You Too Can Write Earth Shaking Headlines

I’ve always found headlines fun, a kind of challenge but a freedom to be a bit daring, wild and just plain contrary. You can pick something a bit misleading, something humourous, something argumentative or whatever appeals to you at the time.

The point is to catch the reader’s attention and draw them into the article. By hook or by crook, you want to make them look.

Make sure your headlines are not redundant. Don’t use words which will be skimmed over. Choose words which aren’t already flooding the magazine. Words which the reader isn’t glossing over due to repetition in the theme, content or other articles in the magazine/ publication. Make your headline unique, fresh and unexpected.

Keep it short. Most publications don’t have space for your best creative headlines. If you keep it brief you won’t be sad when the editor chops it down to size. Ideally, a headline fits in one line of column text. If you know the standards for the publication you’re writing for measure your headline against the space available.

As always, keep in mind the tone and style of the publication. Don’t submit something sexy if they avoid that style. Don’t submit something really cutsey if the publication is serious. You may think that’s limiting and takes away from all the fun of writing headlines. But, it doesn’t. It just makes it that much more challenging. Have fun!

Start Networking

Have you really worked on networking? Really gotten serious about your contacts and your contact’s contacts? Who do they know that you don’t know, yet.

Think of the six degrees of separation theory. It’s not who you know right now that counts but who you could get to know through your cousin Pat’s hair dresser. You might have a connection to a big wig editor at Harlequin and not even know it. You won’t know either, until you start networking.

Plus you can always build your network. Join relevant or related groups to whatever your area of writing is. If you write fiction find authors groups and readers groups too. If you write about squirrels join groups that go on nature walks. Not only do you have sources of information and inspiration but you have future buyers and readers too!

Be careful to keep things organized. Don’t lose an important name or number or email address. Keep a contact notebook handy. Keep two even! Have one for your purse or pocket and another for your car. Wherever you would be able to get them when you need them. This is why backpacks and whopper-sized purses are really great. In spite of the teasing of your family and friends. What do they know? Are they writers of greatness?!

Get a Bit More Ambitious

You decided you want to write. So you wrote, you have manuscripts, articles and short stories tucked away. Maybe you sent a few out but got discouraged. Or, maybe you’ve had some published, you’ve had a couple of bylines. Good! Better even if you’ve worked and achieved bigger goals and taken scarier risks.

Now get a bit more ambitious. Take another step. Push an envelope onto another desk, another publisher, a different editor, or your own desk. Could you put together a web zine? Could you run an email list about a topic you write about, know about? Could you try something you wanted to do before but put off for some reason?

If you are someone who has written stories and kept them in a drawer, pull them out. Look them over, do they need some tightening up, a little proofreading? Once they’re spiffed up send them in somewhere. Try it.

I’m getting a bit more ambitious this week. I’m going to put my foot out and see if I trip myself or not. I’m taking steps to really have a writing business, not just someone who submits content, articles, resumes, etc and hopes for the best. I’m going to be one of those home business, self employed people who make cold calls (something which I definitely have butterflies about). But, I’m doing it. I’ve got plans for networking, notes for a business plan and I’ve discovered that you really do have to do more than say you have a business, to have a business.

My new mantra is: take yourself seriously and take action. It could work for you too. Don’t fluff off your work and your ambitions to write. Take yourself seriously and do something about it.

Best wishes.

Cutesy Words

I do not like cutsey words. “Peeps” “sumpin” and “wassup” make me cringe. Perhaps I’m just showing my age, or being too particular and unbending. Whatever the case, I don’t like them and I can’t see myself changing on this.

It’s interesting to think, the way the English language evolves, some of these so called words could become standard English, over time. Hopefully a lot of time so that I’ll be into my next life and never see it happen.

What do you think about the use of cutsey words? Is it acceptable to use them in an article? I guess it really depends on the editor who will be choosing to pay for the article or not. Of course, a big guideline to language is the publication itself. What do the other writers write like?

Still you have to think of the readers when you submit an article. It’s the readers and the advertisers who make the style guides in the end. These days the advertisers probably have more sway than the readers even.

Anyway, you can be sure that if I ever type something cutsey like sumpin, I will have been taken over by aliens or something even worse.

Trying to be Professional

How professional are you? What impression do you make with potential editors, clients and other writers?

Last year I joined up with a well known online community (Note: When I originally wrote this I named the site. I decided not to name them in the newsletter thanks to advice from subscribers to my InkSplatters list) to write a regular column about the Internet. It took almost a year for my application to be accepted. This was mostly due to it being misplaced or forgotten. I’m still not sure what happened. Eventually, I was accepted to write the column. The editor wanted me to be especially careful with grammar and punctuation. She wanted each column to be professional.

When I wanted to go into the site and update the column, add more links and all the other stuff you do when you write a column for a website, I couldn’t access anything. I had no editor screen. I emailed asking for help. She replied that I must be doing something wrong and gave me a list of instructions. However, I still couldn’t get to any editor screen. It just wasn’t there. I emailed with a few other people at the site about the problem but got no further. Months go by and a new editor starts to head up the Internet/ Computer section of the site. He writes to ask if I’m interested in doing the column or have I forgotten it. To make a long story short, you can still see my dead end column up at that site. The spammers are making use of it.

The point to this is not bad mouthing anyone or any site, it’s showing how people can be unprofessional at all levels. You don’t have to be some newbie writer to be unprofessional. But, you should watch for it and do your best to look like you know what you’re doing and you know how to do it well.

One way to be professional is organization. If you have a few balls in the air make sure you know where they are, which one you need to catch next and when the next one is ready to be tossed. Don’t lose track of important details. I’m not good at this myself. But you can always improve. Just cause you messed up one day doesn’t mean you can’t do better the next day. We’re human and adaptable for a reason.

Another way to be professional is to learn, find out what the expected standards are and use them. Write a query letter without irrelevant personal comments. Save chit chat for friends and people who are interested in what you have to write. Don’t forget or be too timid to include your terms, your contract, along with the ideas you are submitting. Make it clear writing isn’t some hobby you do without pay. It’s more professional to present yourself as a professional, showing what you can offer and what you expect back for your work.

Are there ways you could be more professional? Read some of your past business correspondence and see how you could improve. Did you find any typos? Did you chit chat a bit too much? Was your proposal specific enough? Know what you need to fix so you can write a better query next time. Also, if you get into the habit of being professional it becomes easier and it will leak out into all the aspects of your writing career. One other plus, the more professional you are the more you will feel like a writer and less like someone trying to be a writer.

Create Yourself in Your Own Image

We know about presenting a good, professional image and using effective body language. If you work in fiction you’ve likely used body language, style and first impressions to create a character. But, do you present a good image of yourself?

If you are in a professional situation do you know how to appear professional and confident. Do you look at people when you speak to them? If you look at someone’s eyes while they speak they will feel you’re really listening. Don’t sit or stand with your body scrunched or folded up. Good posture counts. Also, don’t sprawl and have people tripping over you, but – don’t be afraid to take up some space. When sitting, standing or walking don’t appear small and intimidated, talk with your hands a little, rest your arm on the arm of the chair.

Is your conversation full of slang, do you tend to use any bad language (anything you wouldn’t say in front of a 4 year old)? Coach yourself to speak clearly and avoid pauses with “ummm” and related phrases. If you find yourself stumbling over your words, sounding nervous, stop. Take a breath, a sip of water and remember you’re talking to a fellow human being not a rabid skunk, relax.

Can you carry a conversation, do you have some prepared chit chat? Avoid talking about the weather, politics or religion, come up with something a bit more interesting and uniquely you. If you have hobbies try working them in. Don’t go overboard talking about yourself, just enough to break the ice is fine. Ask questions about their own interests to pull them into the conversation. You don’t have to be full of yourself, you don’t even have to be genuinely confident, but you should appear to know what you’re doing and be at ease.

Take a look at your wardrobe. Do you have at least one ‘interview suit’? If so, do you feel confident when wearing it? If you don’t go shopping for something that flatters you and makes you feel good when you have it on. It should be comfortable to wear so you aren’t distracted by a tight jacket, a colour that makes you feel mousy or any other of a hundred problems that can come up. Yes, you want to be dressy but you don’t want to feel unnatural or inelegant. If your style of dress is casual try finding something casual in a dressy fabric. Or something dressy, like a tailored suit, in a casual fabric.

Of course, you are groomed, have brushed hair and teeth, lathered up (recently) in general. Make sure your fingernails are clean. Give yourself a check over just before the get together. Anything stuck in your teeth? Did that garlic at lunch stay with you? Any dirt, strings, or very tiny aliens, hanging from your clothes?

Writers already have a small image problem. People tend to assume writers slack off and have it easy. We work at home, may not even get dressed or out of bed all day. We don’t work at a ‘real’ job. Don’t assume another writer or editor or publisher will know better. Dress for success. Create the image you want people to have and then be there.