Agent Monday: Title Talk

Boy reading in the libraryHey gang, happy Agent Monday!  More than half way through January.  We can do this!  The days are getting longer, right? Today I thought I’d talk a little bit about the way writers title their novels. And why it matters when going on the hunt for an agent. Sound good?

Okay, so one of the first things a reader encounters about a published book is the cover and the title.  Like a great cover, an on point memorable title can help with the sale of your book. Makes sense, right? Something vague that doesn’t position the work in a reader’s mind won’t prompt a reader to pick the book up.  Something that sounds kinda like something else, will be confusing. A title that is completely misleading will attract the wrong audience, who will quickly discard the book in most cases, once that audience sees it’s not what they were hoping for.

So, let’s face facts. A title is a marketing hook for your book. Writers, ya gotta accept that. Yes, your book is art, but it is also a product to be sold. So while you artfully create your title, remember that you want it to be sold and read. You want an agent? Then a great title that represents your book well is a solid start.

Think of it this way… Nail that title, making it memorable and just right for your novel, and that title will go into your query. I’ll see that title and think, ah, cool. That’s an awesome title. I’ve got the feel for what the book will be. And I know that’ll give my pitch to editors some punch, because when I get on the phone and talk about the book, I’ll say the title and the editor will light up, thinking, ah, cool!  Fast forward to that editor falling in love with the manuscript and pitching it to her acquisitions committee, which sometimes is made up of editors and sales folk. She says that great title, and the people on the committee are all AH, COOL! Already they can start to picture how they will position this title and sell it, how readers will sit up and take notice.

So title does matter.  Can the title change as it goes into production. Yup. But if you come up with a solid one, chances are pretty good it’ll stick.

Okay, so what are some title mistakes I see in submissions that stream into my inbox? Well, there are those vague titles. Things like: Time and Time Again, or Eternal Love, or Seasons of Change. That sort of stuff that feels like it could be any novel written in any century. Not exactly standouts. Then there are those not right for the readership titles. Like a cutesy one such as The Giggly Girls, which, okay, maybe for a chapter book, but for an edgy YA? Nope.  Or a title like Blessings in Disguise. What sort of book do you think that would be? Certainly not a gripping bloody thriller.  Another, less obvious title mistake? Choosing words that would send people to the dictionary to understand, and that most folks will get wrong spelling wise when they try to search for it on the computer. This isn’t time to elevate the general public.  You want to be found and talked about by readers.  If they can’t even type the words correctly, how the heck are they going to pull it up on their computer to purchase it?

Do I ever represent manuscripts that have not so great titles? Yup, when the query and the book itself overcome the handicap of a misleading or dull title. BUT, the first thing I talk about with that author in our phone chat is that title. It’s gotta change. Are they okay with that? And together we come up with the title that’ll make the book’s pitch really soar.

A title is a marketing hook. Right?

Some great titles by my clients?  FLIP-FLOP DAYS, MARSHMALLOW NIGHTS, by Miriam Glassman, a wonderful middle grade manuscript that takes place in sleep over camp. ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER, by Carmella Van Vleet (which has just gone on sale!, Holiday House), a fab middle grade novel about a girl with ADHD who is determined to prove she can stick with something to the very end. FOLLOWING YOU, by Stephanie Winkelhake, a gorgeous YA manuscript about a dead ex-boyfriend who just can’t leave.  FROM ROOTS TO WINGS, a sweeping debut historical by Harmony Verna, about two orphans surviving in gritty late-1800s Australia in a difficult search for home and for love. And here’s my own recent novel’s title: DRAWN, which is a YA about a young artist who starts sketching a guy from another time, and is drawn into his world in the 1400s.

Not all of these titles started this way, but reading this list, can’t you start to grasp the tone and the sort of book it will be?  That’s what it’s all about.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

On Writing Novels

I haven’t done any book reviews for a while because I’ve been too busy writing my latest novel Drawn, which is about half-way done right now. Writing a novel means that I lose track of time, that my house is a mess, that my kids are asking me at 7 p.m. what’s for dinner and I don’t have a clue. And this doesn’t just happen for a day or a few days. It happens for weeks.

If I wasn’t a mom and didn’t have other responsibilities, I’d probably go on crazy writing jags late into the night, foregoing any sort of food, except for maybe the junkiest of snacks. But we writers live in the real world, so we are forced to reconcile our other world with schedules and reality. It does work, but it does feel like a balancing act that I’ve never really perfected. The same thing goes for all those author appearances I’ve done. All those hours, days and weekends even, when I’ve had to abandon my family. I met a writer last fall who explained it really well, telling me that at first she always felt she had to make a pot roast or some other amazing dish ahead of time, before she could leave the house with a good conscience.

Well, dealing with reality is one aspect of writing I have to work out. Another aspect is plotting and structure. As I zoom ahead with this book, I continually find ideas and scenes that I need to plant into earlier sections. Thankfully, computers make this a breeze. Can you imagine the mess manuscripts used to be in before word processing? Or how many authors looked at their neatly typed pages and decided the new scenes weren’t THAT important, and gave them up? But we can edit with ease.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is how elastic a piece of writing really is. I didn’t always get this. When I first started out, every word felt so final. Every chapter, once completed, felt brittle and done. If I were to alter it, I thought the whole thing would shatter into meaningless fragments. Now a draft feels like skin that can shrink or stretch in incredible proportions. I’m constantly amazed how accommodating a chapter can be to additional thoughts and scenes, yet still hold together. 

Today I’m devoting to inserting two new chapters into the first third of what I’ve written. Then I’ll pick up at the end of what I’ve written and, with any luck, sprint to the end. I’m so glad I know what the final scene will be. I usually do, and it stands in the distance like a finish line I’m eager to cross. 

Stay tuned for updates and some sneak peaks!