recipient’s IN box. Here is what a few email subject lines may look like upon the first open on a random Monday morning:

Romance novel submission

Drones and Love: YA Science Fiction Book

Oops! You left items in your cart. Don’t let them get away!

New Contract for Your Client

Have you seen my cat, Barney, roaming the neighborhood?

Blog posts: I don’t have anything new in the queue for you

Quick question

Fiction Novel from New Author

Congratulations! You have won $10,000,000!!!!!!!!

Status update

Need help

Devotional book submission

Neiman Marcus store events

Website update

Bible Study Group Reminder

News Alert: Joe Whoozat States He Is Not Running for Office in 2020

Your Morning Devotional

Submission from First Time Author

UPS Update: Package Scheduled for Delivery Today


Thank you! Your payment has been applied

Proposal Submission

Book proposal

Don’t Let Cyber Spies Steal Your Private Information!! Upgrade to NoNoSpy today!

Lunch date!

Ippolita trunk show tomorrow

Proposal for Christian romance novel

Your contact Joe Whoozat just joined LinkedIn


As you can see, as an author, you have many, many emails to compete with. So let’s say your recipient read the morning devotional, then answered the urgent questions from current clients, reviewed the new contract, wrote a blog post, filed business emails, got the 411 on Joe Whoozat, snoozed the shopping emails until the evening hours, addressed a hundred other new emails arriving in a steady stream, and deleted spam. Now it is well into the afternoon, and the recipient is down to new submissions:

Romance novel submission

Drones and Love: YA Science Fiction Book

Fiction Novel from New Author

Devotional book submission

Submission from First Time Author


Proposal Submission

Book proposal

Proposal for Christian romance novel


While these subject lines convey enough information that the recipient knows they are new submissions, none screams: Open Me Now!!!!

Naturally, some authors take this idea to the extreme and end up with subject lines along the lines of:

Bestselling Novel!!!!

This Book Will Outsell All Others in 2019!

The problems? The author doesn’t know his novel will be a bestseller; and if you’re aiming to be a bestseller in 2019, it’s already too late. Way too late.

Open Me!

Yes, I’ve fallen for overwrought and misleading subject lines, intrigued enough to wonder who would write such imaginings. But as an author, you don’t want to appear neurotic or fibbing to agents and editors.

So what legitimate subject lines will make the recipient want to open YOUR email before all others? Here are some ideas:

  1. Your name. My assistant will open emails with just about any address, but please use an email with your name instead of something along the lines of Webejammin@weed.com or someone else’s email address. I don’t know about you, but if I’m reading an entire email thinking a man wrote it, only to find his wife is inexplicably using her husband’s email address, it throws me. Also, I find it off-putting when a writer uses an address for his primary business. I respect that you may be working as a real estate agent, lawyer, or dog walker; but your writing address shouldn’t be RealAgentLawDog@barkbark.com. Most of the time, email is free and easy to set up. Your name or YourNameBooks is likely to be available on at least one well-known email service.
  2. A great book title. Create the best book title you can and include it in the subject line. Granted, the publisher may ultimately use a different title, but you’re trying to attract attention now. Besides, if your title rocks, the publisher may decide to keep it!
  3. Genre. When you know the genre is spot-on according to the recipient’s stated interests, naming it can help. In the list above, I’d be inclined to open the emails naming a genre I’m looking for over one that merely says it’s a query.
  4. You’re a bestselling author. If you’re genuinely a bestselling author, it’s okay to say so in the subject line, especially when you’re not yet a household name. And, yes, quite a few authors who can legitimately say they are bestsellers are not household names.
  5. You’re an award-winning author. You can choose to name the award in the subject line if you like.
  6. Professional membership. If the recipient is prominent in a professional organization you belong to as well, popping that in the subject line might move you up in the queue.
  7. Where you met. If you met at a conference or at another business venue, be sure to include this fact in the subject line.
  8. Requested. Always mention if a proposal has been requested.

While it always has been and always will be challenging to shout above the crowd, doing your best to have your email noticed quickly is the first step to happy publication.

Your turn:

What is the best subject line you’ve ever seen?

What makes you open an email in front of others in the queue?

What tips can you offer to get noticed over email?







31 Responses to Why Won’t You Open My Email?

  1. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 14, 2019 at 4:04 am #

    You’re a WINNER!

    Congratulations, Tamela. You just won the ‘Immpossible Subject To Sonnetize Award’ for the week.

    Don’t roll your eyes too hard. Remember what Barb’s Mom used to say (deep Kentucky accent): “Ho-NEY, now don’t y’all dew that, they’ll LOCK.”

    Ahem (rum roll for anticipation…

    Please open up my email!
    I’ll make it worth your while
    and you tell your friends the tale
    of meeting @LiteraryCrocodile!
    The walking handbag is my mascot,
    you could say we’re in cahoots;
    I wear a dove-grey ascot,
    he’ll make a splenid pair of boots.
    Outback’s really not our home
    (who’d live in a restaurant, anyway?)
    and I’d best not let ol’ Chompers roam
    where kids get in the way,
    for I couldn’t count on answer mild
    to, “My buddy here just ate your child.”

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 14, 2019 at 4:06 am #

      Sheesh. It’s 4 am, but still, I’m not suggesting an anticipatory rum roll before reading the, uh, ‘poetry’.

      On the other hand, might not be a bad idea, and drums give me a headache anyway.

    • Avatar
      Jennifer Mugrage March 14, 2019 at 7:13 am #

      “Who’d live in a restaurant, anyway?”


  2. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson March 14, 2019 at 5:46 am #

    I scroll down looking for names that are familiar, and with those, I prioritize. I don’t care for off the wall email addresses that don’t identify the person, so they are usually deleted unless the subject line catches my eye.
    Free Shipping
    Today Only
    Great Deals
    Check this out
    Vote for your favorite
    These end up in my deleted file.
    On the other hand, these subject lines will capture my interest.
    Your article for our magazine
    Word Weavers update
    You’re a Finalist
    Saturday’s Dinner
    New subscriber to your newsletter
    Thank you for this post. You’ve made me more aware of how important it is to capture your recipients attention simply by using a recognizable email address and using the subject line wisely.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 14, 2019 at 7:09 am #

      Amazing, isn’t it! Those “great deals” can take anyone down a rabbit hole, too!

  3. Avatar
    Amanda Wen March 14, 2019 at 6:39 am #

    Webejammin@weed.com made me laugh!!

  4. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver March 14, 2019 at 6:54 am #

    Thanks for the helpful tips, Tamela. Do you ever have days when you wish you could just NOT read email???

  5. Avatar
    Jennifer Mugrage March 14, 2019 at 7:11 am #

    Some agencies require something like the following:
    “Query for (AGENT NAME): (TITLE OF BOOK) by (AUTHOR)”


    This once led me to have a subject line that included the words “Adult Fantasy.” Eye-catching, but not in the way that we would wish.

  6. Avatar
    Carol Ashby March 14, 2019 at 7:54 am #

    Super helpful post, Tamela. I’m not looking for an agent, but some indies are so I’ll ask the question. Would having a book consistently among the Amazon top 100 Best Seller books in a CF category that has lots of entries get you to open an email?

  7. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson March 14, 2019 at 7:55 am #

    Too many messages can make my mind go berserk! haha! I use the delete button. 🙂 I appreciate important messages, just not junk messages.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 14, 2019 at 8:38 am #

      Exactly! I actually have different email addresses I use for different purposes so my IN box doesn’t look exactly like the one described. However, separating them that way does add another layer of work in opening more email accounts. I like the Gmail system of putting emails in folders.

  8. Avatar
    Bonnie Eckert March 14, 2019 at 8:06 am #

    Yep, your inbox is a head spinner. Have you considered setting up a central intake process with vetting, and a pool for each agent to draw from? (I’m actually not as boring as I sound! Haha.)

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 14, 2019 at 8:39 am #

      Haha! Not boring at all! All of us have assistants at different addresses, which helps.

  9. Avatar
    Maco Stewart March 14, 2019 at 8:29 am #

    This is a great post, Tamela. When you think of all the time we put into writing, fixing, and polishing a novel, maybe a few extra seconds using our skills should go toward the subject line of a crucial email.

  10. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks March 14, 2019 at 9:42 am #

    After reading a different blog post about query subject lines, I once penned this beauty: Fatherless Triplets Battle Prehistoric Beasts at Summer Camp-MG Adventure! Even when the rejections came, at least I knew that the query was good reading. And yes, the book is about just that, in case anyone is interested!

  11. Avatar
    Bob March 14, 2019 at 10:16 am #

    Great post. Made my laugh because many of us likely get some of the same types of posts as you. Good advice. Thanks much.

  12. Avatar
    Kathleen Denly March 14, 2019 at 11:33 am #

    This is a great post. It gave me a new perspective on subject lines. I do have my name in my email address and have remembered to include that the proposal was requested and where we met, but including the title, genre, or relevant awards in the subject line isn’t something that occurred to me before. Thanks for the tips!

  13. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield March 14, 2019 at 3:42 pm #

    The strongest determiner of which emails I open first is who sent it. In my personal account, that’s family and friends; in my business account, it’s clients, agents, and publishers. Client emails are usually answered within the hour. Some emails just never get opened–I’m really good at ignoring Twitter and bad about not scanning the local newspaper to which I buy a subscription. When I submit a proposal to someone who invited me to follow up, I always include “Invited submission” in the subject line, so the agent or publisher’s rep will know it’s not an over-the-transom submission.

  14. Avatar
    CJ Myerly March 14, 2019 at 4:25 pm #

    Thank you for the helpful post! I never considered what I’d write in the subject line when I’m ready to look for an agent.

    I’m not published, but there are times my e-mail gets so clogged. I always look for family e-mails and e-mails from my critique partners first. Then, I start weeding through everything else.

  15. Avatar
    Robin Mason March 14, 2019 at 8:04 pm #

    OY! to that inbox list!! (nd kudos to Andrew’s poem!) I’ve come to pay more attention to what I put in the subject line after seeing some vewwy suspicious ones in my own inbox:

    domainsupport (dot) com – your domain name is about to expire.

    Freaked me out the first time that one showed up – until I realized it’s not actually from my domain provider!!

    others include: “stop sending me your pictures!” (I’ve never sent pictures to whoever that was.)

    “Celebrate women with the female-led brands” (PayPal)
    “In need of a refresh?” (Etsy)

    Or the ever popular, “because you subscribed… ” No, no I did not subscribe. I visited or commented on a post on your site. I surely did NOT subscibe!

    Thanks for a fun post!

  16. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D March 15, 2019 at 7:10 am #

    Thanks for a great posting, Tamela. I use my delete button more often than not these days. With all of the available apps, I wonder if companies ever notice how often I delete them. Perhaps they don’t care. Or maybe they have deleted my request to not get emails. Food for thought.
    P.S. I would never delete you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get New Posts by Email

Get New Posts by Email

Each article is packed with helpful info and encouragement for writers. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!