How to Grab an Editor’s Attention

The average editor receives dozens of queries each day—many from PR firms that look exactly the same. When an editor glances—yes, she will initially glance at your query—you will want something to grab her attention, something that will make your query stand out from all the others.

For email queries, some writers have adopted the habit of putting something attention- grabbing in the Subject line. “Dog Murders His Owner” might initially get the attention of an editor but rarely do these attention-grabbing Subject lines follow up with something strong and compelling.

A brief anecdote that relates to your proposal is one effective way to grab an editor’s attention. It’s important that if you use this technique, that you are brief and also compelling enough to make the editor want to read more.

Don’t start out your query with “My name is Sue Smith, and I work at the public library in Toledo.”

It’s crucial to demonstrate in your query the reason why it’s unique and should be accepted. However, don’t tell the editor this—show him. Refrain from using phrases such as “And this is why you should accept this query …” and “That’s the reason why …”

If you can’t show the editor why the story is important, then you are probably not likely to be able to tell her readers why the story is important.

Many people get hung up on this show versus tell dilemma. It’s really quite simple. Don’t tell me that this topic is significant, one of a kind, really cool and unique. Show me by telling a story that brings me to these descriptors.

Show the editor in your query why it should be accepted. What makes this query/story unique; what separates it from the 75 other queries I’ve received this week?

Finally, get to the point. As I mentioned earlier, an editor may just glance at your query and not spend the time on it you think it deserves. Grab that editor’s attention with a compelling anecdote and then move to the heart of the query.

There is hardly anything worse for an editor than to have her interest piqued right away by a strong anecdote only to have the query drag on for several more paragraphs—or pages.

Make your query strong and unique. Show me and don’t tell me, and get right to the point.

And if you need help, please reach out!

Secrets Your Editor Wished You Knew

This may seem like a no-brainer, but this oversight costs writers—and editors who read them—valuable time. If you needed a new transmission for your car, you wouldn’t drive around town for an hour looking for a mechanic only to arrive at one who only did oil changes.

That hour is only a fraction of the time it takes most writers to develop an article and to write a compelling query, but you get the picture: Don’t waste your valuable time focused on things that have little or no possibility of success.

It’s fairly easy to find out all the pertinent information about a publication before you query it. Find out how often it publishes, what specific types of articles it normally includes and how often—if ever—it publishes freelance writers. Each of these will play a pivotal role in how you query the publication.

Many people peruse a writer’s guide and come up with dozens of publications to query without taking the time to determine if a particular publication fits their specific query.

For example, over the years I’ve worked for several religiously-themed publications and have received countless queries that would in no way be appropriate for us. It’s obvious that the sender didn’t even take five minutes—or in some cases one minute—to determine if the query he was mass-sending to publications was appropriate for each one. It’s the shotgun approach: send out as many queries as possible and hopefully one sticks.

This rarely works. It also puts a bad taste in an editor’s mouth and can make further querying from that person even more difficult. If an editor receives several unsuitable queries from a particular person, she is likely to block that person’s email or just delete every email that person sends without ever reading it.

By determining the basics of each publication, the writer can tailor the query to fit the specific needs of the publication and its audience. Some argue that you should read several back issues of a publication before you query them. That’s fine and certainly is helpful.

However, most writers don’t have that kind of time. Do your best to familiarize yourself with the publication through perusing its website and conducting Google searches for the name of the publication and your topic—to determine if it has previously done something along the same lines as you are proposing.

Find out from a writer’s guide if the publication uses freelance writers and how often. Some writers will go through the effort of composing a query and sending it to a publication without checking to see if it even uses freelancers.

Also, some publications will use freelancers but only on assignment or only those with significant clips to their name. By determining this simple requirement, you can save a lot of time, energy and emotional well-being.

Finally, determine the frequency of publication for each magazine/journal you query.

When I was at Decision magazine, we published 11 times a year (we had a combined

June/July issue). We also worked seven months ahead of schedule.

So, if it’s June and you are querying the magazine, we are already working on articles for the January issue. So that means if your article has a seasonal focus or in some way is more suitable for a certain time of year, then you need to be mindful of this when sending your query.

This can also serve as an advantage for the prepared writer.

If your query relates to the importance of fathers, sending it several months ahead of Father’s Day can give you a head start on other freelancers who are hoping to query on the same topic.

Knowing the publication you are querying can also earn you points with the editor.

If you are a regular or committed reader of the publication, don’t just say “I’m a committed reader of The North Shore Review.” Show the editor that you’re a committed reader by referencing a previous article in the publication and how that might relate to your query.

This isn’t a necessity, but if you have the ability to tie your query into something previously published—without it being the same type of article—mention it and demonstrate your knowledge to the editor. Things like this can only help; they rarely hurt.

For more information on querying publication, sign up for the Noble Creative eNewsletter for additional tips, resources and ideas.


3 Tips for Better Article Titles

After two decades of developing and editing content on a variety of platforms, I’ve discovered one of the easiest ways to improve your articles is by spending time creating compelling titles. As attention spans continue to get shorter, it’s even more imperative for writers to draw in readers from the start.

If we fail at the title level, then we often fail the rest of the way. If we can’t compel readers to get past the title and into the crux of our writing, then we have lost the battle.

Here are three quick tips I’ve learned to help writers develop titles that will inspire readers to want more.

1.  Invite the reader into the article.

Admittedly, this is often easier said than done. However, readers will more likely read past your title if they perceive an invitation or opportunity to join you in the story.

Instead of a “me-focus” on the title, consider a “reader-focus.” Avoid words such as “my” or “I” and focus more on an “our perspective” approach. Readers will more likely read an article if they perceive that it someone relates to them as opposed to the article just being about your personal struggle or journey.

2. Demonstrate some emotion

Take a glance at an academic journal and read the title page. Most of the articles are very specific indications of an approach to a topic without any emotion or feeling. And in that genre, it works.

However, if you’re writing popular works and hoping for a broad-based readership, you’ll want to provide some level of emotive roadmap of what’s to come. Now, we’re talking about titles, so we can’t include tons of words that describe what the reader can expect.

Yet if we don’t at least provide a snapshot of what to expect, we are putting up our own roadblocks to potential readerships. If your article is a serious, emotional approach to fighting MS, allude to that in the title. If your article is a humorous look at parenting, make sure the reader knows that by the title.

3. Consider asking a question or including numbers

One way to attract attention is by asking a question in the title. If the topic is of interest to the reader—and oftentimes even if it’s not—people will want to read on to discover the answer.

Try to make the question simple, broad and compelling … so simple that a reader will remember the question long after he or she reads the article.

Another option is adding numbers (much like the title to this article). Adding numbers sticks out to the human eye and tells a reader that there are simple and doable suggestions to a certain topic.

Titling an article “5 Simple Tips to Better Health” is easy, broad and compelling. And it conveys the idea that the suggestions are attainable and can be incorporated into my life.

These are just a few suggestions to consider as you title your next article. Most of us–when we write–spend copious amounts of time refining, editing and proofing our articles. And we should.

But how many of us spend a decent amount of time developing compelling titles—titles that will draw in more readers and expose them not only to the topic at hand but to our broader writing and publishing?

For more ideas and help on writing, editing and content development, visit And if you’re looking for a writing coach who can walk with you along the way to publication, email and put “Writing Coach” in the Subject line.