The Problem with Carefully Crafted Headlines

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Category: Blogging, Books, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 8 comments

My youngest showed me a bookmark that listed the 20 Texas Bluebonnet nominated books. “Mom, I’m going to read all 20 of these books,” he said.

Needless to say, I did cartwheels and back flips in my mind. (The only place it can happen as I haven’t done a decent cartwheel since the ’80s.) A child who wants to read? My oldest was average about reading. The middle one despises it.

A little background. The Texas Library Association runs the Texas Bluebonnet Award program, a reading program that encourages children in third through sixth grades to read more books. They must read at least five nominated books to be able to vote.

We reviewed the list to find his next read. Then I did what I should know better to do. I started judging books by the title. An interesting thing happened. The synopsis of the titles that interested me sounded like books worth reading. And those with blah titles didn’t.

After my son finished “Benjamin Franklinstein Lives!” I picked it up. Good title, right? I don’t like monsters or anything, but I knew it wouldn’t be scary since this is for kids. Here’s the synopsis:

Victor Godwin’s orderly life is upended when he discovers that Benjamin Franklin never actually died. In truth, he was put in suspended animation and hidden away for more than 200 years in Victor’s basement.

Intriguing, right?

I didn’t like it.

Bad Headlines Live!

That’s what happens when I come across a headline that interests me. I click through only to find a disappointing article that doesn’t deliver.

There are jillions of articles about writing headlines for blog posts and online articles. They give advice, tricks and formulas for crafting a super duper catchy one that hypnotizes people into reading.

Please stop. Just stop.

It happens often enough that I quit visiting a few websites that let me down again and again and again. Everyone has an off day. Of course, I didn’t stop visiting after one over-hyped or perfectly crafted headline. These sites were notorious enough that I started remembering how they wasted my time too often.

Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Some headlines say they’ll show you how to create a plan or strategy only to be vague without helping you.

Back to Basics

A simple headline that describes the article beats out another using a formula that over promises and under delivers. The same goes for email subject lines. I open plenty of email newsletters with basic subject lines that tell me what the issue is about. They don’t always have a benefit or add a sense of urgency. Some even use the same headline such as: “Newsletter name: Title of key topic or article.”

Just say what’s in the email and make sure the content in the email matches the landing page. Bryan Eisenberg shares great examples of how an email promises one thing and delivers something else. (Check it out. It’s unbelievable how companies overlook something so basic.)

Now when I review the Bluebonnet list, I look up the book’s summary and read well-written reviews. I also ask around for recommendations. 2013-2014 nominee “Walls Within Walls” caught my eye. And guess what? The school librarian loved it. And my son is already hooked. (Bonus points: the book takes place in New York, my dad’s hometown.)

For 2012-2013, my son voted for “Aliens on Vacation.” If I could vote, it’d be “Wonderstruck,” which left me — like its title — wonderstruck after reading it.  (Its author, Brian Selznick, wrote “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”) At my son’s school, “Wonderstruck” received the most votes. “Postcards from Camp” won the 2012-2013 Texas Bluebonnet Award.

Are headlines becoming a problem for you in your Internet travels? Do they live up to your expectations? What can we do to write better headlines?

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Links: Long Weekend 2011 Edition

Friday, October 21st, 2011 at 12:40 PM | Category: Links, Meryl's Notes Blog No comments

Boys and Texas StarThe kids have today and Monday off. Today is due to parent-teacher conferences. Monday, I suppose, gives everyone an opportunity to go to the State Fair.

Growing up in Fort Worth, we didn’t get a day off for the fair. Instead, we got a day off at the end of January for the Stock Show and Rodeo. I went a couple of times, but don’t remember much. Just a snapshot of walking in the barn and watching cowboys in the rodeo.

Not going to the State Fair this year. We went last year and that satisfied us for a while. It takes a long time to get there on the DART rail and food and rides cost a bit. Yes, that’s a picture of my boys looking up at the giant Texas Star ferris wheel.

Does your school district have days off for a special community event? Even if a person doesn’t have kids in school, it helps to keep up with the calendar so you don’t attend the community event on the day the students most likely will.

Brain food…

For fun because we’re allowed…

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Links: Hello, October 2011 Edition

Friday, September 30th, 2011 at 9:03 AM | Category: Links, Meryl's Notes Blog 1 comment

Ahh … rough week. Best I let y’all go adventuring through these links.

Brain food…

And for fun because we’re allowed…


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Links: Fall 2011 Edition

Friday, September 23rd, 2011 at 9:28 AM | Category: Links, Meryl's Notes Blog No comments
Candy Corn

Photo from user Spiders

Can’t believe fall arrived on time in the Dallas area after one of the hottest summers ever. Today is the first time I donned my sweater while working in the office. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about fall aside from changing leaves? For me, it’s candy corn. I know Halloween is over a month away, but somehow it’s become a bad habit for candy corn (and it must be a specific brand) to find its way into my house along with a few candy pumpkins.

Brain food …

For fun because we’re allowed …

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Links: Remembering 9/11 2011 Edition

Friday, September 9th, 2011 at 11:17 AM | Category: Links, Meryl's Notes Blog 1 comment
Here’s my “where I was” September 11 story. Where were you? United by Hope 9/11
Brain food…
  • Can Pre-Paid Legal Services Help Freelancers? You may have seen ads for Pre-Paid Legal or know someone who told you about it. It turned me off especially because of its MLM setup. But take away the marketing and it’s a good service.
  • Book Blogger Directory. A keeper for authors. Remember, don’t just email ‘em all asking to review your book. Target blogs that match your book’s ideal reader. [Link: Chapter and Voice]
  • How to Focus in the Age of Distraction. Great mindmap. But I had a hard time focusing and trying to stick with one branch. I kept jumping over. =)
  • Where to hang out at Google+ Hangouts. I haven’t joined one yet. Have you? What was your experience?
  • Two great Twitter toolsTwitblock: Scans your followers for potential spammers following you. DoesFollow: Quick way to find out if someone is following you without sending a DM or scanning that person’s long list of followers.

For fun because we’re allowed…

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Links: Happy 8th Birthday, Z 2011 Edition

Friday, April 29th, 2011 at 4:34 PM | Category: Books, Business, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing 1 comment

My little guy, who turned eight yesterday, will be in third grade next fall — in the latter half of his elementary school years. Years ago, I started a tradition in writing a letter to my children on their birthdays reflecting the past year. I showed my daughter several letters on her 16th birthday as a way to connect when we went to breakfast for her birthday. But I think I’ll give all of the letters to them on their 18th birthdays. (Unless you have a better idea.) So daughter gets hers next year.


Eight is a great age. Still young enough to be adorable, like cartoon and other movies tween boys typically don’t watch (He asked to see The Wizard of Oz and Aunt E gave him the DVD and we watched it together. 12-year-old brother didn’t join us.) and doing crafts like Pearler Beads. It won’t be long before I’m a mom of “older” kids who don’t do the cute stuff anymore. I try to make the most of every day of his life and his siblings’ too. They’re only a certain age for one year, kids for 18 and adults for way more than that.

Mazel tov, William and Kate.

Brain food…

And for fun because we’re allowed…

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Klatsch: Your Favorite Memoirs

Thursday, April 8th, 2010 at 10:24 AM | Category: Books, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 4 comments
DSC04059 Six-Word Memoir banners
Image by godutchbaby via Flickr

The local newspaper had a tasty article about cookie balls. It tells the story of a teacher who received round sweet treats from a student. She couldn’t figure out what they were, but she knew the treats weren’t cake balls.

The article explains that the centers of cake balls include a mix of cake crumbs and icing. The cookie balls blend cream cheese and ground sandwich cookies (Oreos and Nutter Butter, for example). A clear cut definition, wouldn’t you say? Unlike cookie and cake balls, the boundaries between memoirs and autobiographies blur.

I could quote the definition of memoir from many dictionaries, but instead I will share Writer’s Digest‘s definition. WD editor Brian A. Klems explains the difference between memoir and autobiography.

An autobiography focuses on the chronology of the writer’s entire life while a memoir covers one specific aspect of the writer’s life.

Christina Katz commented that she needs to read more because so many great memoirs await. (She must’ve read my mind because after I drafted this post, she published a list of memoir recommendations.) So I started thinking about the memoirs I’ve read and couldn’t recall a single one until I checked my books read list [pdf] (thank goodness for the list and Goodreads). In reviewing the first part of the looonnnngggg list, most were essays, autobiographies or neither. Like WD says, Amazon does put memoirs and biographies together.

I can’t think of a memoir that focuses on one aspect of a person’s life.  Oh, wait! What about Henry Kisor’s What’s That Pig Outdoors?: A Memoir of Deafness? The book focuses on Kisor’s experiences as a person who is deaf. But he shares a variety of stages in his life. So does that count as a memoir? Autobiography?

Christina’s list includes Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’ve started reading. Like Kisor, the book revolves around one topic (can you guess?) throughout his life. So does that mean Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott qualifies as a memoir?

Sounds like I need an memoir education beyond the fabulous guest post from Linda Joy Myers. Bet many others want to know the same thing.

What are your favorite memoirs? Why? What do you think of the distinction between memoir and autobiography?

klatsch n. “A casual social gathering, usually for conversation.” Source: The Free Dictionary AKA A blog post centered on a discussion topic.

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Short, Powerful and Favorite Books

Monday, March 2nd, 2009 at 9:09 AM | Category: Books, Meryl's Notes Blog 20 comments

Inspired by the short books that helped me get my reading groove back, I asked others what are their favorite books with no more than 200 pages. If you need a jump start to get back into reading or need a short read, here’s your list of books to check out.

I looked up those new to me and already have them on my “rent from the library” list. Since these are short, I plan to get them soon after I catch up on a couple of longer books I need to review. I’d let them cut in line, but I’ve already let too many books skip ahead in line.

Yes, a couple go a little beyond 200, but not much and they’re superb suggestions. Apologies for all the links — need to credit others and make it easy for you to look up the books.

jmcnally: Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke.

mikeandthemoms: I’m going to go with two – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (I think it’s under 200) and The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway.

GeekMommy: under 200 pages? either Anthem by Ayn Rand or Mimi the Merry Go Round Cat by Dorothy Haas. Both have shaped my mind.

yarnmaven: The Weblog Handbook by Rebecca Blood. Everything else I read is much longer or a knitting magazine.

bradshorr: Hard to pick one … this hits me at the moment Eugenics and Other Evils. On a totally different tack – Woody Allen Getting Even. Also C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. World Wide Rave: Creating Triggers that Get Millions of People to Spread Your Ideas and Share Your Stories.

CathLawson: The Richest Man In Babylon

guykawasaki: If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland.

Alison Law: I really loved Shopgirl by Steve Martin (144 pgs. according to Looking forward to your list!

Ben Henick: The Little Prince

Sara: Chronicles of Narnia

Gloria Chen: Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson.

Linda Kamin: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Marsha: Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life by Zoe Weil

Charles Bohannan: The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)

Jamie Grove’s List

In the Land of Pain, Alphonse Daudet

The Last Opium Den, Nick Tosches

Embers, Sandor Marai

Literature and the Gods, Roberto Calasso

The Devil’s Larder: A Feast, Jim Crace

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier, Thad Carhart

From Michael Michalowicz, the Toilet Paper Enterpreneur: Body for Life: 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength, The Richest Man in Babylon, and Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money–That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not!

Stephen Elliott’s List

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Ray by Barry Hannah

Salvador by Joan Didion

The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm

Desperate Characters: A Novel by Paula Fox

And probably my favorite book, Jesus’ Son: Stories by Denis Johnson

Mark Macias suggests Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing Media (Excerpts available).

Gisela suggests:

From Bauhaus to Our House by Tom Wolfe

Guide for the Perplexed by E.F. Schumacher

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

Meryl’s List

One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way: I started applying these ideas right away — before I finished the book. The author explains the science behind this in an interesting way.

Associated Press Guide to News Writing: The Resource for Professional Journalists: All you need to know to become a better journalist.

QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life: Rather than doing what comes naturally for many of us and becoming defensive and pointing fingers, the book changes your mode of thinking from “It’s his fault” to “How can I fix this?”

The Holy Man: Each chapter tells a tale and teaches a lesson. However, in the big scheme of things, there’s progression from start to finish as a couple of characters appear throughout.

Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results: Four simple things to make work and home a great place to be.

The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur: Become an entrepreneur with what you have and without the B.S. so many other books have.

My updated list of books read along[pdf] with their notes.

What other great books can you add to the list? What makes them special to you?

Updated: 22 April 2009


Week of June 16 Prize Winners

Monday, June 23rd, 2008 at 9:12 AM | Category: Blogging, Meryl's Notes Blog 4 comments

We have a lot of prizes to award today, so I’ll hold off our guest entry for tomorrow so the prizes don’t steal his spotlight!

From the Google Me! entry, we have Airport Mania: 2 copies (1 Mac and 1 PC) and one copy of Andy King’s upcoming Website Optimization.

Winners: Joanna Young wins a copy of Airport Mania and Yvonne Russell wins a copy of Website Optimization. We had no Mac comments in that entry, so the Mac copy remains unawarded.

Telling the Hard Truths of the Writing Life entry prizes include a book by Tara Calishain and AWAI’s Accelerated Six Figure Copywriting program.

Winners: Karen Putz (yes, you read that right!) wins a book by Tara Calishain and John Hewitt wins AWAI’s Accelerated Six Figure Copywriting program!

Prizes for The Fear that Holds Creative Writers Back entry are one custom banner for a blog or web site created to the winner’s specs and preferences, valued at $200. Men with Pens ask for a 7 to 10 day turnaround from the point that the winner transmits her/his specs, and two copies of Ricochet Infinity.

Winners: John Hoff and Ceci win Ricochet Infinity. Karen Putz (Again!!! This is your lucky day, girl!) wins the the custom banner!

Congratulations, everyone! Keep playing.

Please remember you can get more entries telling others about the prizes by linking back here — it won’t lessen your chances of winning — it’ll increase them. More copies of Website Optimization are up for the taking at CSS Collection.

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Marketing Books Online

Friday, November 16th, 2007 at 9:00 AM | Category: Books, Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 2 comments

With book coverage in print and newspaper sales declining, authors and publishers must extend their reach to the Internet if they want to boost book sales and publicity. Furthermore, authors are more involved in marketing their books than in the past as publishers can’t or won’t do enough.

Print publications still play a valuable role in books’ lives though the Internet offers many other advantages for promoting books:

  • No need to rely on battery power, electricity, or a working Internet connection to read print.
  • People leave finished copies of printed resources in doctor’s offices, coffee shops, and other public places for others to pick up.
  • No shut down needed upon flight take off and landing.
  • No taking it out of your carry on or briefcase to get through airport security.
  • Fewer distractions and information noise as you don’t have links and animation enticing you away from your reading.
  • Knowing where something starts and ends. The Internet consists of connected pages making it easy for someone to jump from page to page endlessly.
  • Just open and read. No booting up, waiting for loading applications and pages, signing on…

Authors and publishers need to make the Internet their partner in marketing books. The Internet offers the following benefits:

  • Cheap: It costs as little as $5 a month to have a Web site and $0 for a page on sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Bookhitch. Plus, add the book to your e-mail and discussion board signature for noticing when people read your e-mails and posts.
  • Search: Search engines and Web sites help people find books on topics of interest.
  • Access: Contact reviewers and bloggers who cover your book’s topic offering to send them a review copy. Also contact sites that publish book reviews like BlogCritics. The Internet also provides a great way to connect with reading groups. Many reading groups invite members to submit questions for the author to respond or hold a conversation online through chat or a Web-based application.
  • Network: Forums, online groups, and social networks allow you to connect and interact with potential readers and reviewers.
  • Link: Contribute articles to article libraries, online magazines, and other online resources where you can have a byline that links to your Web site or book ordering page.

Start or boost online book marketing with help from the following resources:

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