Monday, May 01, 2006

What’s in a Name or Judging a Book by its Cover

By Heather Justesen

You’ve lived with your manuscript for thousands of hours, lost sleep over your characters’ motivations, strained your eyes looking for dangling participles and extra commas, racked your brain to come up with new and interesting similes that will flow with your text. Your manuscript is ready to send to the publisher, except for one tiny detail—it doesn’t have a name.

With a story as wonderful as yours, any name will do, right? After all, the publisher is probably going to rename it anyway and it’s not like you get to make a final decision or choose the cover. So what’s this on the publisher’s questionnaire asking for ten title and cover ideas? Ten?

Of course, just because you come up with ten brilliant title ideas doesn’t mean they will use any of them. A writer friend of mine said she submitted a list of ten with her book a year ago, and they chose something completely different in the end. I think the one they used was brilliant, but it makes me wonder why I should put all the hours into ferreting out possible titles if they won’t use them anyway.

Unfortunately for me, while words will flow from my finger tips in story form, coming up with a catchy title is the pits. I always hated writing headlines when I worked in the newspaper industry, and now I struggle to find the right titles to send along to the publisher with my manuscript. Sure, some publishers won’t ask for titles up front, but it’s really the best chance you have to name your baby.

After all the work you went through to write the story, don’t you want to have a title you love? Or at least one you can live with?

So how does one go about selecting a title from the millions possible out there? In Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer James V Smith says to make a list of different categories of titles you could use-the funny, the ironic, the alliterative, the numerical, etc. Then list ten possible titles in each category. Ten! I can’t come up with a single one I don’t hate.

Others say to read through the manuscript and pick out sentences that jump out at you. The only sentences that jump out at me in my books would make sappy titles, or make little sense on the shelf.

And cover ideas? Don’t get me started. How many ways can you show a girl in Chicago painting? Maybe it’s a good thing I have to rewrite the thing before submitting it again. I could get lucky and inspiration could strike. Lately I’ve turned to a mix of ‘looking for inspiration’ and using my Word Web thesaurus to find every permutation of the main words until I find some that don’t make me want to gag.

For example, when I looked up painter I got: Artist, skilled worker, creative person, wildcat…Wildcat? Hmmm, Wildcat in Chicago. . . That has a nice ring to it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't write unless I have a title. The title tells me where I'm going, what I'm doing. But that's for non-fiction. I would imagine it would be different for fiction.