How to Write An Email That Gets Read

“Call me Ishmael.”

emailAny writer will tell you that the first line of their work is the most important. Herman Melville’s opening line to Moby Dick has been voted the best first sentence of any novel in history by the American Book Review. The first line needs to grab your attention, create curiosity, and compel you to read the next line.

The subject line of your email is your hook. Your opening salvo determines if your email goes to spam or gets opened and read. Create and update a list of subject lines that work for you. I keep a list and continually tweak it and measure my response rate.

Next, learn how to write a good email. If you’re sending a first-time email to a new prospect or client, it should read like a movie poster. “If it looks like a quick read, rather than a major investment of time and attention, you’re likely to give it a look,” says Paul Brown, Your Attention Please. Three very short paragraphs on a first email should do it.

How do you learn to write compelling text? Take Roy H. Williams’ (The Wizard of Ads) advice – read poetry. Williams says it’s not who you reach, it’s what you say. Reading poetry shows you how to say much with little in the most creative ways.


Don’t send any attachments with your first emails. Always ask your reader for permission. And keep any graphics (signature line, company logo) small in size so you won’t clog-up the recipient’s mailbox.

This is not everything you need to know, but it’s a good start.


I Didn’t Have Time to Write a Short One

Hollywood Sign

Doing a cold call, the president told me, “I’ll give you fifteen seconds to make your point.”

Thanks to having mastered the “high concept” idea described in Paul Brown’s book, Your Attention, Please, I was prepared and delivered. Hollywood scriptwriters use what they call the “high concept” to submit story ideas to producers and directors. The “high concept” requires them to clearly convey their story idea in twenty-five words or less.

How would you describe your service or product this quickly? For example, “ offers everything you need to make a name for yourself on the Web, from domain names and website builders to complete eCommerce solutions.”  The television series “The Good Wife focuses on the wife of a former Cook County state’s attorney who has been jailed following a public sex and corruption scandal.”

Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist, inventor, and writer expressed the difficulty of succinctness in a letter to a friend: “I’m sorry about the long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

P.S.: Your first fifteen seconds can launch a career. Be ready.