Get Your Article Query Noticed

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Remember preparing for the dreaded job interview? The first impression. It seems everyone from your Great Aunt Martha to the dry cleaner had advice—and most of it included the handshake. Firm. Confident. Not sweaty. Because if the interview was the first impression, the handshake was the beginning of the first impression. A lot of pressure for a handshake but…

As a freelance writer you can work for an editor for years without every meeting them in person(or these days without even talking to them on the telephone). Instead of job interviews we have queries—one written page to say “Hire me!” In place of the handshake we have the article title.

Be honest. How much time and thought do you put into your article titles? Sure, you craft a great idea and format, find sources, toot your horn with clips and experience, compliment the magazine and/or editor. I used to slap in any title that popped into my head as I was typing up the query. Then I realized that in a flood of queries, titles are easy for editors to remember. Titles can say I’m professional, I pay attention to details, I know your magazine. A lot of pressure for a title but…

This is where research comes in handy. You did research the market, didn’t you? Try to use a similar format to past articles—every magazine has their favorite title type.

Article Quote – Use a source quote or an especially good phrase from your article, usually the first paragraph. For instance, if you were writing an article on job interviews and used the first paragraph of this article your title could be “A Lot of Pressure for a Handshake”.

Number – Many magazines like “number” titles: “Five Ways to Organize Your Life”, “Six Fun Car Games”, “Three Things to Do with Avocados”.

Funny – Especially if your article has a tinge of humor to it carry that theme through to your title. An essay on capturing a bat in my house was titled “Living in a Bat House” as opposed to the more straight forward, but less fun “The Day I Captured a Bat in My House”.

– Don’t carry alliteration for more than three words and don’t feel all the words in the title have to match: “Delectable Desserts”, “Help with Heart Health”, “Doggie Disasters in Your Garden”.

Familiarity – Take a well known book, song, or saying and give it a twist to create a memorable title. “Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue” became “Three Cheers for the Red Freshman”. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” became “Invasion of the Bulb Snatchers”. Just make sure it isn’t an overused title twist. For instance, I imagine at one time editors were drowning in titles that were twists on Nike’s “Just Do It” and the Mastercard “Priceless” line is finding its way into many article titles.

One last note: You’re probably noticing that my blog title is, well, lackluster. That’s because I’ve received advice to be straightforward with blog post titles since it makes search engines easier to find your article.

One last, last note: Even if you come up with a great title don’t get too attached to it. Editors often change it anyway to match the issue’s theme, the space available, or a thousand other reasons. But your title did its job—it helped get you the assignment.


Christine Mattice said...

Great advice. I never considered that the title that you create for your article's query can be a major selling point with the editor. At the very least, it shows him or her that you've done your homework about their magazine. Thanks for the advice.

WOW! said...


The title advice is spot on. It's one of the first things I look for when sorting through queries, believe it or not!

Editors think of their audience, first and foremost. A good title should give readers a complete understanding of what the article is about or at least peak their interest. When I'm reading query titles I think to myself, if I publish this, will the reader get it? Will they want to read it? The last thing you want to do is confuse a reader, especially online. You only have a few seconds to catch their attention with a title.

I receive some queries where the title is so vague that I'm not sure what they're querying about and am so bored and/or confused that I don't want to read on.

In the May issue of PG (Pink & Green section), the Cosmopolitan editor said that "the best way to break in is to give your query a great working title." Something that catches the editor's attention and makes them want to read it.

Great post! :)

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