Post by Jenny
Back in the day, when I went to the grocery store with my mother, I was fascinated by the headlines splashed across the National Enquirer tabloids at the checkout stand. To my disappointment, she rarely picked up the magazines. Even though the stories always seemed to include Elvis or aliens or both, my enquiring mind definitely wanted to know. That was before CNN, MSNBC, and all the other outlets that relentlessly feed the news cycle beast. Our only TV news came on in the evening and was as dry as Walter Cronkite’s mustache. No mention whatsoever of Elvis’s alien baby. Hence my fascination.
The internet has changed so many things, but not our innate curiosity. Marketers are so confident that a provocative description will catch our interest that there’s a name for it: clickbait. Oxford Dictionaries Online defines clickbait as “content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.” To me, clickbait is simply another version of those tabloid headlines.
I have taken the bait many times, and I’m always a little embarrassed, as if I’m leafing through the tabloid mag while a checkout clerk judges me by my inability to resist temptation. But I also think we writers can learn from such succinct and irresistible hooks.
Here are a few actual clickbait examples I’ve collected over the past few days:
Director of counterterrorism charged with disturbing bombshell allegations
Kate Middleton’s past comes back to haunt her
McDonald’s makes a stunning announcement
Shocking study on toddlers and coffee
6 tips for a fabulously free vacation
Dangerous arsenic levels found in US wines
10 Outrageous travel fees to avoid
Zoo discovers shameful mistake
Disregard the subject matter and look at the word choices. Disturbing. Haunt. Stunning. Shocking. Fabulously (and free). Dangerous. Outrageous. Shameful. And let’s not forget the many hooks baited with all things gruesome, grisly, and heartwrenching. Sure, they’re often hyperbole, but you can’t deny that they grab our attention.
Writers are increasingly called upon to be good at self-promotion. Maybe you already are, and I applaud you for it. But ask me for my elevator pitch, and fifteen minutes later, you will probably be experiencing your version of the SNL skit The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party.
So I’m working on trying to make my queries and pitches more concise and attention-grabbing. Whether they will top “Baywatch stars: where are they now?” remains to be seen.
What are your tips for a catchy query/pitch?