Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
Throwaway opening lines don’t work. They don’t work in email, in pitches, and in business letters. No, I haven’t used them lately. I’ve received them.
Nearly every day, I click open emails from freelance writers who want to write a guest post for one of my informational websites. Ninety percent of those pitches begin with throwaway opening lines. But throwaway opening lines don’t work. They don’t work in email, in pitches, and in business letters.
Please understand that I’m squarely in the pro-freelancing column. Pitching is how I got started as a freelance writer. Plus, successful pitches are win-win, leading to solid content for the publication and bylines and checks for the freelancer.
That’s one reason I cringe when I read a throwaway opener. I want freelancers to succeed. If a freelance writer can invest purposefully in the first lines of an email pitch, then they’ll get more gigs.
The throwaway is a statement that is not related to the content. In comedy, a throwaway is a one-line joke, unnecessary for the punch line. In fiction, a throwaway is needless dialogue. In radio, a throwaway is a talk show caller’s, “How are you?” after he gets through the jammed lines but before he makes his point. A throwaway is not just redundant. It is a distraction.
And in email, a throwaway opening line is a deadly mistake. That’s because an email pitch is a sales letter. You want to keep the reader reading. A good pitch gets to the point with the opening sentence of the email. Throwaway opening lines do not.
The following opening lines are not made up. I cut and pasted them from emails I’ve received. In each instance, I’ve shared why they don’t work for me.
No, you’re not. You’re doing what you need to do to get a byline. I get it. But please, give me a stronger hook. And be honest. This opening line doesn’t work because it’s insincere.
Glad to hear that! To me, your browsing is a good thing. It means I’ve done my job with SEO. My keyword choices and placement pulled you in — you and thousands of other users every week. But isn’t that the point of working hard on a website in order to attract readers? This opening line doesn’t work because it’s patronizing.
How do you know that? You don’t know me. Confession time: this opening line irritates me more than a little. It’s way too familiar. Plus, this opening line doesn’t work because it makes an assumption that may or may not be true.
Thanks for the compliment. I hope you find the content useful. And I understand that you share this very same sentiment with other site owners to whom you pitch. But you don’t need to curry favor with me. To be honest, it appears you want to ride on my coattails. This opening line doesn’t work because it’s disingenuous.
Congratulations are in order — I’m always glad to hear when freelancers get gigs. Truth be told, this opening line is more appropriate as a close than a hook because it’s about your experience. Perhaps you could include a few links to those articles so I can see some writing samples. But that’s not the biggest problem here. This opening line doesn’t work because it’s arrogant.
Great! Ideas demonstrate your creativity. But since you’ve got plenty of ideas, why don’t you start your own site? This way you won’t have to pitch to me. You can create your own following. Soon, freelance writers will be sending pitches to you ... ones that start with throwaway opening lines.
A better opening line? “I’m writing to you today because …” And then fill in the blank. Readers appreciate directness. It demonstrates that you respect their intelligence and their time. Even editors and site owners.
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