Guest Post By Stephanie D. Lewis of Once Upon Your Prime
In that crucial moment before you click “submit” for a publication, do you ever doubt your post’s title, wondering what the editor will think of it? Maybe you’ve never had difficulty thinking up catchy headers for your own personal blog, (you’re perceptive and have a basic familiarity for what works with your subscribers!), but wonder what will make an editor look twice at your headlines.
Is all that fretting justified?[bctt tweet=”‘Do editors even care about your title if the rest of your writing is sterling?'”]
Can you be too clever, cutsie, punny or charming for your own good?
Is the title for THIS article a fun, rhyming tongue twister or a “break-every-rule editor’s nightmare, including parenthesis?” *Answer at end
Before I delve into specifics from the editors I interviewed, here’s one basic guideline. Unless specifically directed otherwise, always put your title in the main subject line when emailing it for submission. Many authors type generic verbiage in the email’s subject, (i.e.“Hope you like this submission!”) yet it’s best to put “New Submission: Specific Title of Piece.” Format it exactly like that, so the actual title gets noticed from the get-go in their inbox.
When creating titles, you must also consider where you’re sending it. My headlines for The Huffington Post or XO Jane take on extraordinarily different tones than for Ten To Twenty Parenting or Erma Bombeck’s website. The latter would be more concrete and a little subdued, whereas the former might have a more shocking or jarring attitude.
I reached out to Leslie Marinelli, editor at In The Powder Room, who had this to say:
“In the big picture, In the Powder Room has grown in popularity with so many writers, therefore titles have become increasingly important for getting my attention in the submissions process. I know we’re not supposed to “judge a book by its cover,” but we do, and the title of a piece is part of that first impression that can make or break it. These days, I have so many submissions to weed through that I have to make snap decisions about which pieces to read first, and there is no question that a strong title is a guaranteed foot in the door with me.”[bctt tweet=”‘There is no question that a strong title is a guaranteed foot in the door with me.’” @inthepowderroom”]
I pretended to submit a post about a troublesome female body part (my silly idea, not hers!) and Leslie ranked my imaginary quirky titles Bad, Better and Best.
Bad: “Yeast, Dryness, & Queefs… Oh My!” (Save the puns for the piece, not the title. Also, a little too gross. Nobody is going to share that on Facebook!)
Better: “How My Vagina Seeks Its Revenge on Me” (Too personal…you need to appeal to masses.)
Best: “3 Horrifying Things Your Vagina Is Trying to Tell You” (Why Best? “3” indicates it’s a list which is easy to read. “Horrifying” evokes emotion. “Vagina” is funny and universally appealing (we all have one) “Trying to Tell You” indicates that a secret is about to be revealed…everyone wants to hear a secret!)
Over at BLUNTmoms, editor Magnolia Ripkin had this to say:
“Titles should be painfully clever. They should preview the topic in a way that makes the person read it, and when they are done, they should look back at the title, and even the image and think “Ah! I see what you did there!”
It was also clear that Magnolia dislikes (okay she actually said, “hates!”) titles that are too overtly obvious. She feels when a heading is too pedantic, it’s kind of like having to explain a punchline in a joke. (I’m afraid to ask her what she thinks if you put part of your title in parenthesis!) She also adds:
“If the topic is serious, the title should tell you why you should care.” and “I don’t consider alliteration particularly interesting unless it is funny and contains the word “boob.”
Yep, I’m pretty sure Magnolia would hate the title I gave this article. But guess what? I wouldn’t be totally out of luck at BLUNTmoms because according to her,
“We change titles quite often on BluntMoms submissions because we are clever like that. Oh and SEO.”
Interestingly Samantha Angoletta, editor at Scary Mommy, has a similar practice adding:
“We almost always change the titles of our submissions.”
In The Powder Room, Leslie explained how she works closely with authors on title changes:
“If a title is good, I will keep it, or maybe just change a word or two if necessary, but I think it’s really important for writers to approve of the title. A writer won’t be proud of a piece if they don’t love the title, so I want them to be happy with the final product so they’ll share it with their readers. If the title is not good, I will offer suggestions and I usually try to get the writer’s buy-in. I’ve learned this one the hard way, from both sides of the coin.”
Meanwhile, Editor Alyssa Serben over at Say It With A Bang, affirmed that she changes a title 20% or less of the time and will notify the writer beforehand or will ask them for a new one in those cases. Alyssa elaborated on the length and importance of titles, saying:
“Short titles that sound “punny” have the best chance of catching someone’s eye who is scrolling through. The longer the title, the less likely someone will click on it. If you’re having a hard time thinking up a title, then you need to read your post in detail until you find it in there. Having a title ready and all of the info available when you hit “send” is very important. Editors and publishers have a lot of work to get your post up. The easier you make their job, the more likely they are to throw your post straight up.”
As intuitive writers, we have good gut feelings for our titles and should probably trust that instinct when naming our piece. It doesn’t hurt to peruse titles used in the publications you’re submitting to and tweak yours according to the tone you find prevalent. Headlines are definitely not set in stone.
*As to whether the title of this article is any good? Even though I guessed at what some of the helpful editors above would think, the bottom line will always come down to . . . whatever Susan Maccarelli says!
**From Susan Maccarelli – My feedback on Stephanie’s title? I think Stephanie’s title: Is Your Title Vital or Does it Just Sit Idle? (With Editors’ Input!), is fun and clever! I have a fun and clever side, but it lives over at my personal blog. My BYB side is a bit more of an obvious control freak. For this reason, I opted to title this piece: Editor’s Tips For Creating Submission Titles That Impress, but I’m still learning about best practices for titles, so we split the difference using my suggestion in the pinnable image and Stephanie’s in the headline.
I’m curious, which title you prefer. Which would you be more likely to click on? Or do you have a better title suggestion for this article? Leave a comment and let us know!
Stephanie D. Lewis pens her humor at “Once Upon Your Prime” where she tries to live happily ever laughter. A frequent contributor to Huffington Post, In The Powder Room and Bluntmoms, she also has two regular monthly humor columns for local print magazines. As a single mother of six, she’ll decline a full-time housekeeper, but take a live-in psychiatrist. Connect with Stephanie on Twitter.