The first twenty-five words of your article are the most important. If they're not powerful and "sticky", readers will not stop and invest the time to find out what your article is about.
Some writers write and rewrite their leads numerous times, changing a word here, adding a word there. I've heard of writers reworking the lead up to twenty times, until it is the best possible. Are leads that important? Absolutely!
Most people flick through a magazine first and then decide what to read. Your lead is the advertisement, a signpost telling readers what to expect. If readers like the lead, they will invest the time to keep reading. Your lead, known as "the hook", worked.
Editors and Leads
Editors have a built in detector for excellent leads. Anything that doesn't hook the editor won't be accepted.
Your article may have a great topic, be well written, contain terrific research, include usable tips and ideas... but, sadly the lead let you down and your article was rejected.
Writing a Sticky Lead
What makes a lead "sticky"?
Example of What Works and What Doesn't
- An Invitation -- Come in and read my article, there's lots of information, inspiration and entertainment.
- Being Direct -- A sticky lead is concise, direct and appealing. It doesn't ramble, or promise the impossible.
- It Fits -- Your sticky lead is an introduction to your article and should be appropriate for the following material. Some people have written great leads but they didn't have much to do with the rest of the article. Readers really hate that, so please don't do it.
- It's Natural -- Readers can tell if your sticky lead is forced, the flow is not good and you are not writing in a style that suits you. Readers are perceptive and much more knowledgeable than we sometimes give them credit for.
This is an article about moving house.
"One day we were driving along a nice country lane, enjoying the countryside. The weather was ideal, warm with blue skies and not much cloud.
We had chosen this day to look at a new suburb because we had considered moving. The suburb was two hours drive from where we were living and we wondered what attractions it had to make us want to relocate." (65 words)
This is a pretty sleepy lead. It rambles and doesn't have a hook.
Take a look at this lead for the same article.
"Two hours drive south of Big City is New Town. Jobs are plentiful. Homes range from bungalows to multi-level spacious accommodation. New Town is on the banks of Lake Special. The air is clean -- All the ingredients for a great lifestyle. Here's what to look for when you're thinking of moving." (52 words)
The second version sets the scene and tells readers what to look for when considering a move. You are giving information, inspiration and entertainment.
- Information -- Where the place is and what are the immediate impressions.
- Inspiration -- All the ingredients for a great lifestyle.
- Entertainment -- Even if you're not thinking of moving this might be a great place to visit.
Think carefully about the lead when you start your next article.
Barb Clews is an award winning journalist with nearly 1,000 published articles to her credit. She has been a writer and editor for 15 years and is the author of "Article Writing for Freelancers" and "20 Tips to Increase Writing Skills" Visit http://www.bcabooks.com/ to subscribe to "Words that Work", Barb's monthly ezine packed with tips for writers.