Tag Archives: publishers

And The Title Is…

I find book titles hard.

I spent a decade working on my first novel and I still didn’t have a title I liked when I submitted it to publishers. This turned out not to be a problem. In fact, when I was offered a contract I was surprised to learn that publishers generally retain the right to title (or re-title) your book and design its cover any way they see fit. It’s not completely unheard of for authors to hate the title or cover that clothes their work.

Luckily that didn’t happen to me. I loved both the title and the cover that Moody Publishers came up with for my hands came away red (on sale on Amazon for $5.20 at the moment, on kindle for $7.49, or for the Nook at $7.99).

Sometime during the year and a half between when I signed the contract and “Hands” came out, I asked my editor about how they come up with titles.

“The editorial and marketing staff generally have a big meeting,” he said. “Everyone’s read a copy of the book and we brainstorm on flip chart sheets about concepts and images and words that might suit. We also go through the book looking for phrases that might work. We hope that sometime during several hours of collective brainpower something perfect will just jump out at us.”

Apparently that’s what happened with my novel. Someone in that meeting had underlined the phrase “my hands came away red” – words spoken by the narrator in a pivotal scene about one third of the way through the story – and that phrase became my book’s title.

This time around I started thinking about titles right from the beginning, and for three years all the titles I came up with lacked something. Some were too cute and kitschy, others were too bland, too confusing, or too unrelated to the main storyline. I was Goldilocks with the bear’s porridge, except there were a hundred different bears.

A couple of months ago I decided to mimic the process a publishing house might undertake. I went through the book with a red pen looking for phrases that might make good titles. I also set up an excel spreadsheet and brainstormed words related to the theme of the book. Then I started to play with the different images in my list. I listed a bunch of three word titles, five word titles, and six word titles.

And, finally, something just right jumped out at me.

LOVE AT THE SPEED OF EMAIL

Title, check. Phew. Next on my list? To go over the text for the back cover with a fine tooth-comb. And then to go over it again.

“My advice is not to wait to be struck by an idea. If you’re a writer, you sit down and damn well decide to have an idea. That’s the way to get an idea.”
(Andy Rooney)

What are some of your all-time favorite book titles?

And, if you write, how do you come up with your titles?
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Juggling different worlds

I wrote an overdue email to someone far away today. I met Lynne for the first time in Kenya in 2004 when I took advantage of an introduction by a mutual friend and showed up at her house in Nairobi, still suffering from the worst bout of food poisoning I had ever had in my life. She fed me apple juice and yogurt smoothies and two days later we went on safari in the Masai Mara together for three nights. You bond quickly when you’re sharing a tent and getting before dawn to go be wowed by scenes like these:

Since then, Lynne and I have crossed paths regularly around the world – in restaurants in New York and DC, on houseboats in Amsterdam, and at her place in Atlanta. She is a lot of fun and one of the many people I would enjoy living closer to.

But instead there is email and skype, and today I jotted her a note for the first time in months. I started by saying I’d been meaning to write for weeks and that I didn’t know where time had gone recently.

On days like today, when it’s cold and raining here and I haven’t even bothered to get out of my pajamas yet, I can reach 6pm and puzzle over what, exactly, I’ve been doing. How is it possible, I sometimes wonder, that I’ve been bouncing from project to project, working relatively well, and yet I haven’t crossed off more than half of the things on my to-do list? Why am I still perpetually behind on emails and phone calls? And why is very little connected to preparing for the baby making it into the half that’s actually getting done?

Lest I alarm the extremely maternal (or paternal) among you, I am making some progress in relation to all things baby. I’ve washed the clothes we’ve been given (though I haven’t folded them all yet). I’ve made a list of small, practical gifts people could give us at an upcoming baby shower that lovely people from Mum and Dad’s church are organizing. I’m currently reading a book called Mama Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood – a rather fascinating memoir that looks at motherhood through the lens of Zen Buddist teachings.

But the baby is still only getting a certain amount of brain space (and boy, am I ever starting to wish I could impose similar limits on the amount of body space he was getting). For there are things still to be done before he arrives – things as dissimilar from buying baby wipes and diapers as a tent in Kenya is from a houseboat in the Netherlands.

For starters, there’s the consultancy on wellbeing and humanitarian work. For a project on wellbeing there’s an awful lot of trauma material that needs to be incorporated. The other reading material I’ve dipped into today, for example, focused on psychosocial interventions in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and collective trauma following atrocities and killings during a civil conflict in Sri Lanka. First thing tomorrow I will be starting A Human Being Died That Night – a memoir plumbing South Africa’s apartheid years and wrestling with questions of transitional justice. I’m aiming to wrap up this consultancy in the next four weeks, and I doubt I’ll mind taking a couple of months away from this sort of material.

Then there’s the memoir, which my agent is planning to start sending to publishers next month. That’s great news, but it also means that I need to spend some time pulling together all the bits and pieces that traditionally go in a book proposal – a bio, an outline, and information about my author platform and strategic connections that may assist with marketing. You’d think I’d know how to summarize the book in a couple of sentences after having actually written the thing, but that’s a lot easier said than done.

And there’s talking to Mike for an hour or so every night, doing some exercise, spending time with extended family here, filing insurance claims, and so on. I am not short on things to do.

Today I haven’t minded juggling these diverse mental worlds. Some days I can feel a bit fragmented, and I’m aware some of these worlds are going to need to take a dive on the priority list in the near future, but overall it’s good to have a bunch of different, interesting things to do right now when it’s quiet, cold, raining and I can’t be bothered to get out of my PJs.

What about you? What different mental worlds are you juggling at the moment? Are you finding it stimulating or are you feeling fragmented?