HOOK THAT “KILLER” TITLE!
Anybody out there like to fish? I sure do! I know that once a fish takes your bait, it has two options: it can let the bait go, or bite too hard and catch the hook. But you might not know which it is, so if you want to make sure you catch that fish, you must give a tug on the line to set the hook in its mouth so it can’t get away. Then, you reel it in…
Did you know that’s what book titles are supposed to do? I didn’t. Never thought about it before. You’d think being a commercial art major in college, I’d have realized that, and yes, I wrote lots of headlines (titles for articles or advertisements–same principle) in some of my courses. I do understand the concept perfectly, however, I’ve never written a book myself, so I had no personal experience to pound that concept into my mind for this project. I have been out of school too many years…
For the last three years, I have been operating under the assumption that I would title my book WOMEN’S STUDIES – Defining Moments. Early this year, after I finished all the paintings for the book, I began the difficult task of editing, and learning how to put it all together. Part of that pertained to titling. Oh, easy! I had that already figured out! Until I read the educating part. Wish I could remember who’s book or blog I got this from, so I could refer you to it. I think I may have gotten it from Stephen King’s book, ON WRITING – A Memoir Of the Craft, (excellent book!) but I’m not sure. I can’t check because I returned it to my son and editor, to whom it belongs. So, I will lay out what a title is supposed to be, as much as I can recall, since I didn’t take notes.
First, I’ll go with what titles shouldn’t be. They shouldn’t be vague, or too long. They shouldn’t be confusing with similar titles out there. They shouldn’t be graphic or explicit so that you’d be embarrassed saying the title out loud to someone in a public place where you could be overhead. Especially since a great number of sales are the result of word-of-mouth recommendations. Most importantly, titles shouldn’t be boring. Well, I didn’t have to worry about the vulgar or too-long parts, but a simple Google search showed me that the key words, “studies” and “defining” covered literally thousands and thousands of book titles. Would you want to go through all those searching for one book? There are studies and defining moments of everything on earth, from science, history, the arts, athletics, politics, medicine, you name it! When I got down to the brass tacks, I also thought my title was uninteresting and vague. One of the things I learned was that non-fiction almost always needs a sub-title to bring clarity of what the book’s about if the main title doesn’t offer an explanation. My sub-title didn’t even do that! Thus, I knew right away I’d need to re-title my book, and use the WOMEN’S STUDIES title as a working title only. I referred to that in my March 15 blog, “The Art Of Making Art Into A Book”.
The second part of my education on titling examines what a title should be. The main title should be short. It should be memorable so it can be recalled and easily looked up or told to someone else. It should be interesting, standing apart from millions of other titles. It can be provocative, (not explicitly embarrassing). It helps a lot to have a “hook”. A successful title has these attributes.
How do you find that out? First, write a list of potential titles, maybe five or six. Do a poll among your family, friends , your Facebook followers or blog/ web site followers, to select the title and sub-title (if using one) they like best. This won’t be an accurate poll, because they know you personally or through online avenues, and already know what your book is about. They have preconceived notions, and similar backgrounds to yours. Your family and personal friends will buy the book no matter what the title is. Your followers may also, because you have been making them interested for months as you’ve talked about it. They want the content. But the thousands who are browsing in bookstores or online book sites know nothing about you or your book if you are an emerging, self-publishing author. This is where a non-biased poll comes into play. I put a poll up on PickFu (www.pickfu.com). For a small fee, they conduct instant polls on book titles, cover art, and about anything else you need. They send your poll question out to vetted respondents across the country. These people are like the browsers — they never heard of you or your book. They select what to them is the best title option you’ve presented, based on which one interests them enough to want to check a book out and see what it’s about. Then, they leave a comment explaining why they made their choices. Something has to grab them, to make them pick up or click on the book and at least open it to see what it is, rather than passing it by. It’s the first step to making that sale. If the title is ho-hum or offending, they won’t even bother to check, no matter how good your book is! That is the #1 job of a title, and it must be compelling enough to hook them into looking further. The title is the first advertisement most people will see about your book. If it’s memorable, intriguing, and the subject interests them, they will buy it and tell others, who can also remember it well enough to look it up in a store or online, and so on. I took my favorite title and another one that ranked very high among the respondents of my personal poll. I filtered it on PickFu to my target audience: women. 33 of the 50 women polled selected the title that was my favorite. The reasons? They were intrigued by the “hook” and wanted to know what the book was about. It tickled their curiosity. They felt the second option was boring. Just 17 chose the second option. Their comments ranged from “lofty”, “inspiring,” or “poetic.” They thought the first option was silly or risque. Their comments in favor of option #2 were nice, but it was clear from the numbers that this title wasn’t going to get the fish onto my hook.
Along with the poll results and comments came the demographics of the respondents: percentages of positive reactions for each option in the different age levels, income brackets, educational levels, and ethnicity. It was intensely interesting to me, and gave me a lot to think about. I believe it was one of the most valuable things I’ve done in this process, and I hope to run it again as I get closer to sending stuff off to the publisher.
Bottom line: if you are thinking about writing a book, no matter what the genre is, I urge you to take advantage of these polls. Many people don’t realize the importance of a title! They come up with a title they like, and believe the whole world will like it also. Trouble is, they are so close to their project, they can’t see how others might perceive it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed by books on the shelves or online because of boring titles. Usually, self-publishing houses have people on staff who will come up with titles, but according to my research, they often miss the mark as well. YOU are the creative one! Do your homework; come up with some titles you like, and some you might not like, but run the polls. Their results may surprise you! You have too much invested in your project to have it fail when it doesn’t have to. Your title is far too important to be weak. Take charge! Set the hook and reel in your sale!
BITING AT THE “HOOK”
Writing a book has been an interesting and educational experience! Why didn’t I learn some of this in commercial art at VCU? I certainly understand the concepts! Alas, I have never written a book before, so there was no personal application to pound home how important these applications are when it comes to presenting your book to the public! This was not what I’d intended to write about on my next post, but it became my topic of the day after last night’s experience.
Of course, I have been trying to educate myself on launching a book, since I will be doing that soon, so I’ve been following some blogs and reading some books on “how-to’s.” Here was something I had not thought of: the importance of the book’s title. Did you know that the title is the single most important advertising tool for a book? I never thought of it that way. Here’s why: In the thousands and thousands of titles out there, both online and on the shelves in bookstores, the title is what grabs a browser’s attention first. No matter in which genre the author is writing, fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, and to whom, males, females, age groups, ethnic or religious, etc., the title must have a hook to interest someone enough into at least picking up the book to see what it’s about. It must evoke curiosity, intrigue, a desire to pursue checking it out further. If it is a boring title, people will assume it’s a boring book as well, and pass it up in search of something more interesting. The title is the first way most people become aware of a book. It must not be confused with other similar titles, and it must be memorable! It could be a title that’s provocative, but not graphically explicit, something someone would not be embarrassed to tell someone else in a public place where others could hear. Who knew?? Certainly, I had never considered this!
WHY I’M USING THIS AS THE FRONTISPIECE FOR MY BOOK
I can hear it now… “What in the heck is a frontispiece?” I can explain. It is an illustration facing the title page or first page of a book. There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Many of us have now learned a new word!
This is a pastel I painted of myself in my freshman year of college. I was eighteen years old, and had not been saved by the grace of God. As a matter of fact, I grew up atheist because my parents were atheists. But God had His plans for me, and He wanted me to know He was really there. When I was sixteen or seventeen, still in high school, I had a dream. It was one of those dreams one instinctively knows is more than just a dream. It was in the dark of night when the heavens opened, and there, I beheld a huge chorus of what I presumed were angels, singing. Their robes were so blindingly white and shining, with sun rays coming out from all around them, yet the room was still dark. None of it hurt my eyes in its brightness, so I kept on looking in wonder. Their voices rose in crescendos in songs of praise. The sound was indescribably beautiful in its melody, totally unearthly. I was mesmerized. I knew they had to be praising God. It was quite an experience to glimpse something so other-worldly! I don’t know how long it lasted, but the memory of it was strong with me when I awoke in the morning. I asked my father about it. He poo-pooed it, saying everybody has stupid dreams like that sometimes, and to forget about it because it was just a dream, nothing more. I never forget that dream, though…
Fast forward a few years to the scene in my dorm room. My roommates were holding a small table lamp, minus the shade, in an otherwise darkened room. They took a black and white Polaroid picture of me. What was I doing? I don’t know. Just clowning around. But I painted it, and I remember thinking then that it looked like I was praising something. Little did I know that ten years later I would be praising the same God whom the angels were praising in my long-ago dream.
All these years later, as I contemplated what I might want to use for my frontispiece, I ran across a box of very old drawings spanning from the first grade to college and beyond. They were all I had left from those early years, and as I leafed through them, I came across a sketch pad with this little pastel of me inside. I didn’t give it much thought except to remember the circumstances under which I had done it. A few days later, however, as I was sitting in the audience of our church during an Easter community choir event, it seemed God was really impressing upon me to use that picture. It makes sense. That was me then, before knowing Christ, but deep down, knowing there was “Something” out there. And this is me now, so many years later, doing what God has called me to do. And I’m praising Him for everything, the good, the bad and the ugly, because they are what brought me to my defining moments. There is so much of me in this book, both before and after knowing Christ, just like the women I’ve painted, so why not join them? I’m in the front of the book, in the beginning, just starting my journey, and what a journey it’s been!
IN THE BEGINNING…CARTOONS??
PROBLEM – How do you get that perfect design pattern on your art paper without ruining it?
AMPLIFY – I think, as beginning artists, we all go through situations similar to this: You want to paint that perfect figure, or scenic composition, or whatever. You pull out your paper and start drawing away. Oh, that doesn’t look right, so you erase it and start over. And over. And over again…ad infinitum… Next thing you know, you have an erasure hole in your paper, or if you’re using sanded paper, you have erased all the “sand” away, which will leave an obviously different texture, or worse yet, NO texture, which will affect the color in that spot. Even if you finally work out the design without making a hole or otherwise significantly damaging your paper, you have wasted hours and hours of time while killing your blood pressure.
The pattern is finally to your liking, so you start applying color. Now, pastel isn’t like wet mediums where you can control the lines of paint and keep your pattern intact and visible. It is by nature a messy medium. You have to smear it to achieve complete coverage. Even if you don’t, the pigment powder released by abrading it against the paper to make color adhere will get everywhere and smudge your pattern lines. You may not be able to see them anymore. You don’t want all that powder residue interfering with future colors on your agenda, so you grab your gum erasers and erase away at the residue. Trouble is, you’ve just erased your design pattern along with the residue. Nice clean paper again…with no pattern on it. Arrgghhh! How are you EVER gonna draw it back like you had it before?!?!? What was I saying about blood pressure?
You leave your studio, go eat lunch, get a drink, or do whatever else will calm you down, then head back to the drawing board. After more hours, you’ve filled in your pattern again. Your #2 pencil is worn down to a stub, but you’ve really nailed it this time! Your pretty, sky blue color needs a little blending along the edges, so you do that with your finger tip, only, the graphite from that #2 pencil blends in right along with the pastel, creating a dirty looking blue sky along the area of the pattern line. By this time, you’re a good candidate for a stroke!
SOLUTION/STORY – After you’ve counted to ten, twenty, or maybe even a hundred, you read this article and discover how to avoid all this in the future.
First and foremost, draw your design on another piece of paper. I use tracing paper because if it’s the right size, I can transfer it directly to the art paper. More about that part later. By doing this, you work out all your problems on the tracing paper. Proportions, anatomy, composition, details, etc., are worked out on this pattern.
If you need/want the finished art piece to be larger, you will need to enlarge the pattern. This is where “cartooning” comes into play. No, not “Dennis the Menace” or “Garfield”. This is a grid system, a technique as old as at least the Renaissance era. Michelangelo painted the entire Sistine Chapel ceiling using this method of transferring patterns. He drew his patterns out on paper, working out all the design elements and eliminating problems in this rudimentary beginning stage. Then, he marked it off in a grid pattern. He numbered the squares in sequential order. On a much larger piece of paper, he drew off a corresponding grid, enlarged to fit the space on the ceiling he wanted to fill, numbering those squares to match the ones on the smaller pattern, but enlarged to scale. Following the numbers on each smaller square, he drew the same lines on the corresponding square of his larger pattern. This “blew up” the pattern to the size he wanted without changing proportions or making mistakes. Back in that day, it was called “cartooning”. I do the same thing on a much smaller scale. Typically, I draw out a pattern and put it on a ¼” grid. I typically enlarge to 5/16” or 3/8”, occasionally as much as ½”. Perhaps you can do the same thing with an art desk enlarger, but I don’t have one and have not wanted to spend the money to buy one when I can cartoon it. (I’m just cheap that way!) Of course, I do all this in pencil so I can erase if I make mistakes. I like #2 pwencils, so it gets a little smeary, but I try to be careful. I also put in as much shading as possible, so I will have an idea of how it looks with a 3-D effect. I canalso get an idea of how the darker areas will balance out the lighter areas. The beauty of having a pattern worked out on another piece of paper lies in the fact that if you somehow do obliterate your lines on your art paper, you have something to go by to replace them.
Finally, I transfer the finished pattern to my art paper. How, you ask? I can tell you unequivocally it is NOT with pencil! I use good, old-fashioned carbon paper. I’ve had it forever and I’m not even sure you can buy it anymore! It may be obsolete! Anyway, I position the pattern over the art paper and attach it in place at the top with painter’s tape – very good because it doesn’t mess up the paper underneath with sticky stuff, and it comes off the paper very easily! I trace the pattern on with carbon paper because if I run into a situation where I need to erase some smeared areas on the unfinished art, I can do so without obliterating my pattern lines underneath. An advantage of using tracing paper for the pattern is that if you miss a spot in the carbon transfer process, you can easily see how to re-position the pattern to trace in what you missed. A word of caution: use only moderate pressure to transfer the carbon unless you will be using bold or darker colors. A dark carbon line will be visible under a very light pastel color, no matter how heavily it is applied. It is extremely difficult to erase, although it can be done, but you risk erasing the paper tooth along with the carbon. Best to use lighter pressure when tracing the carbon onto the paper. See? Pretty simple, huh? Let the color begin!
TRANSFORMATION/TESTIMONY – This patterning process has saved me untold heartache, time and wasted energy. Before I figured all this stuff out in The School Of Hard Knocks, I tried doing everything freehand—no patterns—and often ended up with a disaster. The same can be said for using pencil for the final pattern instead of carbon. There are plenty of other ways to make mistakes, so why not try eliminating a few? This might not work for everyone’s style or temperament, but it sure works for mine! I’m willing to bet there a few of you out there who would welcome a little less stress in the creative process, too!