1/25/2008

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME...

“What’s in a name? A rose, by any other name, would smell just as sweet.” True, Sir William, true. But in today’s world, geared toward marketing an overabundance of written product, a name can mean the difference between getting your book into the hands of avid readers or having it gather dust on the bookstore shelves.

We’ve had a rather spirited discussion on our group site in the last 20 hours or so about the name of an upcoming book. The author had thought to give it a name that sounded catchy and appealing. But a Google search turned up some 23,000 hits on the name and “book title” alone, several million on the name by itself! Choosing a name for your work can be exhausting. It must catch the reader’s eye and leap off the shelf (or computer monitor!) into one’s hands. It must fire the reader’s imagination, but not give too much away. And heaven forbid, if it has already been used, your book may be dismissed with a “oh, I’ve already read that one…”

What will you name your literary children? Choose wisely, for the name could very well change the fate of all your hard work. Names with hard-to-pronounce cities or civilizations may not be the ticket to high-volume sales. While appropriate to the worlds you created, they are unfamiliar to the average reader. With the enormous selection out there for people to choose from, you must find something that will peak the imagination and catch the eye. Frank Creed’s Flashpoint is a good example. Concise, catchy, intriguing, and easy to remember. Another author with engaging titles is David Brollier from the Christian Fiction Review Blog, who wrote The 3rd Covenant and most recently, Deliverance, which will hopefully be hitting the shelves soon. I also love Sue Dent’s titles Never Ceese and the upcoming Forever Richard, and Susan Kirkland’s soon-to-be-published Higher Honor. Great choices, friends! The titles sum up these books well without giving away too much, but they catch the eye and tickle the curiosity.

Sometimes, though rarely, I’ve found the title to be a “given”. Several years ago, (I’m ashamed to say just HOW long) I belonged to a writers group. Usually our assignments for the month were date-appropriate ones – Valentines Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, summer blues, vacations – depending on the time of year. But one particular month, there was nothing looming on the horizon to hang our hats on. So one member suggested that we each write a title on a piece of paper, throw them in a bowl and draw. He remarked that we all have “that perfect title” in mind for some nebulous future project, so let’s see what someone else would come up with. When I drew out my slip of paper, I simply sat and stared with a sinking heart at the words: The Last of the Long-Haired Hippies. Great. What am I going to do with this?

“Who wrote this?” I asked. Well… ‘asking’ is probably too polite. I think it came out somewhere between a whine and a “your-life-might-hang-in-the-balance” threat! Feeling a bit like the Queen in Alice’s Wonderland, I wanted desperately to shout “Off with his head!” as our one and only male member confessed. He wasn’t the least abashed by my dismay; in fact, he thought it humorous. “Fine!” I said. “When I’m down to the wire next month, and haven’t written a thing, I’m going to call YOU at 2 in the morning to pick your brain for ideas!”

It wasn’t quite “down to the wire”, but it was close. I stewed and fumed over that slip of paper for about 3 weeks! Then it hit me. I grew up in the ‘60’s, but was probably the only person in the known universe of that age bracket who did NOT do drugs. I’d write about a young woman who ran away from home at 16, following a boy with grand dreams, but who feared and ran from the drug use. I’d give her nightmares and flashbacks of Haight Asbury and San Francisco in the late ‘60’s and, of course, Woodstock. I’d research the dickens out of the whole counterculture movement of the era. I was in my early teens in 1969, living in a small Illinois farming community while my father served his second tour in Viet Nam, so I was a little too young for some of the wilder activities. But I do remember feeling the subtle pull of that wild desire for change, the longing for world peace, and an end to the hunger and misery running rampant in so many countries. I’d incorporate all the rebellion and the emotion of that turbulent era into my story. As I started writing, I realized that this was not a “story”; it was a book. A story, short or novella, could not contain it all. I had the first 3 chapters written by the next meeting, and they were well received. We shared a hearty laugh at my difficulties and I thanked the young man who had set me on this course.

Then the story sat for many years as multiple deaths hit our family, followed by divorce, and a myriad of other problems. By the time the dust had settled a little, I had lost my vision for the project. I just didn’t know where to take the story any more. Suddenly just last fall, I saw the plot come to life again! I hope you’ll see it on the shelves by next year. (This year might be expecting for too much, considering my slow progress.) The research for this project has been quite extensive, which accounts for part of the delay.

And the title? Yes, I’ll probably keep it. I think it might capture the attention of a generation past. My generation did much to change the face of a nation. Not all the changes were good ones, mind you, but those rebellious young people didn’t just ‘settle’ for the lives their parents had lived. Many didn’t live through the experience, but for their short lives, they dreamed big. Don’t get me wrong – this book does not glamorize the counterculture. But I hope to incorporate a little historical fact with a bit of spiritual battle. We’ll see what comes from that little slip of paper in the bowl!

7 comments:

Grace Bridges said...

Why has nobody posted about this before?? A title is soooo important! For "Faith Awakened" I knew it from the start, before I ever wrote the first word. But now I'm toying with "The Legendary Space Pilgrims" for my current project... I'm not quite convinced yet, though! Thanks for our great article!

Sue Dent said...

I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't google the name first. I did. But then, what are the odds of anyone naming a book with a blatant misspelling. LOLROFL.

I didn't even find one called, Never Cheese which was as close as it came. :)

Deborah Cullins Smith said...

Thanks, Grace. Have you considered "Pilgrimage"? I'm all in favor of concise titles -- though you wouldn't know it by "The Last of the Long-Haired Hippies"!! LOL

But consider "The Rider", "Allison"
and "Fumbleblot's Task"... Short, sweet and to the point.

Sue, did you try googling Never CeAse? I bet you'd pull some hits on that one! Changing the spelling was genius. I'm still waiting for Cyn to send me a copy.... (**HINT HINT** Cyn!)I've been dying to read it.

Sue Dent said...

And now I have to tell you how I came up with the title. I was thinking all along as I was writing, tossing this around and that. I remember thinking of "Cursed," and of course, "Bite Me!" LOL Actually I think both of those are book titles already. Then I went to the mall to take a break from writing, to think. I actually even asked for a little Divine help. Honestly, I thought it was petty but I asked anyway. When I walked through the main entrance a banner was stretched across the ceiling advertising some perfume that said, "Never Cease something, something, something."

I almost fell on the floor. I turned around and left the mall. I had my title.

Timothy Fish said...

I think The Last of the Long-Haired Hippies is probably one of the best titles I have seen for a while. It won't help much with online sales, I could see someone pulling it off of a store shelf based on the title alone. A good title can certainly help a book. Non-fiction is usually easy. I get people who look at Church Website Design: A step by step approach based on the title alone. The title tells a great deal about that book, but with novels it isn't quite as easy. A person isn't as likely to see the title Searching for Mom and guess that it is about a girl who trys to find a step-mother on the Internet. I think the title How to Become a Bible Character is more of an attention grabber, but a person still has to look at it closer to determin what it is about. Of the three, only Church Website Design is a phrase that potential readers are likely to type into Google, which is very important for sales to Internet users.

Andrea Graham said...

I get pretty attached to my titles, personally. But it looks like I'm in a pretty good position for "Heaven's Mark" Which is fortunate, because I can be VERY stubborn!

Deborah Cullins Smith said...

I checked out your book titles and website, Timothy. They look intriguing -- especially the one "How to Become a Bible Character"! I'll have to check out those titles when cash is a little more 'available'!!

Sue, I can just SEE you getting your titles from the banners in the Mall! LOLROFL

Yes, Andrea... you can be stubborn, but that's not always a bad thing! :) And it'll be great to see your book on the shelves. Any ETA on that yet? Personally, I love the title "Heaven's Mark".