Make Headline News
Want a quick way to an editor’s heart? Write your own headlines.
Make it a practice to send a headline – and a deck too if a publication uses them – with every story you submit. Whether an editor actually uses your headline is beside the point. Writing headlines is good practice. And it shows that:
- You know your story well enough to summarize it quite succinctly.
- You can write short as well as you can write long.
- You care enough about your story to apply all the finishes touches.
- You care enough about your editor to want to make their life easier by doing some of their work for them.
What’s the worst that can happen? The headline ends up on the virtual cutting room floor. What’s the best? Your editor remembers you as that thoughtful freelancer who always includes headlines with their copy – and gives you more work because of it. Or your headline ends up in print. Given the chance, wouldn’t you rather have your story called by the name you gave it than by someone else’s?
Headline writing is an art. The best are like the best kind of diet food: meaty yet lively – and sometimes downright spicy – but without a trace of fat. Cut out articles like “a” and “the.” Use active verbs. Use puns or other word play when suitable. Avoid cliches. Ditto phrases that could be read more than one way – like the headlines that end up on the back page of the Columbia Journalism Review.
Newspaper copy editors are masters of the art of headline writing. Here’s an article about how newspaper copy editors write headlines from Gannett Corp.’s weekly Newswatch column. The story’s really old but the lessons still apply. Magazine and other freelance non-fiction writers can also learn a thing or two from advertising copywriters, who specialize in snappy catchphrases. Here’s a good article called How to Write Headlines That Work in Copyblogger.
Another reason to focus on headlines: your blog. If you’re one of the legion of freelance writers with a blog, it behooves you to write good headlines so your blog posts get maximum exposure. There’s a special art to writing blog headlines. Learn more here and here.