In terms of magazine writing, it has been my experience that editors will often change the title you give an article. Know this going in.
So, you may ask, why am I devoting an entire post to writing a great title? Well, because it could get your article accepted–or at least help you get an editor’s attention. When you send a query letter in, having a snappy title may keep you from the slush pile and cause the editor to dig a little deeper. Your content still has to be good, but the title can create interest.
Catchy titles stick, and while I’m the first to admit I’m not that great at this skill, it definitely is worth cultivating if you are going to write for print. Web titles, such as the one for this blog post, have to serve the dual function of being a title and being search-engine friendly. This means they need to be descriptive and use keywords.
In a magazine, you have the luxury of being clever. I recall an editor I worked with that crafted a terrific title for one of my travel pieces on a Chicago suburb – “In Its Own Loop” – a smart play on words referring to the “Loop” area downtown in the city. I was impressed.
Even in magazines it is generally a good idea to keep your title on the shorter side. Draw the reader in and do the rest with your article. Make them curious to read a little more–don’t give it all away before they have even set eyes on your writing.
When trying to come up with a title, flip through the magazine you are pitching to see what types of titles they use regularly. Some publications are big on simple headers with numbers, such as “7 Ways To Slash Your Grocery Bill”, where others are more personalized or playful. Get a feel for the tone, length and style, and it will help narrow things down a bit.
Brainstorm ideas first, then play with them. Often I come up with a title that winds up being a sort of “hybrid” between two or more of my ideas from this type of list. Make sure it ties into your subject matter and has a clear connection to the mood of the piece.
If you are having trouble coming up with a title for a piece, don’t kill yourself trying to be an original, but do make sure you at least take the time to put some effort forth. There’s nothing wrong with asking a friend or family member for a few ideas, or walking away from it to try again later. Writer’s block happens with titles too.
And when all is said and done, and you’ve come up with a title that you love and think is very good–don’t be surprised or offended when the editor changes it anyway!