Choosing Your Novel’s Title – by A P von K’Ory

Another great article from my friend A P von K’Ory.

About Choosing Your Novel’s Title

By A P von K’Ory

I read an article by Chuck Sambuchino about how to choose a novel/book’s title, and it reminded me of my own inadequacies in this task.
I remembered when Bruce Cook edited my first novel back in 2010, then titled Jungle Habits, Bruce said (to put it loosely): Nope, this title doesn’t do the book justice. This book is more than Jungle and Habits; it’s all about tradition and the desire to adhere to them in a modern changing world, for a young African girl torn between modernity and her traditional African/Kenyan/Luo upbringing.

Bang!

I changed the title to Bound to Tradition, now a trilogy and the book that won me the Netherlands PADDI prize: Achievers’ Award for African Writer of the Year 2013.

Another title I had to change was Helena’s Secret, which does involve the heroine’s deep-seated secret about her biological heritage that she hides not only from the world but even from her own self. It is a secret that has become a huge roadblock in the fulfilment of young Helena’s romantic yearnings and makes her give romance a wide berth. Until true love steps between her and her roadblock and demands full attention. My mentor and editor extraordinaire, Kenneth Mulholland, called the title “pedestrian, like The Day Kate Went to the Market”. And I changed the title, first to Secret Shades of Fading Blood, then to simply Secret Shades (now a two-book novel – Secret Shades Aroused, and Secret Shades Revealed). Secret Shades as a title is short and memorable, and a lot more intriguing because it leaves that potent word “Secret” in place while adding in “Shades” which conjures up anything from sunglasses to ghosts. In truth, the “secret” is about Helena’s biological heritage and concerns the colour of her skin.

Apparently, even F. Scott Fitzgerald was asked by his publisher to change the title of his novel, which we all know as The Great Gatsby. The famous writer’s original title for the book was Trimalchio in West Egg. Would you have been drawn into buying a book with that title? Readers, as a rule of thumb, are drawn to a book not only by its cover but also by what the title conjures up in their minds, coupled by the book cover. Not an easy task for a new writer. After all, we are writers, creators of the worlds mushrooming in the space between our ears, not experts in luring other people’s tastes and preferences to our lair so that they come and consort with us. At least I’m not the think-of-the-readers-first kind of a writer. I have my world in my heart and soul and it screams at me to create it. I want to share it with everybody, even the unwilling, but won’t take offence if some people don’t love my baby and don’t see its beauty and merits. All else is shut out when I create. I’m in labour, alone at home. I’m not thinking about how many copies will be bought and by whom. I’m thinking, “I have this baby in me and it’s time to give birth to it and nurture it to maturity”. It’s a desire and a temptation I can’t resist. It’s addictive and has a pull beyond my “common sense” arena. My writing is heavily tinged with my own Euro-Afrocentric upbringing and cultural heritage. Tinged with the innermost me.

That’s why it is ever so crucial for us writers to have an editor and a publisher to take care of “business”, leaving us the time and peace to create and nurture our creations to maturity.

On Choosing the Best Title

According to Chuck Sambuchino, there are 5 crucial points to take into consideration. I list them down below but in my own words and assessment.

(1) You Can Base Your Titles on Theme: Theme-based popular novels Sambuchino mentions are Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. These novels are based on the subject the novels deal with. But you always need a bit of intrigue to separate the title from the pedestrian and make it unique and memorable.

(2) Your Protagonist’s Name: You can give your protagonist a catchy, memorable name. My Bound to Tradition trilogy’s first two books were translated into German by Droemer Knaur (a member of the Big Five group of world publishers) and named Khiras Traum – Khira’s Dream. They chose to use the name of my protagonist for the title, adding the very ordinary word “dream”. But there are tons of dreams in all of us and the reader would wonder what kind of dream this African girl has.

(3) Your Protagonist’s Occupation or Other Qualities: You can also use your protagonist’s occupation as a title. Think of the works of Barbara Cartland such as The Poor Governess, The Wicked Marquis, and The Duke and the Preacher’s Daughter. In contemporary works, think of author Nora Roberts’ book The Witness, John Grisham’s simple but succinct titles – The Firm, The Associate, The Client, The Chamber or Danielle Steele’s novel titled A Perfect Stranger.

(4) Your Titles Can Also Be Inspired by Songs and Poems: The operative word here is inspired. Of course there are no copyrights on titles worldwide, but you want your baby unique, right? So you can get inspired by others’ song titles or writings. Take, for example, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, taken out of the poem “Comin’ Thro the Rye” by Robert Burns. When it comes to mystery and suspense genres, Mary Higgins Clark goes for songs to inspire her, such as I’ve Got You Under My Skin (Frank Sinatra) and Let Me Call You Sweetheart (Bing Crosby).

(5) You Can Lift the Titles From the Manuscript Itself: This is similar to choosing the name of your protagonist or their profession to use as titles. Only in this case you pick something else out of your book. Sambuchino gives the title of E.M. Forster’s classic romantic story, A Room with a View, which came from the novel’s first page when Charlotte Bartlett and Lucy Honeychurch complained about not having a room with a view of the Arno river, a river in the Apennines of northern Italy which flows westwards through Florence and Pisa to the Ligurian Sea.

Just keep in mind (I know, we’re writers not marketers, right?) that the title should match your genre, the crux of the story, (like I couldn’t title Secret Shades as Murder Most Foul, although that, in effect, is the crux of Helena’s secret and story – trying to murder her own biological heritage for good, and that’s indeed murder most foul!). As Sambuchino writes, “The right title takes you one step closer to capturing your target readers.”

 

If you are interested in reading Helena’s story,  you can find Secret Shades Aroused here and Secret Shades Revealed here.

A P and I are also searching for beta readers for her latest books – Golden Shana. If you are interested in reading those books, please add a comment to this post and I will ensure you receive a PDF copy for review.

A P von K’Ory – Do You Know the Stages of Your Query Process?

Today I am sharing an article written by A P von K’Ory, a dear friend and author who I assist with manuscript formatting and minor editing for publication on Createspace and Kindle Direct. Enjoy! And if you would like to read more of her work, look for her on Amazon.

Do You Know the Stages of Your Query Processes?
By A P von K’Ory
In her book, On Death and Dying, written in 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross described the five stages of grief. The book detailed the writer’s observations of terminally ill patients as they dealt with their diagnoses. These five stages, in my opinion, could equally be applicable to the querying processes for us writers. Below are those stages in the sequences Kübler-Ross arranged them, but as I envisage them in the Query Processes:
DENIAL:  When agents and editors start rejecting your queries about your marvel of a 120-word baby, you start by rejecting them, the agents and editors.  Most of us do. I did, and still do most times. We are writing in a tough era where commerce has taken over as a criterion, not art coming first and letting the market decide the commercial angle.
Instead of craft(wo)manship, they want curious things like the ones they term platforms – should we be writing while we stand on wooden planks, pen poised over paper? I asked myself the first time I heard about it and the word “platform” confronted me.
Instead of storyline and characterisation they talk about “commercial” writing and we scribes are lost in translation – what do they mean? What the blighters kind of a genre is Commercial Writing? Why the devil are they the best agents in London, Sydney and New York? Why are they the editors of the bidding wars of the BIG 5? Indeed what are they big-fiving, Fifty Shakes of Moronic  Cocktails?
We can rant and rave all we want, to no avail.  So you might despair or say: All righty, I can do the Shakes without the Moronic Cocktails. In fact, I can do them better and surpass their little Ms El Paso. And then you have ago at Genre Commercial Writing.  No problem, try it. But watch where you fall, because if your cocktail leaves out the main ingredients of the Almighty Moronic, your recipe is already worse than wrong. The landing will be harder than when the rejections first started piling up for your other works. After all, you’ve endeavoured to lower your yardstick a teensy weensy bit, and given them a marvellously sensible and literary Genre Commercial Writing, which just happened to leave out the whips and ropes, the top marks for rewards and red marks for punishments, the chains and the cufflinks, erm, handcuffs! Dang, the only plug you used was the one that went into the socket on the wall to fire up your computer…
Sorry, scribe. You’re either in lock, stock and barrel or you stay out. The door will shut on your face, leaving you with your hat and M/S in your hands. There is a minimum of one million Shakes of Moronic Cocktailers doing the job you’re skirting around, thank you very much, Honourable Literary Craft(wo)manship.
ANGER: Yep. I’ve listed some of mine above. The only one missing is how I really know that all these agents and editors are those utter fools who never got a chance to bully me properly in boarding school. And one of these days, very, very soon, I’ll show them. I’ll be a literary pantheon and I’ll start smoking them out of their caves and have a smart go at them with my literary crop and belt, my literary cable and cord and knot, my literary pair of lockable metal links, my perfect silken sight-blocker syntax.  They’ll be sorry, oh dear me, will they be sorry!
BARGAINING: Don’t do this one too often, it’s a scribe’s spiritual killer. Send only up to say, five queries, not fifty. Then wait and see. The rejections will still hurt. But instead of receiving three of them per day for the next six months, well, it will only be five at worst. And look out for the ones who say something about your writing – they took the time to read and think about what you wrote and then took some more time to tell you why they’ll pass all the same. Your writing touched them somewhere. Read between their lines.
Oh, yes, Indie is the new traditional. But if you’re like me and hate marketing and have zero tech knowledge, grit your teeth and write another five queries. Just make sure your great romance work is not queried to that big agency who’s selling film options of John Grisham and Lee Child thriller books, or queried to your insurance agent who has just opened a literary agency branch in his garage.
DEPRESSION: Yes, you’ll probably start beating yourself. Mercilessly. You’re no good. Can’t really write. All these agents and editors are smart people and they all don’t want to enrol your ugly baby in their pre-school. You have bad genes. You give birth to deformed little literary monsters. Maybe you should just give up and ask your insurance hawker to show you the tricks of conning people down at the used car dealers’ sales department. Or selling vacuum cleaners door to door. Or TV programme bi-weekly magazines to citizens down at the old people’s residence. Or how about getting the FREE Avon cosmetics kit? It comes with ready-made customers attached, doesn’t it? Darling, when you nip down to the supermarket, could you please think of replenishing the ice cream, the wine and those delicious pralines and chocolate bars? I think we’re short on them, thanks dearest.
Well, don’t stay in the doldrums for too long. It’s not you and your writing, it’s their subjectivity. The wine and chocolates won’t help much.
Now, this is from me screaming at you, fellow scribe: NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR WRITING, IT’S THE ONE INCURABLE DISEASE THAT YOU CAUGHT AT BIRTH AND STICKS WITH YOU RIGHT TO YOUR GRAVE. And take it from me: it’s a very loud silent disease.  The more you push it away the more it shouts. And only you can hear the maddening vigour of its Allegro molto vivace opening movements to the last cords. Booming deep within you.
ACCEPTANCE: Nothing is personal. Those agents, editors, unknown publishing industry interns et cetera, who clapped eyes on your work judged your writing, not your person, not your ability. Try again. Try a different genre you enjoy reading but never tried to write in. If you enjoy and read the genre, ninety per cent tells you you can enjoy writing it too. If you’re not a vampire person don’t mess with vampires. If you shed tears over Gone With the Wind, don’t go anywhere near horror. And that’s the unhidden secret – write only what you enjoy writing, not what is trendy. Have you ever read a genre you abhorred and kept on forcing yourself to buy and read more books in the same genre? Of course not. So why do you think you can write something for people to love if you write it with short runs to the bathroom to cry ROOOTH!! over the toilet bowl, wipe and rinse your mouth then get back to continue writing it because it’s trendy?
It’s business, yes. Brush the specks of lint off your suit and get going again, fresh and smart. You’re a writer. Your skin beats that of Mr Crocodile and Mrs Elephant combined.