Have You Hooked Your Readers?

by Andy ScheerAndy Scheer June 2015 3745 72 dpi

Don’t tempt them to put it down.

Remember the last time you glanced at a magazine article—then flipped the page.

Now remember that piece you couldn’t put down. You emailed copies and told friends about it. That’s the kind of writing editors seek.

An article has perhaps ten seconds to grab a reader’s attention. Editors want articles that grab readers—and hold them to the end. Great topics aren’t enough. Ask yourself, “Would I read my article if someone else had written it?” Sure your mom, your spouse, or your best friend would . Editors want articles everyone else wants to read.

Editors want writing that
breathes life into a topic—
not that rehashes material
they’ve already seen.

Editors want writing that breathes life into a topic—not that rehashes material they’ve already seen. Proposing an article about Christmas? Make it different than the “Let’s Put Christ Back into Christmas” or “Have a Stress-Free Christmas Dinner” article that you, the editor, and her readers have seen countless times.

The same for other important but perennial topics such as supporting missionaries or strengthening marriage. Take a fresh approach. Make the lead paragraph surprising.

Some years back, Focus on the Family printed “When Feathers Fly” by Janet E. Pratt, which examined principles couples could use to resolve conflicts.

The application points were standard. But Pratt hooked readers with an anecdotal lead in which she describes needing to cooperate with her husband (to whom she wasn’t speaking) to haul off the carcass of a dead ostrich. (Maybe a ho-hum lead for Today’s Ostrich Rancher, but for Focus, it was arresting.)

As Pratt concludes her anecdote, readers stick with her as she turns the corner: “Immediately afterward, as I showered off the dead bird smell, it occurred to me that the principles of handling conflicts in a marriage are a lot like the mechanics of dealing with a dead ostrich. …”

If your topic is worth reading about, find a fresh way to approach it. Include a dramatic quote from a neighbor or an expert. Perhaps you have a memory of an argument with a co-worker that prompted you to see a Scripture verse in a fresh way.

Once you’ve hooked a reader, maintain her interest with good writing: concrete nouns, vivid verbs, sentence variety, specific examples, and consistent, logical development. You don’t need gimmicks.

In the realm of Christian publishing, editors (and readers) look for accounts that find a topic’s human dimension, apply God’s living Word, then convey that information in simple, straightforward language.

Earn a reputation for that kind of writing, and editors will welcome your next piece.

About Andy Scheer

With more than 30 years in publishing, Andy Scheer has provided freelance editorial services since 2010. He has edited fiction and nonfiction for publishers including Moody, WinePress, and BelieversPress, as well as for clients including Dirk Cussler, McNair Wilson, DiAnn Mills, Heather Day Gilbert, and Sammy Tippit.
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