Southern belle with a story to tell. Refreshing iced tea served after literary punches thrown.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Put a Name On It!

"If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring TITLE on it."~Beyonce.
I <3 both Beyonce & JT! And if that song were about book titles, it would probably
make this blog post totally awesome, but this is serious stuff we've got to get out of the way.

It's time to talk titles.

I've seen the good, the bad, and the really, really stupid.  But before we chat on my virtual front porch, let me pour you a glass of sweet tea because it's getting hot out here.

As you may (or may not) know,  I'm seeking a traditional publishing contract and not going to self-publish, but hey---that could change in the future.  The world of publishing is going through a transformation and it's a wild ride. I'd say half of my writing friends are going the traditional route, and the other half are wading into the self-publishing waters.  But it doesn't matter which road you take, you gotta put a name on your manuscript.

That being said, I have a huge confession to make. It's hard to admit, but here goes. *Taking big sip of iced tea.*

In the past I've bought a few books because of a kick-ass title and good back cover blurb.

But for the most part, before I hand over my dinero to the cashier or toss the e-book into the teeny shopping cart on my computer screen, I look at the reviews, or read a sample chapter, but I have done the unthinkable in the past.

*Ducks under virtual porch swing.*

Call me shallow, but I'm like tons of readers who do this every day. We're lured in by slick cover art and cool titles.  And I think it's great! That means somebody's doing something right! The author/publisher got us to buy the book.

On AQC, (Agentqueryconnect) my favorite writing website, I frequently lurk about the area where writers ask opinions about book titles, because I think it's just.that.important.

You see, I want the title of a manuscript to actually be intriguing, yet somehow manage to convey genre and tone.

That's a helluva lot to ask from just a few words, but  it can be done.

And when I walk the aisles at my neighborhood bookstore, if I have no freaking idea what your book is about, I WILL NOT pick it up and buy it.  In fact, I'd be more apt to pick up a paperback called The Story of Poop, than pick up a paperback with nonsensical words on the cover.

You got a space opera called The Flagenroot of Zanderia self-pubbed on Amazon?

Get ready for NOTHING! Readers will think you've been listening to Pink Floyd and partaking in magic mushrooms, because they'll have no idea what your book is about. Your manuscript will have a lot of waiting to do, unless your mom or Aunt Sally or your best friend feels sorry for you and buys it.

So be really, really careful if your book title has a made-up word on the cover.  Now I understand in the high fantasy/science fiction genres this is common because of the extravagant world-building, but please, please at least have the other words in short title be relevant so the title will make sense to the reader/buyer.

A great example of this is J.K. Rowling's runaway hit:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban!

For SC-who loves Harry Potter.
And aw heck...I do too!
Nine years ago nobody knew what the hell an Azkaban was, but when a few key words were added, it was easy to infer Azkaban was a prison.  And since it was part of a series, her readers knew Harry Potter was a boy wizard, thus the book must be an adventure about someone in a magical prison! Voila! Ms. Rowling pulled it off in style!

Here's a few more great books and titles that get this point across.  You can infer the genre and plot from a few choice words.

Enough said. The title is JUST ONE WORD and it's all that and a bag of chips!!!
Even if you took away the killer art on the cover, you know what it's about, and you'll be
afraid to dip your big toe in the water after the last page.

I'm a thriller/romantic suspense writer & a huge fan of John Grisham.  I especially loved this one.
Many of his book titles easily convey to the reader the big action coming their way.

My favorite Dan Brown book. You know there will be good guys
and very very bad ones just from the title.  Plus the chosen words convey CONFLICT.
Yes conflict! Good work Mr. Brown!

So here are my suggestions for creating a killer title:
  1. Who's the protagonist & what is the conflict? Sometimes a title can be as easy as that. It's the good  guy or gal and their struggle against X. You fill in what X is. Sometimes there's more than one answer to these questions, so write it all down!
  2. Who's the antagonist? What do they want?
  3. Is there something unique that stands out about your plot?  What is it? Unique setting? Place? Time?
  4. Now write down ALL the answers (There will be many!) to these first three questions. If the answer to any of the questions are in the form of a sentence or phrase, break the sentence apart into single words.
  5. Explore different combinations of these words and there's probably a great title hidden in your word soup.  It's your puzzle and only you can figure this out.  
  6. Don't worry if you're halfway done with your manuscript and it doesn't have a name.  Sometimes after you write the ending, the name will come to you.  All in good time my Padawan. Within, your creative force lives. 
That's how I roll, and I even accidentally helped one of my fabulous writing buddies name her manuscript that's coming out! *Squee!* And the publisher is keeping the title, and I hope her agent liked it. But there's one thing for sure about her manuscript~the words on the pages WILL BE as good as the title.

You see, that's the even bigger challenge after choosing the right name for your bookbaby.

Make the words inside even better than your title.

No matter how great your title is, or how awesomely creative the cover art, it's the words that will keep the momentum going, so make the tale shine.  Make the character's struggle and emotions jump off the pages.  Let your reader feel like they're bff with your protagonist so they'll root for them. 

So how do you come up with your manuscript titles? Have you ever bought a book just because the title sounded cool or the cover art looked great? If you did, did the pages inside deliver and keep you turning pages, or were you completely let down? 


Vicki Weavil said...

I think I may know that author you referenced.

And EVERYONE loves the title!

Joey Francisco said...

Double squee!!! You know this is one particular area of writing I enjoy (making up the book titles) & I'm so happy I helped. :)

Can't wait to do your interview btw! I will get the questions to you by week's end.

Hope you're having a great weekend my friend & can't wait for COI to come out!

SC Author said...

I LOVE YOUR CAPTION FOR THE HARRY POTTER PIC!!!!!! AHH!!!!!!! Harry Potter is fantastic :) Thank you so much! And Angels and Demons was my favorite Dan Brown book too! Awesome suggestions :) My title is "Saving Penelope" *waits to hear suggestions from master*

Joey Francisco said...

@SC-YES I <3 your title. I'd make sure the cover ties in with whatever Penelope's being saved from.

I am totally with you. ALL the HP books were good. And here's a confession: I cried with Dumbeldore died. I did. Seriously. And I got all pizzed off when I'd watch LOTR, because middle earth's wizard was alive, but Dumbledore wasn't. Why?????