How to Reach an Editor
*** Your First Big Opportunity to Get an Editor’s Attention – Use it Wisely
*** A Resource for Women Only: WomenCorp.org
*** Practical Writing Prompt of the Week: Think in Numbers
*** Reader Feedback: Published — Fishing Camps in Mozambique, Africa
I was disappointed with September’s National Geographic Traveler magazine when I read the headline “Tokyo Uncovered” on the cover. I eagerly opened up the issue, hoping to get an inside look at things I may have missed on my recent trip there or maybe some ideas that might entice me to go back.
But that’s not what I found at all. And I feel duped. It turns out the article inside is about new five-star hotels in the city (the full headline above the article is: “Tokyo Under the Covers”).
I feel like the writer tried to be cute with his headline, “Tokyo Under the Covers,” which only sort of tells me, as a reader, what the story is about. But then the editor added to the ambiguity by shortening “Under the Covers” to “Tokyo Uncovered” on the cover, which turned out to be entirely misleading.
And that’s often the problem with clever headlines. They don’t say anything. Or worse, they say the wrong thing.
Freelance writer and editor, Jennifer Stevens, talks a lot about the harmful effects of clever headlines, both in The Ultimate Travel Writer’s home-study program and at our live workshops.
You should always submit your story or your query for your story with a well-targeted headline on it. You want it to catch the editor’s eye and show him, immediately, what your article is about. It’s one of the most effective ways to distinguish yourself from the bulk of other writers also submitting material.
Here’s Jen’s advice. She writes…
Resist being clever. Novice writers fall into an unfortunate habit of trying to be clever with headlines but I beg of you: Buck the urge.
I have no problem with clever. Clever — done right — can be very rewarding. A truly clever headline makes the corners of your mouth turn up just a hair when you read it. But frankly, such headlines are very hard to write. The odds of nailing one are slim. That’s why, when you look through publications, you’ll find very few. Go ahead, go pick up five publications and see how many clever headlines you find. I assure you: It won’t be many.
I just flipped through seven magazines and two newspapers and came up with only three headlines that might count as clever — see what you think:
*** “Circus Maximus” from Wired Magazine, a review of the new Cirque de Soleil show in Vegas. (Wired Magazine. June 2007, p. 132)
*** “Turf Beside the Surf” from The Washington Post, an essay about beach-side real estate in Nicaragua. (The Washington Post. August 12, 2007)
*** “Hey, Dune” from The Washington Post. The subhead reads: “For a wheelie good time in California, hop on an ATV and leave the real world in the dust.” (The Washington Post. August 12, 2007)
The fundamental problem with clever, though, is not that it’s so hard to get right. It’s that it’s vague. It doesn’t really tell a reader what an article is about, it merely intrigues.
There’s another problem with clever, too. Clever won’t get you anywhere with an editor.
Your headline is your best chance to get an editor’s attention. I think it’s safe to say that most travel editors, save perhaps those at the very smallest publications, receive at least 100 submissions a month. Randy Curwen, Travel Editor at the Chicago Tribune told me he gets about 100 submissions a week.
As a writer, then, it’s incredibly important that you take advantage of every opportunity you can to distinguish yourself from the many other freelancers hoping, like you, to sell their stories.
The first time you have a chance to do this is with your headline. You shouldn’t let it slip by. — Jen
That’s great advice. Jen always says straightforward is best. Digest the “promise” in your article — the main thing you want your reader to come away understanding — into one concise phrase.
Here are a few straightforward headlines I found to give you a concrete sense for what works.
** Machu Picchu, Without Roughing It — New York Times, August 12, 2007.
** 36 Hours in Budapest — New York Times, August 12, 2007
** Secret Hotels of Costa Rica — Budget Travel Magazine, August 2007
** Destination Weddings Made Easy — Budget Travel Magazine, August 2007
** 50 Affordable Gems in Europe’s Most Expensive Cities — Conde Nast August 2007
** How to Land a Fat Raise — Wired Magazine, August 2007
** China’s Plan for a Green Olympics — Wired Magazine, August 2007
** How to Outsmart a Mechanic — Wired Magazine, August 2007
** Six Tips to Summer Safety — AAA World, July/August 2007
Tomorrow, I’ve asked Jen to give us a step-by-step guide to writing these kinds of headlines — so you can be sure your article will get noticed. Stay tuned…
Have a great weekend,
Director, Great Escape Publishing
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]
PRACTICAL WRITING PROMPT OF THE WEEK: Let Numbers Be Your Guide
Editors love numbers. One way to make sure your headline is straightforward and serves its purpose by accurately describing your article, is to use numbers:
36 Hours in Budapest… 50 Affordable Gems in Europe’s Most Expensive Cities… Six Tips to Summer Safety…
Think this weekend about a story you could write with numbers: Five Things to Do with $100 or Less in … Fifteen Great Holiday Escapes… 101 Gift Ideas for the Frequent Traveler… 8 Great Dive Trips for First-Timers… 23 Things You Should Know Before Booking a Singles Cruise…
When you’re finished, send it to the Travel Post Monthly: http://www.travelpostmonthly.com/
“Lori, I’m happy to announce my first published article. I’ve gone through your Travel Writing Program, and decided to just jump into writing (and re-writing at least 10 times each article), then send a couple of articles off… 40 Plus Travel and Leisure has published my piece ‘Fishing Camps in Mozambique, Africa’, it’s in their Fishing Section… Thank you for all the helpful information.” — Joan Sevigny