5 Simple Steps to Write a Headline Your Editor Will Love

Editor’s note: Want to learn more about writing headlines that help you land writing jobs? Carol Tice, the author of this post is offering a free webinar this Thursday, July 18 at 2 p.m. ET called “What’s Wrong With Your Headline?

In the free training, you’ll learn the top 12 headline problems (and how to prevent them), the number one way to know what style of headline to use for different assignments and how much to share in your headline to get readers interested. Click here to register for the webinar. Can’t make it live? No worries! Register now and you’ll get an email with a link to the replay.

Are you sending off query letters to magazine or blog editors, but never hearing a peep back?

It’s a common problem. Often, the problem has to do with your headline.

And, if you’re sending pitches that don’t mention a proposed headline, this might be your first problem — editors tend to skim through queries, looking for the headline. If they see none, they might assume your idea hasn’t quite gelled yet, and move on.

Now that you know you need to include a headline in your pitch, how can you make it one your editor will love? 

I’ve pitched both popular blogs and national magazines with success, and run a guest-post program for my own blog, so I’ve been on both sides of the fence here. Over the years, I’ve learned there are some basic things to do to build a fascinating headline that gets you hired.

What are they? Here are five simple steps to make your headline irresistible to editors.

1. Bring the style

Your starting point for creating a great headline is always to study the headline style of your target publication. Study, study, study.

How long are their headlines? Are they businesslike, snide, sassy or hip? 

Skim until you have a sense of their headline conventions and tone. Then, emulate their style in your headline.

Research is key because headline conventions vary a lot. With blog post headlines, you’re usually looking for a snappy, 8-10 word headline. For instance, here’s one I did for my Forbes blog that ended up pulling huge traffic:

“Meet the 8 Hottest Publicly Traded Marijuana Companies”

By contrast, magazine article headline style can be a very short headline, followed by what editors call a ‘dek,’ a longer line that fleshes out the idea. For instance, here’s the headline of a piece for Delta Airlines’ in-flight magazine, Delta Sky:

“The Do’s and Don’ts of Franchising: What potential franchisees need to consider about timing, industry choice, finances and more before they decide to take the plunge”

Know and use the style of your target publication, and your editor will be able to envision your article appearing in their pages. 

That’s the first step to getting a ‘yes.’

2. Include keywords

You might think search engine optimization (SEO) would only matter for online blogs and publications — but you’d be wrong. Increasingly, print magazines are also posting their content online. 

That means they care about using phrases their audience might search for the topics they cover. They’re looking to have each headline help them attract more readers.

When I wrote pieces for Forbes magazine that they also posted online, my editor had me write a different headline for the online version — one with better keywords. If you know your magazine swings both ways, suggesting two headline styles can be a pro move.

There are plenty of free keyword search tools online – AnswerthePublic and Neil Patel’s UberSuggest are two popular ones I like. Pick your favorite tool, think like a reader and take a stab at using relevant keywords.

3. Hook ‘em

If you want your headline to really get your editor excited, it’ll need to have a news hook.

What’s a news hook? It’s something new that makes your idea need to be published now. It signals you have fresh information that we haven’t already seen 100 times online. 

The news hook gets your editor thinking, “This must run in the next issue!” instead of “Well, maybe this could work sometime.”

To interest an editor, you’ve got to move beyond generic headlines like: “5 Reasons Eating Vegan Will Improve Your Health.” We’ve read that story already. A lot.

Find a fresh spin. Is there a new study about vegans’ health? A new celebrity going vegan? Gotta give that editor a new angle on this popular topic. 

A news hook might be one new fact that’s emerged in an ongoing story — the coroner’s report was released, or a new candidate has entered the race. It could be an anniversary of a major event. A year (or a decade) after the big earthquake, fire or flood. As I write this, there are lots of “Amazon turns 25” stories, for instance.

Getting a news hook into your headline is an easy way to get your editor excited.

4. Narrow the focus

Another quick way to show you ‘get’ the publication is to narrow your topic by weaving the audience into the headline. 

So it’s not “5 Reasons Eating Vegan Will Improve Your Health”, but “3 New Studies on Vegan Diets That Parents Need to See.”

Now, we’ve zeroed in on who this publication’s readers are. Showing that in your headline lets the editor know you really get their audience — and makes them more likely to assign you a story.

5. Be fresh

The final step in creating a headline that gets editors interested is to get creative, especially if you want to cover a popular topic. What can you add that makes the headline fascinating to readers? How can you signal, right in the headline, that you have information not found elsewhere? 

For instance, after Fiverr bought rival freelance intermediary platform ClearVoice, there were loads of stories about it. I wanted to cover it on my own blog, but how to be different? The answer was to interview their CEO. 

Then, I built a headline that spotlighted my unique coverage of this business news: 

“Fiverr Buys ClearVoice: Their CEO on the Future of Online Writing”

Conducting interviews for your article is something magazine editors will expect – so start thinking about sources. Practice with a friend, if you have interview jitters! 

Writing great headlines takes practice. Allow time to experiment with your headline and perfect it, and it’ll pay off with more assignments.

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Photo via Pressmaster/ Shutterstock 

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Get Paid to Write Articles: 10 Magazines That Pay $500 or More

As a freelance writer, it can be a struggle to find high-quality paying work.

It often seems like the only options available are $5-per-article scams and work from content mills, which can seem like good opportunities — until you check your bank account balance and realize it’ll take ages before your hard work adds up into real earnings.

While finding quality paying work is difficult, it isn’t impossible. In fact, there are lots of publications that will pay you a premium to write for them.

It isn’t necessarily easy to get into these publications, and it may take time and experience to build up your writing to a level that will help you get paid these rates. But you can take solace in the fact that writing work exists beyond content mills and low paying gigs.

While there are probably tens of thousands of magazines that pay writers, a much smaller number compensate writers really well.

Here are 10 magazines that will pay $500 or more for an article.

1. Early American Life

History buffs, take heed. This print mag focusing on early American style, decorating, and traditions publishes seven times yearly and welcomes the fresh voices of new writers.

You can submit both shorter stories and features, which run about 2,500 words. The editors estimate a $500 payment for “a first feature from a new writer,” with the opportunity for higher earnings as your skills develop.

2. Catholic Digest

Lifestyle magazine Catholic Digest wants writers with a positive and encouraging voice who write from experience.

Their features are approximately 1,500 words and cover marriage, parenting, spirituality, and relationships, along with parish and work life. The magazine pays $500 for features, upon publication.

3. Earth Island Journal

Earth Island Journal wants “compelling and distinctive stories that anticipate environmental concerns before they become pressing problems.” It covers a wide variety of environmental issues including wildlife and land conservation, environmental public policy, climate and energy, animal rights, and environmental justice.

If you’re an international traveler, it’s a great opportunity: Earth Island is especially hungry for “On-the-ground reports from outside North America.” The magazine pays 25 cents per word for its print stories, which equates to about $750-$1,000 for in-depth features (about 4,000 words).

You can also pitch a shorter online report, especially if you’re a newer writer. While they only pay $100 a piece, the journal publishes five times daily and is “always looking for fresh ideas.”

4. VQR

VQR is a journal of literature and discussion with a focus on publishing the best writing they can find.

For poetry, it pays $200 per poem (up to four). If they accept a group of five or more poems, you’ll earn $1,000. Prose pays around 25 cents per word. Book reviews earn $500 for 2,000-2,400 words. VQR has limited reading periods, so check the schedule online before you submit.

5. AMC Outdoors Magazine

AMC Outdoors magazine covers outdoor recreation, education, and conservation topics throughout the Northern Appalachian region, which includes states from Maine to Virginia.

It pays about $750 for features, which usually range from 2,000 to 2,500 words. “We are always on the lookout for stories that have a unique hook, showcase an outdoor sport in a new and exciting way, offer a tangible sense of place and meaning, or profile individuals with unique approaches to conservation in the Northeast,” senior editor Marc Chalufour notes on AMC Outdoor’s submissions page.

You can also pitch a shorter story for one of its departments, which pay $150 to $350 based on the length and complexity of the work.

6. The Sun Magazine

The Sun Magazine is looking for essays, interviews, fiction and poetry. They prefer personal writing but they also accept pieces about political and cultural issues.

The Sun pays $300 to $2,000 for essays and interviews, $300 to $1,500 for fiction, and $100 to $200 for poetry. If your work is accepted, you’ll also get a complimentary one-year subscription.

7. Boys’ Life

This general-interest monthly magazine has been published by the Boy Scouts of America since 1911, and pays its writers between $500-$1,500 for nonfiction articles of as many words.

As far as what to write about, there aren’t too many limits. “We cover everything from professional sports to American history to how to pack a canoe,” read the submission guidelines. Most of all, it should be entertaining to the scouts it’s aimed at.

“Write for a boy you know who is 12,” the editors suggest.

8. The American Gardener

The American Gardener is the official publication of the American Horticultural Society, and it caters to “experienced amateur gardeners.”

It seeks writers for horticulturalist profiles, and articles about innovative approaches to garden design, plant conservation, horticultural therapy, and biodiversity, among others.

It pays $300 – $600 for feature articles, which usually run 1,500 to 2,500 words. The magazine sometimes offers travel and expense reimbursement.

9. One Story

One Story is a literary magazine that features one story per issue, and it is mailed to subscribers every 3 – 4 weeks.

One Story looks for literary fiction in the range of 3,000 – 8,000 words, and stories can be on any subject “as long as they are good.” It offers $500 and 25 copies of the magazine for every accepted contribution, but submissions are only accepted between September and May.

10. The American Scholar

Quarterly magazine The American Scholar publishes everything from essays to fiction to poetry on public affairs, literature, science, history, and culture. 

It will pay up to $500 for accepted pieces, and if you want to go the digital route, it will pay up to $250 for web-only pieces. Note, however, that The American Scholar does not accept pitches through email — only through online submissions manager system Submittable.

This post was updated in July 2019 so it’s more useful and relevant for our readers! It was originally written by Bamidele Onibalusi and updated by The Write Life team. 

Photo via Federico Rostagno/ Shutterstock 

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