• Get Your Story Straight

Opening Lines

3 Ways to Hook Your Reader Right Away

The most important things you’ll ever write today are the headline and the opening line of your email, marketing collateral or feature. The headline hooks the reader and the opening line keeps them on the line.

You can hook your reader right from the start with these three essential elements:

  1. Get to the point and clearly state your message.
  2. Promise something the reader doesn’t just want but needs.
  3. Be clever, but not just to be clever.

Promises, promises

It’s all about the promises you make to the reader and the promises you keep.

When I was a daily newspaper reporter, the “lede” – the lead sentence or paragraph of a story, spelled in journalism’s iconoclastic way – was something to be labored over and crafted with great care. We knew its importance in catching the reader’s eye when they had so many other things competing for their time and attention. So we worried and sweated over it to get it just right.

That’s still true today – probably even more so, with the explosion of information sources making readers’ time even more precious. Just look at your own media diet. Every morning, you’re inundated with emails, texts, blog posts and articles demanding your attention. You clean them out only to get hit again in the afternoon and evening.

It’s like trying to hold back the ocean with a wall of sand.

I have to admit there are days I just mass-check and delete batches of my new emails – and some of the old ones that I’ve left sitting there, for when I have that elusive thing known as “time to read them.” The one I don’t delete has a subject line – the email version of a headline – that simply won’t let me ignore it. Its urgency, simplicity and wit compel me to tap the screen or click my mouse and find out more.

I suspect you’re the same way. Write for the way you read and you’re more likely to keep your audience.

Openers that work

In recent weeks, several good email subject lines have hit my inbox. Here are some especially good ones:

  • From copywriting expert Tara Louise, The Word Professor: “The 7 Essential Steps to Getting More Sales from Social Media.”
  • From communication coach Dorie Clark: “How to turn your content into clients.”
  • From Copyhackers: “How to write ecommerce emails.”
  • From Carol Tice, Make a Living Writing: “Small business writing gigs that pay.”
  • From James Altucher (who can’t really be squeezed into a couple of words to describe what he does): “Hasan Minaj called me an a**hole on ‘Patriot Act’ last night.”

All are simple and clear and promise me something I need. I know they’re not just going to talk about their subject but are going to give me a solid, practical way to put the knowledge to use. The Altucher line promises me an entertaining story, but if you follow Altucher you know it will be part of a useful lesson of some kind. Who wouldn’t open that?

Openers that don’t work

I also received some less-effective openers, whose authors I won’t name.

  • “Oh hey.”

This sender tends to write subject lines that, in my opinion, are overly casual and laid-back, apparently going for clever attitude over urgency. I usually find her emails to be extremely helpful when I get around to opening them. I just don’t get around to them that much.

  • “Thank you for your purchase!”

This was not just bad but kind of enraging. It was from someone whose book offer I had checked out but not completed. I opened it in a panic, thinking, “Wait, did I actually order that book?” The email body said, “That would have been the subject line if you’d completed your book order.”

Are you kidding me?

Keep your promises

The opening of your body is where you start keeping the promise of your subject line. If you entice the reader with a subject line offering “3 essential copywriting techniques,” you’d better not start the main copy with “I’ll get to those 3 techniques in a minute,” as I found in an actual email which was mostly about a class I’d have to pay for.

There’s nothing wrong with promoting a paid product or service in your email; that’s the whole point of emailing potential customers, isn’t it? Just don’t trick me quite so blatantly.

Need help opening up to your readers? Connect with me on LinkedIn or get in touch at For exclusive content on language and communication, subscribe to my newsletter, Copy This!