Words Most Revised

CLP 200x216
by Christine Liu-Perkins

What are the most revised words of a book? Beginning? Ending? My best guess is … the title.  In a single or a few precious words, we seek to convey the book’s content in an intriguing way. We want the title to entice readers to pull that book off the shelf and take it home. We want a memorable title, one that sticks in people’s minds when they recommend the book to everyone they know or can contact online.

I came up with at least a hundred titles—originals and variations—for my book. It took that many to find one that not only my editor and I liked, but also appealed to members of the editorial, design, marketing, and sales departments. Fortunately, instead of frustrated, I felt buoyed by the support of a team rooting for a title that would best draw readers to the book. We tried everything—images, metaphors, plays on words. Themes from the book, historical references, twists on titles of other books. Ideas or phrases that were striking, poignant, mysterious, even humorous. One title came to my editor in a dream.

Now that I know what a complex process it can be, I’ve started searching for strategies to try next time I create a title. Below are links to tips from other writers.

But first, let me ask you: what’s your favorite strategy for writing titles?

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Joel Friedlander – How to Write Book Titles for People & Robots
For nonfiction books, Friedlander advises creating a title to grab readers’ attention, plus a subtitle rich with keywords that describe the book’s subject and scope and will also show up in online searches.

Mark Levy – Writing a Sticky Title
For my next book title, I want to try Levy’s trick of using ideas and phrases from the proposal (or synopsis) for generating titles.

Frances Reid Rowland – Write a Book Title with the Star Power of Harry Potter
Rowland offers several great tips on titles that invite readers “to form a connection with your story.”

Roger C. Parker – How to Choose the Right Title for Your Nonfiction Book
Parker’s guest post describes 10 tips for a successful nonfiction book title. I’m intrigued by #3 about a title that makes readers feel your book was “written for them.”

Rachelle Gardner – How to Title Your Book
Gardner gives seven strategies for brainstorming titles. Lists of words – sounds like fun!

Scott Berkun – The Truth about Choosing Book Titles
Berkun shares thoughts about common advice for writing titles and functions that a title might serve.

Goodreads list of Best Book Titles
For fun and inspiration!

4 comments to Words Most Revised

  • Chris

    Hilari, Jane, and Ceil,

    LOL! Thanks for sharing your experiences. Hope that writing titles becomes easier and more fun for all of us!

  • Ceil

    This is a great blog, Chris, and I think you wrote it especially for me. I’m once again struggling to come up with a good title, something other than YA UNTITLED. Thanks for the references. I’ll check them out!

  • Jane Bigelow

    Chris,

    That’s a great list of resources. I must track down copies, since I stink at titles (even file titles: my working title for my current story is “PerhathornotM”, which means, city name not initial of character I eliminated)

    Now, “At Home in her Tomb” is a beautiful title for a beautiful book.

  • I’m going to go back and check out some of those links! I’m terrible at titles–for me, the title either comes with the book’s original concept, it’s perfect, and no one ever thinks of changing it. Or–and more frequently–the title never comes, and I brainstorm with the Wildfolk and they come up with something decent, then the editor changes it and we brainstorm some more…and in the end it’s usually just an OK title, anyway. I think some books just don’t have Perfect titles in them…or at least, that’s my excuse.

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A Whiney Murder Confession

Whiney WriterMy critique group told me I have to murder my darlings, one darling in particular. A love triangle is fine but a love square is a…square. So I have to lop off one of the corners. It was a hard choice but I finally decided to axe Senzafine, mainly because I was tired of typing her name. But simply highlighting her parts in the story and hitting delete wasn’t the way to get rid of her. I had created Senzafine, given her life, made her dimensional and throwing her in the trash wasn’t good enough. She wasn’t garbage. She needed a proper funeral. A Viking funeral.

I copied all of her parts of dialogue and description and pasted them into a new file. Then I printed it out, all 22 pages, and folded each one into a paper boat. A neighbor kid let me borrow his archery set once he heard it was for a Viking funeral—only he insisted on shooting the first flaming arrow. I told him okay as long as he showed proper respect. This was the funeral of a beloved character. He promised he would and even changed his flip flops for dress sneakers.

I wanted to do the funeral at night because flaming arrows look so much prettier against a dark sky, plus I was trying for that Harry Potter scene when they first arrive at Hogwarts with all the lantern-lit boats on the lake, but Eric, the neighbor kid, had to be back by dinner so we opted for an afternoon funeral. Eric filled the dog’s wading pool while I retrieved my paper boats.

We launched all 22 boats in the pool and there was enough room for them to drift about moved by the afternoon breeze. It looked like they were mingling, touching bows and then drifting away—Senzafine saying goodbye to all of her different parts.

We stuck a cotton ball on the end of the first arrow and I lit it with a fireplace match. Eric stepped back several feet and let it fly. It landed on a boat in the center of the pool. The paper flared and the boat sank before any of the other ones caught fire.

My turn. I took a flaming arrow and shot it into the air. Unfortunately I sneezed the moment I let it go—my allergies have been particularly bad this summer—and the arrow missed the boat I was aiming for. It ended up piercing the inflatable side of the pool. The air rushed out in a burping sound and that part of the pool deflated. A stream of escaping water carried the boats out onto the lawn. Not quite the effect I was aiming for.

We patched the pool and tried again. I decided one flaming arrow was enough so instead we dropped lit matches down on each of the boats. They flared nicely.

Every funeral deserves a feast at the end so I dished up some Tiramasu flavored ice cream—Senzafine was Italian, after all—and we enjoyed it on the back patio.

I sent Eric home with a spoiled appetite for his dinner and my thanks. Senzafine’s end was all that I hoped it would be.

But I still have my backup file in case I ever decide to resurrection her. I am writing a zombie romance series, after all.

2 comments to A Whiney Murder Confession

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Hitting the Jackpot

Lisa Brown Roberts

Two weeks ago I was a Vegas Virgin, then I spent five days at a conference in Vegas sponsored by my publisher (Entangled). I returned home having hit the jackpot, in more ways than one.

In the obvious way that most people think about Vegas and jackpots, I won some cash. I won $60 on a simple $3 slot machine play. My first and only spin, I made enough of a profit to buy a Vegas dinner. Not bad for a newbie. The best part of my de-virgining was checking out the casinos and getting the guided tour from some of my new author friends.

In many ways, that night was symbolic of the whole conference week for me: making new friends, learning from those farther along the publication path than I am, and having a lot of fun along the way.

Some days it feels like there’s a lot of virtual screaming going on about the “right way” to publish a book.  Some argue against traditional publishers, whether that means New York houses or smaller and mid-sized houses like Entangled. Others argue just as strongly against self-publishing. Some people hurl insults and sweeping generalizations faster than Will Farrell throws snowballs in the movie Elf.

We each have different definitions of hitting the jackpot. Some of my fellow conference attendees hit way bigger jackpots than my $60, but that didn’t make my win any less exciting to me. The same is true for paths to publication. I believe I’ve hit the jackpot with my publisher, my agent, and my ever-expanding community of supportive writing friends and readers.

Ultimately, as authors we need to take the path most appropriate for our own careers.  Our paths may change over time, expanding to include multiple publishing paths, or narrowing down to one path for a time. Whatever path(s) you take, you’ll find those who support you and cheer you on, and those who tell you that you’re “doing it wrong.” Once in awhile you might get smacked upside the head by an especially painful snowball.

As I walked through the casino the night of my win, one of my guides told me to take my time looking around before choosing a machine. jackpot“You’ll know which one is right for you. You’ll feel it.”  Guess what? She was right.

I spent a lot of time looking around the publishing world, researching and weighing all of my options before choosing to go with Entangled. I believe I hit the jackpot by partnering with them, and my confidence increases the more I get know the fabulous staff and stellar authors who make up the Entangled family.

For anyone who feels caught in the crossfire of the current “how to publish” arguments, I urge you to take a breath, step back, and trust yourself. Be clear on what you want, and what you don’t. Tune out the angry voices and listen to the reasonable ones.  Weigh your options. Talk to others who’ve followed the path(s) you’re considering.

Then place your bet!

I’ll be rooting for you to hit your personal jackpot, whatever it may be.

5 comments to Hitting the Jackpot

  • I love how you’ve hit the jackpot, Lisa! And I appreciate your inclusive attitude. I’ve heard advice from a number of authors to diversify–a bit of traditional, a bit of do-it-yourself. As the opportunities expand, so do the learning curves, and it’s great when guides present themselves. Congratulations!

  • And if a flood suddenly wipes out the safe and secure path you’re on, I guess you have no choice but to start hiking across country over the mountain tops–because that path is now the “right” one. Very helpful metaphor, Lisa.

  • Good advice, Lisa! So many voices, especially on social media, are angry ones and seem to be louder than the rest. The sweet voice of reason is what we need.

    • Lisa Brown Roberts

      Thanks, Pam! I think as writers we need to do all we can to stay in a positive frame of mind and avoid the extra stress of worrying that our publication path is “wrong.”

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