Writing cover lines for magazines

So I was out shopping with Mrs Pigfender at the weekend, and as is the norm we eventually found ourselves in the magazine section of a bookshop browsing the titles for interesting things to read. Magazines are great: They’re like the internet in that they are full of little articles and snippets of information to help fill those little pockets of time (whether because that’s all you have, or because of attention span issues). Plus, they’re better than the internet because (if you’ve chosen wisely) everything is on a topic you like and it’s all been put together by, you know, professionals.

But, unlike the internet, you have to pay for them – well, unless you just read them in the store of course. This cash element has finely tuned the art of the magazine cover into peacocking of the highest order, as each one competes with its brethren for your attention and your hard-earned change. This has led to the kind of sloppy cover lines that have become one of my biggest pet hates in journalism. Three things in particular bother me:

1) A cover line that promises one thing only to have the article itself be about something slightly (or sometimes completely) different. An example from recent memory is the proud cover line “How to score an upgrade on your next flight” when the article was really along the lines of “If you can’t afford to upgrade yourself here are some other things you can buy to make your flight more comfortable“.

I’m a big believer that if the editor thinks that there is a better angle for an article – one that people will find more interesting – the answer is to re-write the article (or maybe commission the right article in the first place) not to mislead on the cover.


2) Cover lines that ask a question that can be answered with a single word instead of an article.

Is Blake Shelton planning to divorce Miranda?(No)
Will the world really end in 2014?(No)
The superfood to transform your health and skin.(Water)


3) Cover lines that declare the magazine to be a “special” issue despite the fact that the topic mentioned is covered every single month.

So, a men’s fitness magazine that bills itself as “The Abs Issue“, or one of the women’s non-fashion monthlies that proudly announces it is “The Sex Issue“. You wouldn’t see “The Food Issue” on the cover of a cooking magazine would you?

As a bonus fourth area of cover line laziness, there are a number of taglines you see displayed on the front of magazines with an alarming regularity. So here are a handful of articles that no-one needs to write ever again:


How to get big arms fast.
Lift things as much as possible.

The latest trends in men’s fashion.
I hear t-shirts and regular shirts are both still “in”.


How to drop two dress sizes by summer.
Start in autumn.

The sex move he wishes you’d try.
Seriously? They’re all good.



Know any more articles that don’t need to be written anymore? Let me know below.

3 thoughts on “Writing cover lines for magazines

  1. BethCutter

    Some commentator (it may have been Andy Rooney but I won’t swear to it) once did a piece in which he claimed that any time a magazine or TV news show did a teaser in the format “Will [whatever] happen?” the answer given in the piece/show will be “no” 99% of the time.

    IME, he had it right.

    1. pigfender Post author

      See, this is going to be a thing now. It’s going to take me 10 minutes longer every time I try to buy a magazine. :(

  2. pigfender Post author

    Here’s a new one I’ve seen a bit lately…
    “How to start [speaking a new language] in just two weeks.”
    Wait 13 days. Start.

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