By Alev Aktar

It’s fun to write for tabloids for the same reason it’s fun to read them: They’re entertaining and unpretentious. Unlike our humor-challenged broadsheets, tabloids are known for their hilarious headlines and sensational stories, often featuring an outrageous human-interest twist. The writing can be playful and inventive, especially when it comes to reliably salacious subjects like Anthony Weiner. 

I’ve worked for New York tabs on and off for twenty years, on staff and as a freelancer, and enjoyed every minute of it. Even when I didn’t agree with the politics of the paper, I still loved my colleagues and my job. Working with these quick and canny wordsmiths has made me a sharper writer, and the techniques I learned from them can be useful to every type of scribe. Here are my top five tabloid-writing tips. 


Whatever format or genre you write in, boiling down your core idea for quick consumption by others is essential. A book pitch to an agent or editor includes what your book is about, why you’re the best person to write it, and the reason your book needs to be on the market right now. Drill down on the facts, just as I do when pitching a feature story to a tabloid.

I give it an attention-grabbing two- or three-word title. This helps me focus my piece and also gives editors an easy-to-remember handle to use in meetings. Just as book authors do when pitching, I explain the concept in a few sentences and note why the story is relevant and timely. I always include celeb news hooks. That’s crucial for the tabs, but book authors will also want to stress their novel’s current cultural relevancy. And like a book author, I tell the editor how I’m planning to cover the story —in my case, who I’m planning on interviewing. If I’m not sure who I’ll be able to get, I describe the type of person (i.e., plastic surgeon, model booker, literary agent). At most, my pitch is one or two lively paragraphs long.


In a bookstore or online, do you peruse books and vet the first sentences before plunking down cash? Obviously, opening any piece of writing with swagger is critical.

In a newspaper story, a lede is the first sentence or opening paragraph that sets up the rest of the article. Just like in a book, it’s designed to grab the reader’s attention. Tabloid ledes are often just a few words long, and written in a conversational way, complete with puns or pop culture references. For example, last week’s New York Post article about the Washington Post firing reporter Felicia Sonmez for insubordination led with the iconic “Bye, Felicia!”– a nod to Ice Cube’s dismissive line in “Friday.” 

If a tabloid story is about a celebrity or famous brand, its lede might name-check a movie, song or catchphrase associated with the person or label. After Sarah Jessica Parker denied feuding with Kim Cattrall, the June 2 NYP story led with a reference to the “Sex and the City” reboot: “And just like that — she’s bringing buzz of their “catfight” to a purr-fect end.”  

When writing about tabloid staples like sex scandals, journos definitely go there. Page Six editor Ian Mohr’s side-splitting 2019 story about Weiner shopping his book proposal opened with this gem: “Anthony Weiner is trying to transform himself into the next Longfellow.” 

Capturing readers on that first line is every writer’s challenge—one they must not fail. How enticing is your opening? 


Newspaper editors have word-count or column-inch limits, and book editors have similar marketplace expectations. Does your book’s word count match its genre’s conventions? Don’t expect that your masterpiece will be the exception to accepted length guidelines: Give editors what they want. 

Most tabloid stories are between 400 and 850 words, so writers need to get to the point. We avoid long, boring descriptions, tedious explanations and personal asides. I prioritize surprising, shocking and funny details, the same way I would if I were telling a juicy story to a friend. 

If you do go over the story’s assigned word count, put on your editor’s hat and cut. One place I can usually prune my tabloid stories is quotes. I include the best sound bite or amusing phrase and ditch the rest. 

If you need to chop a few hundred words, don’t bother carefully trimming a few words here and there. You need to excise an entire idea.

It can be painful to cut a carefully crafted story, but over the years I’ve found that tightening copy almost always makes it a better read. 


Choose active verbs and dramatic adjectives to heighten the drama and comedy of your story. Which is more likely to arouse a reader’s curiosity: a big zucchini or a colossal courgette? The latter, and I loved it when one of my editors dropped that expression into an item I wrote about Alicia Silverstone’s mammoth summer squash. 


A reporter almost never writes the hed and the dek. That’s an editor’s job. Don’t like what they came up with? Get over it. Tabloid editors are masters at selling stories with daring or racy headlines. They know what gets eyeballs and clicks. Unless the hed on your story is egregiously wrong or offensive, don’t complain. Instead, study their technique, and learn how to write a hed that drives traffic to the site. 

In the book world, authors are expected to help market and sell their works, so it helps if they get on board with their publisher’s efforts. Did your publisher recommend titles or cover art that you don’t adore? Take a deep breath and try to understand their reasoning, which is designed to sell copies. 

After all, what’s the point of writing a story if no one is going to read it?


alev aktarAlev Aktar has covered fashion, beauty, travel, design and celebrity news for the New York Post and the Daily News.