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My Story Was Ignored by a Small Publication but Got Accepted by an A-listed One

The only thing I changed — the headline

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

I have been advocating for a decent amount of time now about why submitting to smaller publications is actually a better bet than submitting to big publications. I would not go into that detail today.

But lately, something strange happened.

I had submitted a story on writing with gender neutrality to a small but budding publication. Usually, the story gets published in a day or two, max. But strangely, this time, the piece was still sitting in my ‘Stories’ tab for almost 4 days.

I have been actively submitting to fast-growing publications and am used to the very short turnaround time of my stories (one of the various things which make these publications fun to write for).

I was in a dilemma after 4 days- whether to cancel the submission or write a note to the editor. After much contemplation, I chose the former of the two.

Then was the moment to decide my next course of action — choosing another publication.

I have submitted some articles to the A-list publications, which have been politely declined. But that day, something in me made me submit to one such publication. I thought it was a good piece and was hoping that it would be accepted. Within 24 hours, I get a notification for the story (which I straightaway assumed would be a sorry note).

But it was a confirmation that the story has been scheduled for publication on Feb 10th!

I remember reading that again and again.

The point of narrating this incident is not to bloat about the success The important thing is that there were no changes made in the body of the story.

I had just changed the headline.

The history of my headline

When I had submitted initially the headline read:

Writing With Gender Neutrality — Avoiding the ‘he or she’ and the ‘his or her’ conundrum

And after I decided to resubmit, I thought a little tweaking in the headline might do good for the story. After much permutation and combination, it was:

‘All Men Are Created Equal.’ What About Women? — Why writing with gender neutrality is important to convey the right message.

Why is a good headline crucial

I keep saying that the headline is the ONLY key that opens the door to a story. No matter how insightful the article may be, it becomes a waste of time when the intended reader does not consume it. All the rigor and the effort that goes into building a story becomes futile.

2.6 seconds.

That is the average time readers spend to decide whether they want to dig deeper into your story or skip to another. Hence, the whole success(or failure) of your story depends on the headline.

What was the difference between the two headlines?

I would reiterate that the story was exactly the same and that the only change done was the name.

What’s in a name? But, sadly, in writing, it doesn’t hold any water. It’s all in the name here.

I stepped back and zoomed into both the headlines objectively.

Choosing the right amount of words

The first one was too short and failed to pique the interest of the reader. On the other hand, the second headline tried to put in something more, as if trying to strike a conversation with the reader.

A very taut headline sometimes conveys introversion. A healthy number of words is like giving more time to the reader to chew and process the story, giving away the flavor of the same.

Again, going overboard with the length can be more detrimental than beneficial, in the sense that the headline gives away all that is there in the story. Why bother to read it?

Finding the sweet spot is the key.

Adding the right amount of spice

The first headline was plain and simple, utterly bland—no taste in it. The second had spice.

So, when I say ‘writing with gender neutrality,’ I am using a tone of advice. A what-to-do type of speech. It doesn’t entice you much, right? Doesn’t titillate the right strings. But when I say ‘all men are equal, what about women,’ I am creating a query rather than giving away the fix. A question that translates into a thought.

Usually, after encountering a question, there are two recourses; if you know the answer, you tend to validate it, and if you don’t, you seek it. In both scenarios, you dig deeper. And that is the spice in the headline.

Giving the right amount of information

If you look at the subtitles of both the headlines, you will notice that the first one continued to carry the advisory tone of the headline, kind of a drag. Sort of — do this and do this.

While in the second one, there was the spice in the headline and a glass of water in the subtitle. The headline sowed a thought in mind, and the subtitle complemented it.

The subtitle is an additional opportunity for writers to guide the readers into the real story. It is like the blurb of your novel. Giving the readers just the right amount of information is crucial.

Before I go

Like everything else in life, no headline (or subtitle) is perfect. Zeroing down on what works best for your story is all that matters.

And I would say, it is a continuous process. There will hits and misses. The best way is the way forward.

Happy reading (and writing!).



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