The Wicked Writing Blog

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How To Give Your Story Instant Reader Appeal

April 10, 2014

As Will Shakespeare might have asked “Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?” Or a novel by James Patterson sell as well under a different title?

That’s one of the great literary questions. It has plagued ink slingers since time immemorial. How much does the title of a book
really matter? This question was touched on by some of our fellow writers who commented on LD Sledge’s cracking article here last month on opening lines.

In this guest post, author Nigel da Silva asks:
but how do you get them to read those all-important lines in the first place?

Have you ever wandered through a bookshop, possibly as lonely as a cloud, and picked up a book based on its intriguing title?

What was it that grabbed you?

And what influence does the cover design have on whether a person will pick it up, browse and finally hand over some filthy lucre? (Not that we’re in this for the money, heavens no.)

But these are dark times indeed where the name of a ‘great and exulted’ author is emblazoned across half the cover in embossed gold leaf, with the title taking a measly supporting role.

But what of we mere mortals? With our names not yet listed amongst the literary giants? Nor with access to massive media machinations? Is a catchy title and cover design a way to our salvation … if not publication?

Consider the amount of blood, sweat and other beverages that goes into writing your story, book or novel … and now all your dreams and aspirations are largely dependant on a handful of words and an image you’ve chosen for the cover!

Do not despair. Help is at hand...

The romantic novel ‘factories’ have distilled it down to a simple template.

The cover is all heaving bosoms and impossibly toned male torsos, with a generic title extruded from the ‘Acme Title Generator’ along the lines of Autumn’s Lost Passion or Love’s Eternal Destiny. And don’t even get me started on the titles of the puerile pap purveyed in airport departure lounges.

Many titles date badly, like Malcolm Seville’s The Gay Dolphin Adventure, while others are less fortunately named such as Cooking with Pooh. Then there is the genuinely disturbing Castration – the Advantages and Disadvantages, by Victor D. Chaney.

Some can put the reader to sleep before they have even reached the opening line, such as The Historical and Social Influence of the Potato, courtesy of Redcliffe Salaman or How to Avoid Huge Ships (second edition no less) by Captain John W. Trimmer.

A good title paints a picture of what to expect.

Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front and Asimov’s I, Robot certainly offer at least a premise and the cover of Jaws is a master class in ‘what-the-book-is-about’.

Many novels are known more for their title, rather than their content. Many people will recognise the titles Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mocking Bird and War & Peace without ever casting so much as a glance inside. Yes, I include Fifty Shades of Grey to that list, the most common book to be found in charity shops. (Some have so many copies, they refuse to take any more).

Other titles give no inkling to the contents and seem almost random with little, if any link to the story … Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises springs to mind … while his The Old Man And The Sea generates at least a little expectation.

A Fall of Eagles by Alex Revell could be about anything … except when you see the cover illustration of two WW1 aircraft locked in mortal combat and then it all falls into place.

Which brings me to cover design.

We are visual creatures, so while an established author can afford to have a plain white cover with a tiny embossed seagull on it (after their name that’s all there’s usually room for), should we, as aspiring ink slingers, put far more thought into cover design? I think that answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

‘Shelf appeal’ is critical. The effect of a compelling title and cover design cannot be underestimated when it comes to encouraging someone to pick up (or these days, click on) your book. [You also need a very short title in very BIG CAPITALS to be noticed at Amazon or on a Kindle! Impertinent note by John]

The image and typography (a much neglected art form) have to capture their hearts and minds, intrigue and captivate their imagination. Then once they pick it up, your first line has the opportunity to ‘reel them in’.

Conceiving the title can be akin to passing a brick (without even corners knocked off). A quick Google search and you’ll find almost every title you can possibly imagine, and a lot you can’t, have already been used … twice.

I often find myself tossing and turning, wringing my hands or offering sacrifices to the literary Gods for some inspiration - any inspiration - for titles. My current novel has had six titles and I’m now wrestling with insecurity yet again.

And it’s not just the buying public that we need to appeal to … an intriguing title may well influence a literary agent (bless their black hearts) to pick your manuscript from the slush pile when things are quiet (do they have quiet days? Answers on the back of a self-addressed envelope please).

Now here’s the part where I’m supposed to offer my fellow quill wielders tips on how to create a title for your book. Damn.

OK, here goes …

How to create a title for your book
  • Go with the first title you thought of. It’s usually the best one.
  • Try to make it relevant to the story. If you can’t … make it intriguing.
  • Short and simple (cover design and title) is memorable.
  • Think long and hard about its ‘shelf appeal’ … will it stand out? This applies to title and cover design and especially to e-books where you’re relying on a thumbnail image.
  • Think long and hard about the kind of person your book will appeal to.
  • Typography can make or break a book cover … you have less than one second to grab someone’s attention … so make it easy to read (by the by, this does not mean boring).
And now I’ve just thought of another title for my book:

“It’s A Cruel World.” Do you think it would sell?

So what is it about a book’s title or cover design that simply compels you to pick it up and peek inside?  Share your thoughts and tips with us below. Many of us authors will be taking notes!

Nigel ‘LJ’ Da Silva
, BSc*. Freelance scribbler for fun and profit. Grew up in Mooloolabah, Australia where eccentric pursuits like reading and writing were viewed with deep suspicion, unless they needed someone to read the label on the sheep dip. As a Captain in the Australian army he worked in the PR/Intelligence section and would write a book about his experiences… if he thought anyone would believe them.

He continues writing commercially as he lacks the skills or talents to get what many would consider a ‘real job’. * Bronze Swimming Certificate

Six Mistakes New Authors Make When Dealing with Agents

April 4, 2014

Would debut authors be better off ignoring literary agents and self-publishing their work? In a previous post, I ranted at agents. With honorable exceptions, they treat new writers with disdain. Or so many first-time novelists have told me. Around 90% of the agents they approached did not even bother to acknowledge their submissions, they said.

Are agents 
really ‘institutionally unprofessional’, as my rant suggested? Or was I being unfair? What’s the agent’s side in this debate?

In this...

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Four Ways To Write More Productively: A Commuter’s Guide

March 20, 2014

If you’ve ever heard yourself saying ‘I don’t have time to write’, take a look at these four simple but practical ways to make more of the time we all waste – when traveling. Lawyer and blogger Kristin Gallagher makes good use of her subway journeys to write, research and brainstorm.

It’s so easy if you come prepared. Here’s how to do it:

If you live in or around a metropolitan area and commute to work, you probably have dead time that you do not use to your advantage. Do yo...

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How To Create The Ultimate Story Plot

March 13, 2014

Have you ever sought an easy way to plot your stories? Bought plotting software? Believed in gurus who sold you a patented Plot Generator program - plus the guarantee of a Hollywood blockbuster if you followed it?

Eschew them all. If any plotting system is complex it's superfluous.

In fact, there is only one winning plot, in all the stories of the world, and it’s very simple:
Boy meets hamster.
Boy loses hamster.
Boy is reunited with hamster (or not).
For ‘boy’ read any principal charact...
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How To Hook Your Reader In The First Line

March 6, 2014

"Hook your reader, play him, get him in your boat." It's the secret of every successful story. But how do we do that? In this guest post, veteran author L D Sledge gives us a simple, ready-to-use rule for crafting stories that keep the reader awake at night. Any author can use it, but how many of us do?

The sweetest five words to a fiction writer are “I couldn’t put your book down!”

Isn’t that what we write for? So how about the most valuable three words you can ever hear while te...

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A Wicked Way To Write A Novel In A Week

February 27, 2014

Is fiction writing a sport or a game? This distinction might not seem important. Indeed, you could escape my cunning trap by saying it’s neither. Is it? But that wouldn’t be playing the game. The question is important for bridge players because a UK tax tribunal has just ruled that the English Bridge Union must levy VAT (Value Added Tax) on its competition entry fees, increasing them by 20%.

Competitive sport does not attract VAT, the tribunal has decided, but bridge does. Why? It...

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Seven Quick Ways To Write Sentences That Sizzle

February 20, 2014

'There are no great authors, only great editors!' Very often, the difference between a story that sparkles and one that flops can be found in the editing. In this new guest post, ace editor and writing mentor Jodie Renner shows us seven quick ways to edit our sentences so that our stories crackle with power.

What’s the first thing you do after you’ve written the first draft of your story or novel? You go back and polish your writing style to make it sparkle! An easy way to amp up you...

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John Yeoman

Dr John Yeoman, MA Oxon, MPhil, PhD Creative Writing, FSRS*  is a UK university tutor in the short story. He has 42 years experience as a successful commercial writer, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy.

He has published innumerable works of humour, some intended to be humorous.

* Founder, the Society for the Rehabilitation of the Semi-colon