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Hi all! Stephanie here, with my good buddy and fellow pub-crawler, Stacey Lee! Today we are talking TITLES.
Stephanie: If you’re a writer, chances are you’ve had to come up with a title. And if you’re a writer with an agent or editor, chances are, at some point, you have either been asked to change your title, or you will be asked this in the future. And, like so many other facets of writing, changing a title is far easier said than done.
Stacey: All three of my books have had title changes. The original titles weren’t bad, but they didn’t make it through the gauntlet of tests set forth by the publisher. The name must be memorable and evocative, there cannot be any similar competing titles, it can’t be trendy, it must be a title that sales and marketing can rally behind, etc. At the time of writing this, I am pressing a headache bag to my head because of the pain involved with brainstorming titles.
Stephanie: So, we have come up with a list of nifty tips that will hopefully make this potentially painful process much easier, and hopefully fun!
Stacey & Stephanie’s Tips on How To Create an Awesome Title
1. Look through your MS and see if there are any words or phrases that stand out.
Stacey: Even better, have a friend go through it for you. After reading your manuscript two thousand times, a pair of objective eyes may be able to see something you can’t. This is how Under a Painted Sky got its title. (Shout out to fellow writer Virginia Boecker for finding it for me!)
2. Create a Word List For Your Book.
Stephanie: I always start with words that reflect my genre. I felt this was especially important for when I was querying, because I wanted agents to immediately know what genre what my book was.
For example, if you are writing a space opera, start with nouns like Galaxy, Universe, Moon, Planet, Stars, Comet. Then move onto adjectives that reflect the feel of your book, Twisted, Warped, Broken, Fractured, Hopeless, Insidious. See how these brief lists show that this is going to be a dark space book?
During this phase no words should be off limits, although it’s a good idea to take a trip to your bookstore (or scroll through lists of upcoming books on Goodreads) to see if there are any overused words. You don’t want your title to go unnoticed because it sounds too familiar.
For speculative writers, there’s an interesting post on Tor.com about the most commonly used words in fantasy and sci-fi books.
3. Look at poetry. Revisit Shakespeare.
Stacey: For Outrun the Moon, this is exactly what I did. Poetry lends itself to beautiful titles; you will find unique and evocative ways of expressing things and words you never thought of using. Start with a symbol or theme in your book. For Outrun The Moon, I Googled words like ‘survival,’ ‘earthquake,’ ‘catastrophe,’ and ‘earth,’ together with the word ‘poem.’ Also, there’s the side benefit of getting to read poetry (admittedly, not all of good), which apparently makes you smarter. I reread Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner and forgot what a cool poem it is.
4. Write down a series of brief (or not so brief) sentences that you feel encompass your novel/an aspect of your novel.
Stephanie: One of my favorite titles is The Day the Crayons Quit. Not only is it clever and fun, it tells you exactly what this picture book is about. This book could have just been called Crayons—it’s an easy to remember title, and there are pros to short titles (short titles are easy to tweet), but there can also be benefits to coming up with a longer sentence.
And even if you don’t use any of these sentences, the great thing about this step is that it can reveal fresh new ways to approach your title. Most books are about more than one thing. Think of your major plot points, characters, and themes, then write a short sentence for each one. For this step, don’t start by focusing on word choice, think more about the message each line conveys, then go back and substitute any overused words for more evocative choices.
5. Play the Title Game.
This is where our good old friends the index cards come in. You also may want a sharpie, because everything is easier to read when written in sharpie (we especially like ones with pretty colors).
Now, remember the list we had you write for number two? Pull it out. Write every word on it’s own index card. Once you’re done, make sure there are an equal number of adjectives and nouns, then separate them into two groups. Now make a list of conjunctions and propositions. If you haven’t included any verbs, toss in some of those too—and make sure to keep these piles of words separate from your nouns and adjectives.
Once you’re done, randomly deal out your index cards. We usually start by pulling out an adjective and noun. Then toss in a word or two from my other piles and see what happens. The key to making this work is keeping it random so that every time you deal out the cards new, fresh titles are generated.
When you finish it should look something like the picture below.
In case you couldn’t tell, these titles are for an unwritten book about killer clowns from outer space
6. Be Ready To Let Go.
Stacey: Sometimes, even after you think you’ve come up with the perfect, evocative, watertight title, it still may not fly. A book is collaboration; you’re trying to put out a great story in the best ‘package’ possible, and that may mean letting some things go.
7. Now That You’re Done, Don’t Forget to Google Your Title.
Also, make sure to look it up on Goodreads, Amazon, and IMDB. Books are listed on Goodreads before they are listed on Amazon, so it’s always good to make sure that your fancy new title is not the same title Suzanne Collin’s or John Green has chosen for their next book. It’s also a good idea to check out IMDB, in case your book is ever optioned for film.
Those are top title tips! Now we’d love to hear from you. What advice can you share when coming up with a title?
I only recently discovered the Dear Teen Me site, where young adult authors post encouraging, honest, heartfelt letters to their teenage selves. For this series of posts, we Teaching Authors are writing to our younger selves, inspired by those letters.
When our kids were still small, I started writing for children—poetry and picture books, fiction and nonfiction. I carried a pocket notebook around to keep track of ideas. The notebooks piled up in my desk drawer until I dumped them all into a box that I’ve been slowly weeding out.
Here’s what I’d say to that young mother:
Remember the notebooks! Yes, you carry one around most of the time. You’re always jotting down a favorite word or a quick observation or something funny one of the kids said. From time to time—especially when you’re stuck—stop and see what treasures you’ve gathered. Ideas and stories and poems are in there! Go back and find them!
The same thing with pictures. Look through them once in awhile. Remember the silly, wonderful, brave things you did. In another unsorted box, I just found this one of me and our (little!) boys on a camping trip. Priceless, right?
More weeding ahead!
Charlotte S. is the winner of our latest Book Giveaway, the autographed copy of Write a Poem Step by Step. Congratulations, Charlotte! Your book is on its way!
For some time I have been birthing -- in my head and on paper -- a new way of seeing, working, living, connecting, and being in the world. Why? Maybe it's turning 60, with the knowledge that there is less time before me than behind me for sure. Maybe it's recent disappointments and realizations. Maybe it's recent gifts and surprises. Maybe it's the on-going therapy, which is hard work. I'm sure it is.
Whatever it is, this shift in my thinking feels major, so I'm going to do something about it, and I will chronicle it here, March 20, 2015 to March 20, 2016 (start where you are, and I started with Saturday's post).
I want to see where this new energy and commitment take me and my work. I'll also Instagram my explorations, using the hashtag "theyearofexploration."
I'll label it that way here, too. I used the blog to chronicle my 2012 year off the road to finish REVOLUTION and called it "the year of possibility." You can read about it by clicking on the label on the sidebar. (or here. :>)
I'll tag some of these exploration posts "the home economics project." I've had a project in mind for a long, long time, and I want to start making it visible.
I'll chronicle book three of the sixties trilogy as well. I've already starting documenting photographs and research at Pinterest. You'll find a "book three hold file" and a "book three playlist possibilities" board as well as the many boards for COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION... and I've started resource boards for my other books.. I'll get to them as I can.
I'm going back to the roots of what makes me happy. I'm going to write more. I'm going to use my hands more, which is something that grounds me and centers me and helps me understand my place in the great continuum.
To that end, I have purchased four cacti, three French lavender plants, and a mother fern. I'm going to take a class at Creativebug - line drawing with Lisa Congdon. Also, Lisa's sketchbook explorations work-along at Creativebug. I've got my supplies (which include these plants!) and I'm ready to go.
I have no expectations. I want to do what I ask students to do when I teach writing: pay attention, ask questions, make connections.
I'll be an explorer like Comfort Snowberger in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS: Explorer, Recipe Tester, and Funeral Reporter. Like Dove, the 9-year-old anthropologist-in-training in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER. I shall be an anthropologist of my life. I'll try to let go of anxiety about the future, and just stay in the day. I will work hard. I will try to uncover as well as discover. I hope to learn a lot. Wanna come with?
I love science. I love theories. I love natural history. But, loving something doesn’t always equate to ‘getting it’; just ask my husband. With the escalated advance of technology allowing our newer generations the most informed and complete exposure to their existence on this planet than ever before, how do we encourage them to appreciate […]
In January 2009 I wrote a blog on ABBA about the Room in my Head.It went something like this -
The Room In My Head
As the new year begins I look inside my head to find that room where inspiration might be hiding….
In the middle of the room there is space, empty of life or furniture. Walls, accustomed to colour and pattern, stand bereft waiting for design - perhaps imprints of flowers, pattern or activity.
Underfoot boards made of wood and nails move to mark my passage and where the light floods though glass no curtains block its passage.
And yet the room is full of hope and joy because the sun is shining, casting summer against the emptiness. Sounds fill the space with anticipation - strains of mystery that fill my ears and delight my senses, holding me captive - wondering - what I will discover?
This year, many years and stories later, I find my year starting with the Room in My Head well populated by the book I am currently writing. There is still space in the room although it is well furnished with characters and places, ideas, textures and much activity.
Underfoot ideas are scattered on the boards like so many sparkling jewels - tempting and clamouring for attention. Terrified they might be discarded, their brilliance allowed tofade, dissipate and be condemned to become mere pebbles abandoned on the path to the finale.
Light flooding through the glass varies with each passing day, dependent on the story's progress, from dreary grey rain-clouds...
to breezy sunshine over water.
At the moment the Room in my Head is packed with a tapestry of thoughts, emotions, wrong turns and epiphanies. It changes daily and fills to bursting with the noise of those who inhabit the story, each with their own goals and intentions, duplicitous or discernible, but always fascinating. What fills the Room in your Head?
Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children.
Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me she is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh. Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby website: www.lindastrachan.com blog:Bookwords
"It's not about ideas. It's about making ideas happen." ~Scott Belsky
We’ve just entered a brand new year. This is the time to think about where you’ve been and where you’re heading. It’s time for ideas.
According to Business Dictionary, an idea is “a thought or collection of thoughts that generate in the mind.”
They’re usually derived from intent, but they can also be unintentional.
Have you seen the Seinfeld episode where George accompanies his girlfriend to a funeral?
It’s post-wake and everyone’s at her parent’s place noshing on hors d’oeuvres and sipping punch. George finds himself in front of the potato chips, so he takes one, sinks it in the dip, takes a bite, and dips the chip again; much to the annoyance of his distraught girlfriend’s brother.
A knock-down, drag-out fight ensues before the very upset girlfriend kicks George out.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a double-dipper.
And why not? It’s the only way to really enjoy that French onion dip and get the most mileage out of your chip.
Freelancers should be double-dipping too. Not their chips (unless they’re into that sort of thing), but their writing.
Double-dipping is a golden opportunity not enough freelance writers take advantage of.
So how does double-dipping work in the freelance writing world? Here are five easy ways.
1. Sell reprints.
It’s been published once, why can’t it be published again?
How to do it: The first thing you want to do is make a list of publications that cover the topic of your article. Then, check out their website and writer guidelines to see if they accept reprints. If you’re not sure, ask. Send the editor a friendly email telling them about your article and why you think their readers would be interested. Ask if they’d like to purchase it as a reprint.
Not all publications accept reprints…but that doesn’t mean you can’t reuse old content.
How to do it: First, find a market that covers your topic. Go back to your research notes and interview transcripts, and write a pitch that covers a different angle of the story with publication #2’s audience in mind. If you quoted someone in the first article, paraphrase in the new one. Where you paraphrased, use quotes. Include information that didn’t make it into the original article.
Keep in mind: You may want to consider doing some additional research in case things have changed, or find one or two additional sources. But the work load is going to be a lot less than what it was the first go-around. Only this time you stand to earn the same amount of money… maybe even more!
3. Send pitches in batches.
When you come up with a brilliant idea, don’t save it for just one publication – share the love! There are tons of publications with audiences that would love to know more about the topic you’re pitching. It’s just a matter of re-framing each pitch to fit a variety of publications.
How to do it: Let’s say you’ve got a great story idea about traveling with babies. Of course parenting magazines would be interested, but so would travel publications, women’s glossies, maybe even custom publications for baby product companies. As you’re doing your initial research and collecting sources, think about what these various audiences would want to know and how/why they could use this information. Tweak each pitch to suit each market.
Keep in mind: Unlike the tactics above, here you’ll be writing completely different queries and completely different articles for each publication. While parents would want this information to help them in their travels, a pediatrician might want this information to help her advise parents who wish to travel with their little ‘uns. A women’s magazine might want to provide tips on how to have a smooth flight for travelers finding themselves on a plane with a baby. The difference is, you do the research once and get multiple articles out of it.
4. Send simultaneous queries.
The idea here is to send the same query for the same idea to editors at multiple publications. When you send out a query, you could wait months — or even a year — only to have the editor respond with a resounding “no.” Sometimes editors take a really long time to respond to queries…if they reply at all. Rather than wait around for them to get back to you and risk having your idea become stale or already-been-done, cast your net wide and find that article a home ASAP.
How to do it: This one’s easy — find a bunch of publications that fit your topic, write one query, and send it out to editors at all of those publications.
Keep in mind: You may have more than one publication show interest in the article. However, you cannot sell the same article to more than one publication. In this case, it’s a first come, first served thing. But don’t let those other publications go home empty-handed. Offer them the same story, but from a different angle. Or pitch them a few similar ideas instead.
5. Once you’ve got ‘em, keep ‘em.
The thing about queries is they can get a “yes” or a “no” or be met with silence. There’s not much you can do about the third instance, but you can turn a “no” into a “yes.”
How to do it: An editor might turn you down for a number of reasons: the timing’s off, someone else has already covered it, they’re not interested in the topic, they’re having a bad day… But just because they say “no” to one idea doesn’t mean they’ll say “no” to another. If they’ve emailed you back, you’ve got their ear. So take advantage by replying with a “Thank you for getting back to me. I completely understand. Perhaps [insert new idea here] would be a better fit?”
Keep in mind: That you suck as a writer or the editor hates your guts is rarely if ever a reason for a rejection. Odds are the rejection is based on factors you have absolutely no control over. If you get a response, thank them, tell them you get it, and offer up a new idea. This shows that you’re persistent and not just a one-idea dude. Then send the rejected query somewhere else.
When you have a chip — er, idea — get the most mileage you can out of it by double dipping, and you’ll get more assignments (and more money) with less work.
Tiffany Jansen is an American freelance writer and translator in the Netherlands. She is also the author of an award-winning children’s historical fiction series. You can find out more about her at www.tiffanyrjansen.com.
P.S. Carol Tice’s and my next Article Writing Masterclass starts in January, and we have THREE editors on board to critique your homework assignments and answer your questions: Current editors from Redbook and FSR (Full Service Restaurant) Magazine, and a former Entrepreneur editor. In this 10-week class, you’ll gain the skills and confidence to land lucrative article-writing gigs. Learn more and read raves from students on the Article Writing Masterclass website.
I’ve been reading a book called Fearless Creating: a step-by-stepguide to starting and completing your work of art, by Eric Maisel. Like Dorothea Brande’s classic book Becoming a Writer, this is less a ‘craft’ guidebook, and more a ‘process’ guidebook. It’s the sort of book that describes the creative mind set and shows you how to develop it. One of the exercises that Maisel says is the most important in the whole book is the ability to ‘hush’ your mind. ‘Hushing’ says Maisel, ‘is what we do when we go into a museum and sit in front of one painting for fifteen minutes.’ Hushing is a ‘quieting and an opening’ – and there is no creative life without this ability to hush.
Hushing sounds a lot like the open, receptive state of mind that is associated with ‘right-brain’ awareness, and is also the state of ‘choiceless awareness’ that meditation aspires to. When the mind is quiet and receptive – and not busy with mental chatter – ideas can rise to the surface.
Some writers achieve this state of mind by walking, swimming, doing yoga or washing the dishes. Others know it when they wake up in the middle of the night to write something in the notepad beside their bed. Maisel suggests that it’s only when the conscious, busy, ‘thinking’ mind has grown quiet that insights and ideas can surface.
Maisel also explains that ‘hushing’ needs to be practiced in conjunction with ‘holding’, if any real work is to be done. 'Holding' is the ability to carry an idea for a book or a painting (or any other project )loosely in the back of your mind as you go about your day. By holding the project in the periphery of your vision you allow the ideas and stimuli that you encounter during the day (or during your working practice) to enter it and inform it. I’ve also heard this process called ‘being in the grist’, when almost everything you experience seems to somehow relate to, or feed into, the container of your novel.
Have you experienced the processes of ‘hushing’ and ‘holding’? If so, how do you achieve them?
Being an illustrator is great fun. Why? Because you can use your imagination to go places you’ve never been and do things you’ve never done. For instance, I have always wanted a log cabin up in the mountains. As a teen, I used to imagine having a studio up a flight of wooden steps to a big room. It would have rafter ceilings and a window seat for me to look out of. It would be warm and cozy and I could sit and do my art all day long near a roaring fire in the wood stove.
When I began thinking of places for my character Burl the bear to live in, I made it just like “I” wanted it! Warm and inviting! When you walk through the doorway of my story, you will find a home that lives in my imagination. It will be a place that I love and I will revisit it many times as the story progresses. I must be passionate about what I draw or it becomes listless and boring. This process is what makes a story believable.
My experience tells me that children notice the tiniest of details. I did a school visit after Peepsqueak was published by Harper Collins Publisher. I read the book to the children and then we talked. Through out the story there was another story going on in the book. It was a little tiny mouse who appeared on many of the pages. The children did not miss it. They even commented on the mouse as I read to them. I let them in on a little secret. I named the mouse Elliot. When I told them his name they all squealed with delight and pointed to the cutest little boy in their classroom who was named Elliot! He was beaming. Suddenly he became part of the story. He was so happy!
These are the things that make a story magical in the eyes of children and adults alike. Its also why I continue creating images. I love seeing characters develop. I love finding their voices. .. what they are like… what they like to do. It does not stop when I leave the studio. I think about them all the time, until I finally know how they would react in any given situation. That way they become very believable creations and loved by all.
Stay posted, Burl and Briley are growing on my heart daily. I can hardly wait to illustrate the books that are in my mind!
I love the posts over at Tara Lazar's site every November during PiBoIdMo! Some inspire me by presenting a new way to look at creativity, and some are reminders of things that I already knew, but seem to forget about when trying to create!
“From the standpoint of teachers, parents and the world at large, the problem with people with A.D.H.D. looks like a lack of focus and attention and impulsive behavior. But if you have the “illness,” the real problem is that, to your brain, the world that you live in essentially feels not very interesting.”
“Sometimes one can recapture that fleeting sensation with names – place-names. If I am hiking up a familiar path near my house in Turin and I think, ‘I am climbing a hill in Italy,’ there is a brief whiff of foreign glamour. And, when I arrived in Uzbekistan and was disappointed to find that city people took buses and trams as they do everywhere else, I could revive a touch of fantasy by silently repeating, ‘Streetcars in Samarkand’.”
It started with a pair of spiritualists in post-Civil-War New York; became a ubiquitous family pastime that was considered good, clean fun (and great for a date); and had its reputation ruined by The Exorcist. (It also told its first manufacturers what it wanted to be called.) (includes podcast)
“It’s hard to find information on Tongva. There are no audio recordings of people speaking the language, just a few scratchy wax cylinder recordings of Tongva songs. There are additional word lists from scholars, explorers, and others dating from 1838 to 1903.”
“Which trait increases my chances of survival or my chances to reproduce? What would be most adaptive is switching from one response to the other, depending the situation, but our underlying biology cannot switch back and forth that quickly”
“France’s leadership is struggling to pay for the government it provides. While the capital remains a global magnet of culture, it increasingly risks becoming a playground for the world’s elite, detached from its midsize cities, villages and countryside, where rising hardships stoke resentments and widen the opening for far-right parties.”
“Janet Vertesi tried hide her pregnancy from the Internet. She detailed her efforts to mask any behavior that suggested the coming change in her life, using everything from Tor to mask her browsing history to paying cash for gift cards to avoid using her credit cards.”
“In many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.” (And every one of us is incompetent at something.)
“As a German citizen who came to the United States relatively late in life, I was initially struck by how much more positive thinking was valued in the United States than back in Europe.” Research psychologist Gabriele Oettingen had presumed this was a good thing – until she started doing some studies. It seems that some kinds of positive thinking are a lot less helpful than others.
“The specific uses haven’t been determined yet, she said, but ‘we’re working with LACMA and Sony and other arts organizations to come up with a final program’ before starting design work on renovations.”
“A quantum theory of smell sounds outlandish, perhaps, but evidence has recently emerged to support it: it was found that fruit flies can distinguish odorants with exactly the same shape but different isotopes of the same elements, something that is hard to explain without quantum mechanics.”
“One of the biggest misconceptions people have about mindfulness is that you can train yourself to stay in this mindful state all of the time. … Even if you spent 20 years in a Tibetan monastery, you would not be able to stay in a mindful state. We are not, evolutionarily, designed to stay in this blissful, present-moment awareness state.”