Words on the Front
Whenever I tell people I'm an indie novelist, they often seem amazed I can write and publish a book-length manuscript.
One lesson I have learned over the years is that the hardest part of wordsmithing a book is not the 50,000—60,000 or so words on the inside, but the 5—6 words on the cover.
Book titles are so challenging because you have so little space to get so much right (or wrong as the case may be). You want action, suspense and mystery, all in a handful of syllables. If I execute a poorly crafted sentence or section of a novel I can recover. The same often is not true for a title.
Teasing your story without giving it all away seems to be the key to a great title. Sadistic Businessman Seduces College Co-ed sounds like a Dateline Mystery, Fifty Shades of Gray, on the other hand, is a bit more enticing (BTW, I'm crediting Wikipedia with the plot summary of this film, as I'm more inclined to spend an evening with Earl Grey than Christian Gray). The same holds true for Psycho Dinosaurs Run Wild, as opposed to Jurassic Park.
I wish I had a great story behind how my first novel was christened. Its first title was "A Matter of Integrity", which was way too on the nose. "Above the Fold" was better, but the inside-the-newsroom jargon didn't weather much better. My then-agent suggested I take some key phrases and put them together. So I made a list, started joining nouns and verbs together. And thus was born Chasing Deception.
Other book titles came a bit more naturally. The second book in the Jim Mitchell series, Undue Pressure, is applicable to anyone placed in a morally murky situation and expected to do the right thing. And Running wraps up the Mitchell series by talking about what the protagonist is running toward and running from and whether he can stop and just rest.
The easiest and best title for one of my works was for my non-fiction parenting guide — High School Declassified: An Insider's Guide to Helping Your Student Succeed. It was catchy and had all the buzzwords. Unfortunately, it sold practically zero copies, which just goes to show there are many factors beyond title and content that can impact sales.
Now if I could create a computer program that could "read" a manuscript and suggest the perfect title based upon content and recent market trends, I could probably make a lot more money than my indie writing career ever will.
Then again, what fun would that be.
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I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.