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Posts Tagged ‘Articles

Create Headlines That Work

Do your headlines and article titles sizzle? Do they grab readers’ attention? Do they make readers want to read the body copy?

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Headline, title, lead, opener – however you refer to it, the headline is the first impression your audience gets.

Whether read in a print piece or heard on radio or TV, the headline can spell the difference between success or failure: Is that first impression exciting and attention-grabbing? Does the headline offer useful information or news or promise readers they will gain something? Does the headline motivate the reader to keep reading, or make the listener continue to pay attention to what follows?

Whatever type of piece you are writing, the headline has to deliver, if it’s going to beat the competition and win people’s attention.

The secret that powers every successful headline is simple. The winners answer the most important question people ask themselves every time they read or hear a headline: What’s in it for me?

If a headline makes you interested in knowing more, it’s done its job, which is to:

  • Grab your attention.
  • Appeal to your self-interest.
  • Deliver the main message.
  • Persuade you to continue reading or listening.

Here are four sure-fire tips for writing headlines that get the job done.

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“Direct” Headline

This type of headline directly states what will follow. It clearly summarizes the message in the piece without using wordplay, hidden meanings, cleverness, or oblique references.

Select an important benefit that appeals to your readers’ self-interest, and then craft a statement that is bold, direct and perhaps even a little dramatic. For example:

Embedding Videos in Your PDF Documents

Get a Free Subscription to the Monthly Newsletter

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Keep it short. Keep it simple. The “direct” headline gets right to the point.

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“How To” Headline

This one has been called “pure magic” in its ability to draw attention and compel people to continue reading or listening.

The “how to” headline dangles an irresistible promise before the reader: Listen to me. Pay attention to me. I can help you solve a problem. I can answer your question. I can help you learn something you want to know. For example:

How to Easily Save $300 a Month

How to Get More Sleep

How to Communicate Well

The “how to” says you are not alone. It relieves stress. It brings hope. This headline assures readers that others share their concern or have the same problem and, best of all, promises: You can fix it, solve it, learn it, overcome it—and here’s how.

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“Question” Headline

When you use the “question” headline, remember to focus on your audience. It’s all about their self-interest, so address your question to them. What fires up their curiosity? What fears or needs can your headline appeal to? For example:

What Won’t the Neighbors Tell You?

Which Foods Can Keep You Looking Young?

Is Your Air-Conditioner Costing You More Than It Should?

“Reason-Why” Headline

The “reason-why” headline is useful when you want to list the features of your product or service. It is also a good hook for pieces that offer advice or something to learn. For example:

Three Reasons Why You Should Get a College Degree

Six Ways of Chic Dressing on a Tight Budget

Five Steps to Looking Better and Living Longer

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These headline types are tested and proven—just look around and see what draws your attention. Ask your family, friends and colleagues. Ask businesspeople. Ask other writers. Do some research on what makes a headline effective.

Your challenge, as a writer, is to create headlines and titles that compel people to focus their attention on what you have to say and stay glued to every word.

Now it’s your turn: What sorts of headlines appeal to you? Writers, which headlines have worked well for you? Do you have any analytical insights into headline effectiveness? Please share your thoughts in the comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Writer Ideas

Offline Strategies for Marketing Your Book

Authors, what sort of successful offline strategies for book promotion have you used?

In one of my online discussion groups, someone recently asked what sort of successful offline strategies for book promotion published authors have used. I’ve adapted part of my response for this post and hope that if you are a published author you’ll share one or two of your successful offline strategies for marketing your book.

When you start to develop the offline marketing plan for your book, your first questions should be:

  • Who is my audience?
  • Where are they likely to look for the kind of book I have written?

How you answer those questions will help determine which offline strategies you might consider. The following suggestions have worked for me as well as for some of my ghostwriting clients who asked for tips on marketing. Of course there are other strategies you can pursue, but these will get you started on developing a marketing plan for your book.

If you are publishing your book through a traditional publisher, the two of you will discuss who does what. (Most authors publish with smaller houses, which assume the author will be responsible for much of the marketing.) Just expect to handle a fair amount of the marketing and promotion yourself, unless you are a celebrity with wide name recognition or your book is so compelling that the big publishing houses are engaged in a frenzied bidding war to land your manuscript. (Compelling? It’s a code word that means “appears poised to make huge sales.”)

If you are self-publishing, then you are the publisher, of course, and in that case will especially want to pick and choose among those strategies that are likely to give you the most return (that is, book sales) for the time and effort invested.

Get all the reviews you can. Work with your publisher to have the book sent around to the most appropriate journals, magazines, digests, newspapers and other publications for review. See if your publisher will actually handle sending the review copies: this is a big job, and if your publisher is willing and already has a database full of contacts, be grateful. (And possibly consider sending your publisher a lovely thank-you note and fabulous flowers or delectable chocolates). If you are really lucky, your publisher will also track and assemble the review clippings, and send copies of them to you. Reviews serve many purposes; one of the most important is to help generate orders from bookstores, book clubs and other outlets.

Get out there and give interviews! Follow up on the press releases and review copies that have already been sent out by contacting local and national magazines, journals, newspapers, and radio and TV stations to set up interviews. Naturally, you’ll want to target those that are appropriate for your book, so when you make your pitch, be sure you know how your book is relevant to the publication’s or show’s audience—in other words, be able to tell them why they should interview you as opposed to another of the many authors who are also trying to snag an interview. Bonus: Since many publications and stations also have a website, your interview just might also appear online in written form or, in some cases, as a podcast.

Some nonfiction books lend themselves beautifully to seminars. If you decide that seminars make sense as part of your promotion strategy, consider structuring the fee to include a copy of your book for each participant.

Would speaking engagements work for your book? Many authors spread the word by speaking to professional associations, special-interest groups, conferences and other organizations. Tip: Ask if they can give your book a plug in their handouts and publicity (don’t assume they’ll just do it; be sure to ask and offer to supply the copy or advertising insert). Also, make sure you always have plenty of books on hand to sell on site; alternatively, you might arrange for a local bookstore to handle sales of your book at the event.

Before and after your book is published, consider writing articles about your book’s subject for relevant magazines, newspapers and journals. If you can manage a column, you’ll derive even more exposure. You might also approach selected publications and pitch excerpts from your book. The point is to get your book and your name in front of your audience, grab their attention, and motivate them to buy a copy. Bonus: Like other authors, you’ll probably find that the experience and the clips will have many future uses.

What about readings and book signings at bookstores, libraries, book clubs and similar venues? Although many writers dreamily imagine reading to large crowds of enraptured fans and signing books for long lines of adoring readers, in reality those events often seem to work best (that is, they produce the most traffic and sales) for well-known/celebrity writers or for topics that attract hordes of readers, no matter who the author is. Test the market for this type of event by talking with your local booksellers and librarians.

Whatever set of strategies you select to incorporate into your marketing plan—good luck!

Now it’s your turn: Have you used any of these strategies to market your book? What worked best for you? What other offline promotion efforts produced book sales for you? Take part in the conversation by leaving comments – thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

The deep-water oil-well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico continues to blast out miles-long plumes of unmitigated disaster. Slimes of black and rusty oil, toxic bursts of methane and jets of volatile organics geyser outward, exploding, spurting, surging, leaping from the wellhead.

This defective, uncontrollable wellhead spews a cataclysmic onslaught that befouls the sea, the land, the air, and an entire way of life for generations to come. Up to 60,000 barrels a day for more than a month now. No end in sight. The misguided use of underwater dispersants increases the scope of the problem and makes cleanup unbearably arduous and maybe futile.

How to describe the genesis of this wellhead run amok? Was it due to carelessness? Stupidity? A gluttonous, one-quarter worldview that places profits before conscience? A freak accident? A fool’s notion of self-interest that blew up in everyone’s face? Whatever the pathetic and wretched misdeeds, the lazy missteps and pitiful intentions, our world is now sorely afflicted.

What do we want to know about pelican chicks crushed in their nests, their fluffy down tousled by hydrocarbon-laced sea breezes, because those who were placing booms did not know or care enough to avoid nesting sites?

What do we say to the Louisiana pancake batfish, which lives 1,500 feet below the surface, as its insides burn and dissolve from ingesting an oil-coated meal?

How should we talk about the numb, grief-stricken look in an oysterman’s eyes, the weary slump of his shoulders, as he stares out toward the Gulf, his mind whirring with memories, aware that 100 years of a family business are dying along with the oyster beds?

What words can we offer to help comfort the residents of the Gulf Coast states?  Caring … moral support … financial reimbursement … volunteer … tourist … we stand with you. Do these suffice? What else?

How can we express our own feelings about the catastrophe? Rage. Bitterness. Anger. Bravery. Fear. Horror. Compassion. Grief. Patience. Shock. Steadfastness. Hatred. Anxiety. Dread. Fury. Courage. Hmm, courage? What else do we have to muster in order to move forward?

And what abject apologies do we beg Mother Nature to accept? “Sorry” just does not cut it. What about “We promise to do better next time, Ma’am”? Or perhaps “If we grovel, would you please, pretty please, let us off the hook on this one”? Maybe “Just make it all go away”? Nah. Our only realistic option is to start screaming “Mommy, help us!!”

Still we keep right on drilling and pumping, don’t we, even in the most tenuous and risky environments. All things considered, then, we’d better start polishing our words, better start honing our descriptions, better start buffing our phrases to a lustrous shine. Because it looks like we’re going to need a lot of them in the years ahead.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Writers and editors are always hunting for good ideas, whether a sparkling, original one or a new angle on a tried-and-true war-horse. After all, every print and online publication needs to be fed, some on a daily basis. Finding good story ideas is a constant scramble.

Let’s say you need a good idea for a travel article.

Start by establishing your subject area, also known as the focus, angle, slant, hook, or thread. Since you clearly cannot write about everything relating to even one place, much less an entire neighborhood, city, region or country, you have to focus on some particular aspect.

For example, if the editor of a travel magazine wants an article about St. Louis, Missouri and has asked you to submit several ideas for articles, what do you do? Begin by jotting down large topic areas like historical sites, arts, museums, festivals, food, neighborhoods, local celebrities, music, and so on. You’ll probably have to research the metro area in order to make such a list, and you might also want to check around to see what has already been written in travel magazines and blogs, and in the travel section of newspapers. And, by the way, what are actual travelers interested in knowing? Get all the stats you can.

Pick one of the topic areas and refine it. Take food, for example. Do you want to write about cuisine native to St. Louis (yes, it exists; gooey butter cake and toasted ravioli are just some of the fare to be enjoyed)? Or would you prefer to neighborhood hop and sample what one or two areas offer, or, alternatively, highlight one venerable dish and how chefs in different neighborhoods prepare it? What about tracing a single St. Louis food specialty back to its origins? If a local chef or restaurant has just won a major award, would a timely profile piece appeal to readers (and the editor)? Maybe a jazzy piece on the truly great “dives” in the city? Or how about throwing a spotlight on bars that serve the best bar food?

You can see where this is leading—right to what could become a very interesting slant on St. Louis food. And now you’re on a roll, slicing and dicing the “food” idea, heading toward a nicely defined point of view, which will give the editor a story worth telling and, for the magazine’s audience, a story worth reading.

Continue shaping your story idea by tightening the frame, so that you zoom in closer and closer to an idea about food that is very particular and very local. And while you’re at it, sharpen the focus until you distill your idea to one facet of the subject.

If you follow this process, you should bag your quarry in the end.

What do you think?  Do you have any tips for tracking down a good story idea?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas  lexpower


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