Copyblogger just came out with a good primer on headline writing, its importance underlined by a statistic that says eight out of 10 people will read a headline, but only two out of 10 will read the story.
That must be the stat on bad headlines.
A good headline is almost irresistible. Once I was an editorial director, and one of my writers asked me how it was that I wrote such good headlines.
"I don't know," I said. "Maybe because my dad was an advertisting guy."
"Oh no," she groaned. "My dad is a lawyer."
Most writers are bad at writing headlines for their own pieces for the same reason that inventors are bad at selling their own inventions. They think the thing will sell itself, and they forget that people have gotten along perfectly well without it for thousands of years, and would be happy to do so for thousands more.
Same with goes for the article you just worked on for a month.
So what? says the reader.
Here's what, Dummy, must say the headline.
At the risk of actually teaching something on my blog—one doesn't want to be a union scab—here's a suggestion
If you have to write headlines for your own stories, do this: Scan your world for the one Philistine you know who is incurious enough to be utterly uninterested in the subject.
Write a headline to convince her to read your piece.
That way, you might—might—be able to summon the salesman's heart sufficiently to sell your story.