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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On Titles and Covers

Last Tuesday I received the news that all writers love to hear the most...a new contract.
My 40K word, time travel novella has been bought by Lyrical Press and will, tentatively be out around April next year.

The book is currently without a title. Unlike my other books, this little story has never had a proper title. It's a bit like not having a name for your baby...doesn't feel quite real.  Every animal that has ever set paw in our house, from mice and fish to the cats, have had names. Once you give something a name you have an emotional investment in it and I think the same applies to books. 

Its working title was "Slip in Time" but this conjured up images of ballroom dancing or petticoats.  My problem is that every "Time" title I come up with has already been taken and quite often graces the cover of several books - A Timeless Love, Love Through Time, A Time to Love etc....So I'm stumped, my editor's stumped and my writing group has taken to suggesting titles like "Love Among the Geraniums" (you'd have to read the story to get that one!). I'm on to cavaliers now...with a long list of titles like "Loving the Cavalier, The Cavalier and the Cardiologist" and the trouble is until it has a title I can't get on with all the other important stuff that needs doing when you first sign up for a book contract. 

This has got me thinking about the titles and how they influence reader attraction to a book.  I came across this  article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. In it, writer Julian Barnes confesses to not reading one particular book for years because he thought it was about baseball - the book "Catcher in the Rye". 

There are plenty of blogs on this subject but one of the best I've come across is from Rachelle Gardiner, literary Agent. Rachelle writes "...Your title sets the tone, hints at the genre or style of book, and draws the reader in. It’s your very first opportunity to “market” your book and make someone want to read it...". pressure, Rachelle!

In another post, Rachelle gives an important lesson in how to brainstorm a title your book and I'm working through that at the moment.  I guess I am lucky that I have a publishing house that allows the author input into titles. My friends who write for HMB, have little or no say in their titles (so don't blame the author for the "Millionaire Sheiks Secret Love Child"). Those I have spoken to have stopped even giving their books working titles so their work in progress tend be known just as "Sheik 5" or "Secret Baby 9".

This has got me thinking about not only the importance of titles but also covers and the more I thought about it, the more I realised we are a predominantly visual species and much as we may preach sanctimoniously that we "never judge a book by a cover". Yes we do. I have heard Stephanie Laurens say that for her books to sell, the cover has to be one that can be seen across a crowded Walmart.  We are drawn to bright and shiny and I am completely guilty of buying books by their covers. Jo Beverley's Three Heroes is a case in point.  I bought it like a shot...because I'm shallow and I judge books by their covers. - it was also, I hasten to add, a very good read!

The need for a cover to catch the eye and yet give an indication of genre and story was brought home to me when I was working with my publisher on the cover for Gather the Bones. I had imagined something World War Oneish but no, this is primarily a story about relationships and the cover needed to show that. It has poppies (World War One) but anyone picking up the book can see it is about a relationship between a man and a woman. - probably more man and woman than would generally be my taste but I have grown to love them. I learned it's about understanding the audience to whom you are pitching your book. Duh! I write books with a strong romantic theme. Yes, they are strong on the historical aspect but my audience is far more likely to be a reader interested in a relationship and a HEA than a reader of military history. Call a spade a spade. If I write romance then my cover needs to appeal to buyers of romantic fiction. It needs to look...well...romantic!

With this learning in mind I went back to my own books and reconsidered the covers. Take THE KING'S MAN. When it was first published in 2007 by an independent epress, the cover chosen was a computer graphic (Because that was how it was done back then!) and  at the time I was quite pleased with it - spies, inns, mysterious men. When I re-released the book myself in 2010 I chose a clever image of a man with a noose around his neck. I felt it captured the essence of the book but looking at it now, it's too subtle and muddy in colour. I just didn't understand what a cover has to convey! Back to basics...this is a book about a relationship - a love story and, frankly, you wouldn't get that from either of its first two covers, would you? Yes it's about spies and hanging but primarily it's about Kit and Thamsine. I finally understood! Glory be, now in 2012, enterprising people out there have caught on to the juggernaut of  the self publishing industry and you can buy off the shelf book covers. Wonderful covers (thank you Jimmie Thomas)! The King's Man finally has a cover that captures the essence of the book perfectly. Honestly which one would you buy...?

The King's Man original Cover

The King's Man:  Muddy cover

The King's Man: new cover

So there we are, I have a lovely bright new shiny contract for a story with no name, but if you like time travel stories, a wonderful seventeenth century cavalier and a thoroughly modern, no nonsense doctor are coming your way early next year. And I'm really looking forward to working with my publisher on an eye catching cover - once we have found the perfect title!


PS...this week I am over at Hoydens and Firebrands blogging about the tragic life of one of the noblest of the cavaliers...Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland, killed at the age of 33 at the first Battle of Newbury in 1643. Was it a case of suicide by battle...?