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I Give Good Headlines... and You Can, Too!
by Shaunna Privratsky
How much thought do you give to the title of your manuscript? Before
you answer that, consider this: with the incredible speed of modern technology,
you have less than three seconds to capture the attention of your audience,
whether that is a potential customer, future fan or an editor wielding
the proverbial red pen. Nowadays, he or she is more likely to simply hit
the Delete button if your subject line doesn't instantly grab attention.
Titles and headlines have to work even harder to make your writing stand
out. Even if you send a traditional paper and SASE submission, your title
is the first thing an editor sees. Why not make it really sing?
You might be wondering if I know what I'm talking about. After perusing
my publishing records, I realized that out of 417 published pieces in
four years, only five of my titles were changed. An editor recently commented,
"I'm intrigued by several of your titles."
No matter what form your writing takes, titles are an essential and potentially
powerful tool. You can change the whole tone or style of a piece simply
by what you call it. Someone might buy a book titled Rufus, the Cat
who Rescued his Family from Fire, but The Burning Cat would
intrigue many more.
An easy way to form a title is to study the market you are submitting
to. Do they like short, snappy headlines, or clever twists on words? How
about the length? Many magazines like the list title, like "101 Ways
to Weigh Less." Simply scanning the contents page of a few issues
should give you a fix on what style to follow.
Another way to score a great title is to read the mission statement.
For example, a magazine I regularly write for states their goal is to
focus on simplicity and getting joy out of life. Using the words simple
or joy in your title is a sure-fire way to get the editor's attention.
In fact, the editor has asked me to write a book for her publishing company!
Your headline should give a clear indication of your subject matter.
Readers and editors do not like to be left in the dark. If your title
asks a question, it should be answered by the end of the manuscript. If
you indicate a problem, the solution should be offered.
A catchy quote can set off an interview. Make sure you credit the speaker
in the first few sentences. You can also make a bold statement, and then
go on to list the facts that back it up. The point is to lead with your
best, and that includes your title.
It took me three days to come up with the title of my book Pump Up
Your Prose. It set the whole theme of the book, which is exercising
your writing muscles like you would in a gym. The main title led to section
and chapter headings relating to the exercise theme.
Alliteration has a proven track record in my writing. Yet you have to
know the preferences of the market before you get too cutesy. In her guidelines,
one editor even states she will not tolerate the word "purr-fect"
in her magazine about cats. Since most editors are not that specific,
it helps to scan the last few issues. The abundance of online magazines
makes this easy and fast, or you can visit your local library for free.
Titles are like the finishing touches to your writing. You wouldn't go
out dressed in your best outfit, then throw on a ratty pair of smelly
sneakers. Likewise, you should give your polished piece the crowning touch
of a carefully chosen headline. It can mean the difference between an
acceptance and a rejection, often without reading the rest of your submission.
Like the written word, headlines are powerful. They are a key component
to selling your work. You want the title to intrigue, attract and even
arouse the interest of your intended audience.
Terrific titles are worth their weight in gold. A well-turned phrase
captures the attention and draws the reader in. Hone your headlines and
you can increase your chances of publication and profits. I give good
headlines… do you?
© Copyright 2006, Shaunna Privratsky
Shaunna Privratsky writes fulltime from North Dakota, in between shoveling snow. Please visit The Writer Within at http://shaunna67.tripod.com. We are looking for new writers and we are a paying market.
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