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Sunday, December 1, 2013

A BESTSELLER BY ANY OTHER NAME IS LAME


Titles.

They are the things that get the reader in the bookstore to pick up the book.

But more important even than that,

they are the things that interest or push away a prospective agent.

The title is the key to getting your book read.

The quality or evocative poetry of your prose means nothing if you cannot get the agent or the reader intrigued in your book.

So how do you pick that sure-fire title? After all, doesn't it sometimes feel as if the mine has been pretty well worked out?

It seems as if all the great titles have been picked.

Secret:

It's always felt that way. Ernest Hemingway complained of the same thing. Samuel Clemens a century before him said it as well.

There are some signposts to guide your way in your search for a great title for your book.

1.) THE BOOK YOUR FATHER DOESN'T WANT YOU TO READ!

A catchy title like that almost insures your book will be picked up. So catchy snags the interest of agent and reader alike.

But catchy isn't everything. Your title must accurately portray your book.

2.) SHORT shouts and penetrates like an arrow of prose.

Imagine walking down the book aisle and seeing the title, LUST. Come on, you know you're going to pick it up.

But again one word titles seldom catch the essence of your novel. You need more. But what and how? What do catchy and short have in common?

3.) MEMORABLE

The best titles are memorable. FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. THE SUN ALSO RISES. BLOODSUCKING FIENDS. THE GRAPES OF WRATH. BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE.

If it reaches out and grabs you, it will do the same for the agent and reader, too.

4.) THE DELPHI EFFECT

We want to know the forbidden, the secret, the dangerous ... ever since Eve that has been our curse.

Go down the aisle and see the titles:

THE SECRET TO SUCCESS. THE KEY TO SEX. THE FORBIDDEN PATHS.

Tell me you won't at least pick those books up.

5.) MAGIC

That element is elusive, slipping through your mental fingers like quicksilver. It is hard to put into words. But like with pornography, you will know it when you see it -- and so will the agent and the reader.

**
All right. We've deduced that the best titles are catchy, short, memorable, and evokes forbidden or secret knowledge. Plus they will possess that elusive element called MAGIC.

How to we come up with that catchy, short, evocative, and memorable title that sparkles with magic?

A.) THE BEST HUNTER GOES WHERE THE GAME IS.

Ernest Hemingway prowled the Bible and John Donne. He swore (actually quite a lot -- just joking) -- where was I?


Oh, yes. He swore that the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes were rich mines for great titles yet to be chosen.

He believed that the Bible and great poems tapped the creative unconscious of readers. If you can't find something stirring in the book of Revelations, shame on you.

If we choose well, our book title will stir something deep and unconscious within the reader as he passes down the book aisle.

B.) LIFE AND TITLE CHOOSING ARE LIKE A POKER GAME.

Stay in there long enough and an ace will come your way. Time and patience. Those items you will need in spades.

Winning doesn't happen by accident in poker, life, or title choosing. You look at your hand, discard what you don't like, and draw new cards.

Keep at it long enough, and you will draw a Royal Flush.

C.) CAST YOUR MUSE UPON THE WATER.

Write down single words from the dialogue of your characters, then whole phrases. Then, write down place names, character names. List them by last then by first.

Write down pairings of opposites of names in your novel.

Write down the motto of your villain in the most eye-catching way. Did that spark the magic?

Get a book of quotations. Skim the pages. Look for something that jumps out at you. If it jumps out at you, it will jump out at an agent or reader.

D.) TRUST YOUR GUT.

Your instincts will jar you when you hit the right title. Savor it in your mind. Remember the best titles are short, catchy, memorable, and evocative of the forbidden.

Think THE LOVELY BONES.


Wasn't that a great title? It caught your attention. It placed apparently opposite words together, didn't it? And it sounded slightly forbidding, too.

Now, go out and do some title-poker. And keep your eye out for the magic.
***

 

8 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm going to start checking the Bible for great titles now!
I was fortunate that all three of mine are short and there are no other titles like it out there.

D.G. Hudson said...

When I create the title, which I do early on in my writing of a novel, I scour the bookstores, checking for duplicates.

It's worthwhile spending time and investigating to get a great title. Everyone uses short names now, so what's next?

Vesper said...

I think you're great at titles, Roland. I'll have to use your advice for mine... ;-)

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Alex:
Hemingway used John Donne's FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. Clifford D Simack used the BIBLE for his ALL FLESH IS GRASS about an alien invasion of aliens who merged to look like humans. Brrr.

Yes, your 3 titles were linked and unique -- a great combo!

D.G.:
Like you, I usually pick the title first and go with the story from there. Sometimes a better title occurs to me, and I go with it. :-)

Both BADLANDS and DEATH IN THE HOUSE OF LIFE came to me first as did FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE.

Since short titles are suddenly all the rage, I decided to be different with my last 2 novels. If they stick in the mind, I will have lucked out, right?

Vesper:
Thanks for the nice words about my titles. Let me know if you need any help with your titles. :-)

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Roland,

How are you? FINALLY back in the states…. EXHAUSTING and crazy trip to Colombia… I am truly worn out, but so happy to be back in the blogosphere!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and didn't have to work.

Yes, titles are REALLY important. It does take a bit of luck and lots of imagination to create the perfect "magical" title. And I agree, "THE LOVELY BONES" was an awesome title!

Hope all is well!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Hi, Michael:
My Thanksgiving weekend was capped off by a robber in my parking lot who has me in stitches: not so wide as the ocean or deep as a well - but it will do.

I am glad you are back from Columbia - that country always evokes bad images for me. I have a varied past!

I am well now, and I am glad you are well -- rest a bit. Don't burn yourself up, Roland

J E Oneil said...

Titles really are the most important part of the book's presentation. Yes, even more than covers. A good title will ring in someone's head for a very long time. I hope the ones I pick are good!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Yes, a great title will have me picking up the book even if the cover is underwhelming. If I can help with your titles let me know.