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Advertising and Marketing

Switch up your subject lines to improve your email open rates!

By: Ginger on April 28, 2023

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

By: Ginger on April 28, 2023


Most self-published authors know the value of building a mailing list of fans that you can use for a variety of purposes, from finding reviewers to selling copies of your latest book. But in order to get those benefits, you first have to convince your subscribers to open the emails, which is not as easy as it sounds. Many consider just 20% to be a “good” open rate, and even that can be a struggle for some.

There are a variety of factors that play into your open rate, but one of the most important is whether or not you’ve crafted a compelling subject line. Whether your subscribers click or not is often determined solely by that one line, which means it needs to be tough to ignore. As Ginger explains below, there are a variety of ways you can do this – from including one of the 15 most powerful words in advertising, to changing the focus of the subject to be about your reader instead of yourself.

By experimenting with different ideas, you may find that just a few small changes can result in big improvements to your own open rates, which can in turn lead to more website visits, sales, and success.

I believe that anybody has the potential to be a successful self-published author. You just need to learn the craft of writing and then follow the process for successful self-publishing. If you have a book that people actually want to buy, there’s a tried-and-tested formula for actually getting them to do so.

One of the most essential elements of this process is creating and developing a Subscriber List. These are readers who provide you with their email address, in return for getting emails from you when you release new books. Building a subscriber list is one of the most powerful ways you can elevate your writing from a hobby into a full-time career.

However, a lot of self-published authors find managing their subscriber list to be tricky. There are questions about how often to reach out to readers, what the emails you send should be about, and how you can leverage this audience effectively (without driving them all into hitting the Unsubscribe button.)

You could write a book about managing a subscriber list effectively. In fact, several already exist! But one of the most actionable ways you can squeeze more value out of your subscribers is by sending them emails that they actually open.

Because for many of us, that’s the biggest problem. We might have subscriber lists that number in the thousands (and we pay Mailchimp or Mailerlite for all of them!) But when we send out emails, sometimes our open rates are less than impressive.

According to, a good open rate for an email hovers around 21.5% – which means, if you send your email out to 1,000 registered subscribers, you’re hoping about 215 of them would bother opening your email. But what happens if your emails regularly fall short of that? And even if they don’t, can you squeeze more opens from your audience?

The simple answer is: yes. Improving the open rates for your emails is actually one of the more actionable steps you can take when it comes to subscriber management, since the decision to open your email or not often rests on just one thing: The subject line.

Get your subject line right and you can change everything.

Why are subject lines so important?

When your latest email hits the inbox of your subscribers, they’re only going to see two bits of information upfront (assuming your email hasn’t landed in the Promotions tab, or Spam!)

Your name, and your subject line.

Your name obviously carries some significance, and this is determined by your relationship with each individual reader. If they’ve just signed up to your list and devoured several of your books, it’s more likely they’ll open and read your email. If you’ve not spoken to them for a while, or if your previous emails have left them uninspired, they might decide to scroll straight past or just hit delete immediately.

There’s not much influence you can have on that decision in the short term.

But the second piece of information they’ll see is your subject line, and that’s where you can grab them.

A compelling subject line can make an engaged reader even more likely to open your email, or convince a jaded one to give this email a chance even after blowing off your previous ones. It’s the single point of contact that can have the biggest impact on the effectiveness of your emails – and there are statistics to prove it. ran a study in which they compared the performance of two different subject lines and discovered that even a minor tweak can see a 17.9% increase in open rates based on the subject line alone, and that led to a 26.5% increase in the number of visits to the website linked to in that email. That means 1-in-4 more people clicking on the links to your books. Even with a small subscriber list, that’s the kind of percentage you don’t want to ignore.

But what makes a good subject line? And how can you come up with them for your own emails?

Anatomy of a good subject line

So, what is a subject line? In short, it’s a single line summary of what the email you’ve sent is going to be about. However in marketing terms, the subject line is a lot more than that. It’s an invitation for your subscriber to open and read your email – so you want to make it a good one!

The first thing you need to do is put yourself into the position of your readers.

Imagine, for a second, that you’re a busy person scrolling through your inbox. For most of us, this doesn’t take much imagination! With only limited time and attention to spare, what’s going to inspire you to open one email rather than another?

The answer is one of the first tenants of advertising – imagining your readers have a Post-it note stuck to their head which reads: What’s in it for me?

When you send out an email, what’s in it for your readers? And does your subject line communicate that?

Consider, for example, sending out an email to your subscribers to recruit Advanced Readers – people willing to read a free copy of your book prior to publication with the promise of leaving a review when the book goes live.

An accurate subject line could read: “Do you want to join my ARC team?”

Do the letters ARC mean anything for most casual readers? You’d actually be surprised – especially in the romance genre – but in general sending out an email with a subject line that uses industry jargon isn’t a great way to engage the maximum number of readers.

Another option could be: “Can you leave a review of my book?”

That’s a lot more straightforward and explains things a little more clearly – but it still skips the most important part of the puzzle: What’s in it for them.

These two subject lines are asking your readers to do something for you. What you might find more effective is if you flip that around and offer to do something for them.

How about: “I’m giving you a free copy of my latest book!”

Or, even better (and don’t ignore the power of all-caps in the right circumstances) – “I’m giving you a FREE copy of my latest book!”

Right out of the gate, this subject line is giving something to your readers, not asking them to give something to you. It also uses one of the 15 most powerful words in advertising: Free.

(The others are Sex, Now, Easy, Best, New, Save, Safety, Proven, Love, Discover, Guarantee, Health, Results and the most powerful one of them all: You!)

Using a subject line that offers a free book, rather than asking for a review, will almost invariably result in a higher open rate – and, ultimately, better results!

Next Level Subject Lines

The easiest and most effective way to elevate the effectiveness of your subject lines is to ask yourself: What’s in it for my readers? As long as you’re offering them something, they’re far more likely to open your emails than they would otherwise.

But what do you do if you don’t have anything to offer them? What if you aren’t giving away a new book or announcing a new release?

Well, there are lots of things you can give readers that don’t require giving them anything tangible. When I’ve been reaching out to readers to get them to leave a review, share a Facebook post, or sign a petition, the easiest way to get a response out of them is to make them feel good about themselves for doing so.

That’s giving them something, right?

These subject lines could be along the lines of: “Please, help me make a difference!” or “Your opinion is important!”

Never underestimate the power for giving somebody something to feel good about.

Another thing you can give readers is information. That’s why the word “discover” is considered one of the most effective in advertising. Starting a subject line with the word “discover” always makes it sound intriguing.

Likewise, a great way to pitch your new books isn’t to use a subject line like: “Read my new book!” Even though that has the word “new” in it, which will always bump up your open rates.

Instead, try wording your subject line to hint at the major conflict in your new book – making potential readers desperate to learn more. It’s a technique movie producers have been using for years. Think of some of the best movie taglines of all time and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Nightmare on Elm Street, for example: “If Nancy doesn’t wake up screaming, she won’t wake up at all…”

Or Jaws: “You’ll never go into the water again.”

Posting something intriguing is a great way to get your readers eager to click on your email and discover more – and hopefully that journey of discovery ends with them clicking the “buy now” button.

Hooks and Engagement

At the end of the day, a good subject line is like a fishhook. It snags a reader’s attention and gets them eager to open their email. If you start experimenting with more interesting taglines, you’ll see the results almost immediately. I’ve observed an almost 50% increase in my open rates (from 20% to 30%) by incorporating some of these suggestions and there’s no reason why you can’t, too.

And the best part is that it’s all free. (That’s one of those 15 magic keywords, remember?)

Your subscriber list is something you’ve already earned. It’s not like Facebook, where you have to pay to reach more than 15% of your followers. Your subscriber list is your most powerful audience and using subject lines more effectively is the best, fastest, and most effective way to get the most out of them.

So, why don’t you give it a try? And if you see positive results, please don’t be shy about sharing those figures in the comments section down below. We want to hear your success stories!

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About the Author

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

Ginger is also known as Roland Hulme - a digital Don Draper with a Hemingway complex. Under a penname, he's sold 65,000+ copies of his romance novels, and reached more than 320,000 readers through Kindle Unlimited - using his background in marketing, advertising, and social media to reach an ever-expanding audience. 

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