Thursday, March 17, 2016

TANTALIZING TITLES: Captivate Editors First and Readers Second

Imagine if there were no titles to head articles or on the spines of books!

Article and book titles are crucial to selling your work; not only selling it to your readers, but also selling it to a publisher. Certainly no book is saleable without a compelling idea and its name needs to make others salivate.

I can hear you saying, "But publishers and magazine editors often change titles, so what's the point?" Indeed they do but, whether we like it or not, the titles we use in our query letters affect the editors positively or negatively. The opportunity to create an outstanding first impression with a zinger of a title must not be missed at the query stage, especially by authors and freelancers seeking publication for the first time.

Tantalizing titles are challenging to develop – many nonfiction authors agonize over them throughout the entire writing process and test them out on colleagues who have read the work. Here are some tips and strategies to create innovative nonfiction titles that captivate both editors and readers at the get-go.

Main title:
  •  Short is sweet – 2-5 words, max
  •  Catchy, upbeat, exciting 
  •  May imply a promise
  •  Hints at the subject (fortunately NF works usually have a sub-title)
Sub-title (non-fiction only):
  •  Always clarifies what the book is about
  •  Probably a more serious phrase than main title
Two non-fiction examples come to mind:

Novelists, of course, do without the sub-title altogether and have much more freedom when naming their books. However, it is worth striving for a title that will intrigue as these do:
Although titles cannot be copyrighted, using or modifying one that is well-known may not help your cause. Imagine sending a query out about your "Gone with the Wind"!

My first nonfiction book took ten years to write and I never worried much about the title. I just knew that it would come to me – either in the shower or walking along a beach. It did too – but in the middle of the night. Too good to forget, I got up and wrote it down. All six publishers I queried commented on my title when they first responded. Through a Canadian Periscope: The Story of the Canadian Submarine Service was never changed….