Bring out your dead! (The importance of subject lines.)

I was ‘chatting’ with Natalie Cunningham, Community Engagement Coordinator at The Morris Book Shop in Lexington, KY, about an event they hosted this summer (more on that tomorrow) when I saw the announcement that Wyn Morris was looking for a buyer for the store, and if one couldn’t be found, he would close the bookstore.

After the announcement, I saw the outpouring of sympathy on social media, because we’re all a little heartbroken when a good independent closes.

And then I saw the next issue of the store’s newsletter arrive in my inbox. More importantly, I saw its subject line:

“We’re not dead yet.”

You see, an article about the potential sale of the store appeared in the local paper, and Natalie says it was apparent that people thought they were closing. “The actual article did a really good job of saying, ‘We are hopeful that we are going to have a buyer. We don’t think that this is the end,’” she explained. “But the actual headline said, ‘Morris Book Shop to Close or Be Sold.’

They started receiving many phone calls at the bookstore from customers who only saw the headline and didn’t read the article, so they decided to send an email with a little snark in the subject line, along with some inspiration from Monty Python.

“I’m not sure how many 19-year-olds would understand, ‘Bring out your dead!’ But a lot of people did.”

So, how important are subject lines? Very. As of this morning, the open rate for the ‘We’re not dead yet.’ email is at 49.5%.

An email most talked about by digital marketers was sent by President Barack Obama during the 2012 presidential campaign. The subject line?


Subject lines affect open rates. Some of the best are those that come across so personally, the recipient believes the message was meant only for them.

Last week I used a subject line that read, “Hey… before you leave today.” The open rate was about several percentage points higher than my average. But among my co-workers who I see every day, the open rate was 100%. Many accused me of ‘tricking’ them because they opened it, eyes rolling, thinking, “Now what does she need me to do?”

A subject line doesn’t always have to feel personal, but it should pique your interest. Valerie Kohler of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, TX, uses great subject lines. I found myself relating to this one:

“Your child is NOT the only one who hasn’t done their summer reading yet!”

Valerie tells me they send a newsletter every other Monday. She sent me a list of subject lines she’s used that garnered higher open rates:

  • ‘We Like You Just Fine Here All The Time’
  • ‘Where Is Your Dream Kitchen’
  • ‘Listen To This!’
  • ‘We Have Air-Conditioning’
  • ‘It’s Pouring Good Books’
  • ‘Ready Set Summer’
  • ‘Stealing Ideas for Summer’
  • ‘Come Have Your Cake and Eat It Too’

Valerie was ‘shocked’ at the open rate for ‘Listen To This!’, which kicked off their partnership with, because it was so generic. But generic works if it’s a curiosity teaser.

I looked at my best open rates, and these subject lines were at the top:

  • ‘What did you just call me?’
  • ‘I’ll show you mine…’ (Shame on you.)
  • ‘Can I get your number?’
  • ‘Is my eye still twitching?’

The point is, even though email subject lines are often the last newsletter item written, they should be recognized for the power they hold and not be an afterthought.

Friday: A Fine Day to Rustle Up Some Sales

Want to kick-up some sales today? You can do so with just a few clicks and pastes.

Just go to your POS database and run a report for folks who purchased Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility. If anybody on that list has yet to purchase A Gentleman in Moscow, send them a quick note:

“Hey Beth. I just heard Lynn Neary interview Amor Towles on NPR and I thought you might enjoy it. Have a listen and let me know if you want me to hold a copy for you. (It’s so good.)”

And then either include the link or the embed code:

<iframe src=”″ width=”100%” height=”290″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” title=”NPR embedded audio player”></iframe>

Or maybe you’d rather send a note to Ian McEwan customers with this review by Siddhartha Mukherjee in today’s New York Times.

Or perhaps Ari Shapiro’s interview with Jonathan Safran Foer about Here I Am will prompt a sale.

<iframe src=”″ width=”100%” height=”290″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” title=”NPR embedded audio player”></iframe>

These are just a few examples of the many pieces of ‘content’ available that your customers will find interesting. Especially if they’re established fans of these authors. And while all three would be completely shareable on social media, to take a few extra minutes to email customers directly offers a personal touch that bookstore patrons crave. It shows that you’re not handselling one book to everybody that walks through the door, no matter their reading tastes. Instead it reinforces the idea that books are personal, and there’s a reason they shop with you to begin with.

300 Seconds: And your email, too?

Earlier this week in Can I Get Your Number? I encouraged you spend 5 minutes making sure your phone number is clearly visible on your store website, and also that it’s more readily available in your email signature. I received several responses from readers who appreciated (and immediately implemented) this suggestion. And this I received this response from the publisher perspective:

One other pet peeve, please put your email address in your signature. I love to be able to copy and paste, and having to make a fake reply so I can see your address is a time suck. And we hate those!

Having created many ‘fake’ replies so I can glean an email address, I can relate. So today, spend those 300 marketing seconds adding an email address to that signature.

And if you really want a time suck, check this out.

Page & Screen: ‘We Eat Our Own’ by Kea Wilson

WeEatOurOwn_9781501128318_851cbAt a time when postmodernism and nostalgia saturate the cultural landscape, a novel that proudly references beloved genre works of the past and flaunts its literary influences isn’t remarkable. There are probably half a dozen summer titles fitting this description on any bookstore’s shelves right now, and perhaps another half dozen will release this fall. Kea Wilson’s We Eat Our Own separates itself from the pack with effective second-person storytelling, a fascinating setting, wide-ranging research that will satisfy compulsive fact-checkers, and a writing style that’s as varied and unpredictable as the novel’s characters.

The cast includes an American actor desperate for a break (and a break from life’s troubles), his provocative female costar, their slightly deranged Italian director, the members of a South American drug cartel, and a few lackeys from an Amazonian paramilitary organization, among others. A giant anaconda also figures into the plot. This book is about the making of a horror film, but it’s also about the mechanics of fear, which makes it infinitely more interesting than if it were merely a paean to giallo and slasher flicks. The trickiness of verisimilitude between life and art and the struggle to locate personal identity, rather than exist as a passive product of culture, form a dark undercurrent in the story, much like the Amazon River flowing past many of the book’s locales.

Anyone interested in film production, the craft of acting, special effects, or South American politics will find any of those subjects a handy inroad to the complex web of people and events within We Eat Our Own, but you don’t have to be a movie buff or political science major to become lost in this tense tale. The courtroom drama sections similarly enrich without requiring legal knowledge. In fact, it’s these portions of the book that show best how Wilson is herself much like the unhinged director at the heart of the novel. She withholds information from the reader while seeming to share it, leaving crucial pieces of the puzzle for the end of the book, and her awareness of what brutality and violence can do never hinder her willingness to thrust it onto the page. With a quick point of view change, she deepens a character or bends the plot. Stylistic elements like parallel structure and a penchant for posing questions artfully blend form and function.

We Eat Our Own would be easy to sell as a creepy Halloween read, but it’s much more than that. Part mystery, part social novel, part love letter to the dark underbelly of film, it works on so many levels that I ran out of fingers trying to count them all. Holding equal appeal to the cultural theorist and schlock-film junkie, Wilson’s novel slips the bonds of genre to become something uniquely its own.

We Eat Our Own by Kea Wilson (Scribner | 9781501128318 | September 6, 2016)

More Than Just a Bookmark

More Than Just a Bookmark

Whenever I travel, I always try my best to visit the local independent bookstores. I was in Boston a week or so ago and found that Brookline, MA, was about 5 minutes away by train, so I headed over to Brookline Booksmith.

There are many things I loved about the store, but the one I walked away with was the store-branded bookmark. I walked away with several, in fact, because the booksellers inserted a bookmark into each book that I purchased.

The front of the bookmark is printed in full color and includes the store logo, tag line, address, phone number [grin], fax, web address, and the words: “more than just a bookstore.”

Flip it over to the back, which is printed in black and white, and in addition to the store hours (and web hours), you’ll find listed all of the reasons that they “are more than just a great bookstore”–including book clubs, knitting clubs, private book parties, readings, staff recommendations, community activities, and a weekly email newsletter.

All great things to be sure. But there are two bullet points that captured my imagination: 1) dogs are welcome (they provide water and biscuits), and 2) the fact that nine couple have met as booksellers at Brookline Booksmith and married–six children so far.

These two fun facts provided a personal touch in an unexpected, non-personal way. Nice.

The bookmark measures 3 x 8″ and is printed on 100% recycled fiber.