Words & Pictures

The Brass Cupcake 2

Book titles have been on my mind lately. While doing some routine computer housekeeping to finally read, file or toss the zillion things I collect, I found myself marveling at so many retro mystery/crime fiction novel and pulp magazine story titles. Say what you want about vintage genre fiction, but those writers sure could concoct some terrific titles.

The fact is, I’d been struggling with titling my own projects, originally doing some querying with just a working title (Surprise: “The Stiletto Gumshoe”) but then fretting that the title might give the wrong impression. Considering that queries and subs often garner no more than a few seconds of a busy agent or editor’s attention – if that – did I really want to stick with a title that sounds more like a ‘mystery-lite’ novel or shopaholic mystery about a modern-day well-heeled dilettante running down clues in her Louboutins?

Sure, cover art ultimately brings a book’s title to life and telegraphs the novel’s message. But in the manuscript stage, the ‘cover art’ is 12 pt. Times New Roman type on plain white 20 lb. bond or much more likely a screen…or something even more generic keyed into online submission/query forms.

Publishers Weekly

Jim Milliott reported on the importance of book titles in last week’s Publishers Weekly: “Judging A Book By Its Title” (link below), sub-headed with, “A recent test found that titles can be more important than cover art in attracting prospective readers”. Milliott writes about a Codex Group research study presenting over 50 upcoming titles to some 4,000 participants in order to probe what piqued readers’ interest or might impact purchase decisions. Book buyers being word lovers by nature, it might come as no surprise that titles, not cover art, prompted decision making, at least according to the Codex Group study. Reading Milliott’s article further, though, I’m not so sure, particularly when he quotes an Amazon creative director, who recognizes the importance of “the interplay between the title of the book and the visuals on the cover”.

The Brass Cupcake Barye Phillips 1958

If you’re reading this and follow or visit here, you already know I’m fixated on cover art…contemporary or retro, photo or illustrated. I pondered some mystery/crime fiction titles I’ve always loved…John D. MacDonald’s The Brass Cupcake came to mind as just one particular fave, for example, and I peeked at different editions of that book, from what I think is its first release from 1950 (at the top of this post) to what may be the best known, a 1958 edition with a Barye Phillips illustration (just above) and various other editions. Each says something a little different, accurate or not.

Brass Cupcake - Montage

If you’re a published writer, you may have books on shelf with covers so beautiful they could make you weep, and others you prefer to hide in your sock drawer. Or, if you’re still looking forward to the day when your name will be emblazoned on your first book, you’ll have ample time to fret about the cover art…and little voice in what it ends up as, no doubt. And if you’re an avid reader squandering too much dough on books (like me) you know how titles and cover art have lured you in…happily, sometimes…and sometimes not.

I’m experimenting with titles right now, sending out with “Title A” vs. “Title B” to see if it matters, naturally petrified that the options are awful. “The Stiletto Gumshoe” doesn’t have the zing of The Brass Cupcake. But then, what does?

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/82381-judging-a-book-by-its-title.html

 

Funny You Should Ask.

Funny You Should Ask

No schmoozing high profile agents here, just to be clear.

Veteran literary agent Barbara Poelle of NYC’s Irene Goodman Literary Agency writes the “Funny You Should Ask” Q&A column in Writer’s Digest magazine, and has compiled 100+ writers’ questions in her 2019 book Funny You Should Ask – Mostly Serious Answers To Mostly Serious Questions About The Book Publishing Industry. This Writer’s Digest Books 200+ page trade pb, with a foreword by Holly Root of the Holly Root Literary Agency, might look like a trifle at first glance when you see it on shelf. Don’t be fooled. Poelle’s lobbing zingers in an overall smartass-but-friendly tone in most of her answers and the introductions to each of the three main sections, but the fun (and it is genuinely fun) is there to make serious, no-nonsense and sometimes downright depressing information go down easy. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” …right?

Face it: Writers aren’t special. Writing isn’t a sacred endeavor. Like all creatives – painters, photographers, dancers, sculptors, actors, musicians, etc. – writers face astronomical lottery-like odds in their effort to elevate a hobby to a vocation and a vocation to a profession. You get it. I get it. Even if we all occasionally forget it. That’s precisely why we need easy to digest books like Poelle’s Funny You Should Ask (and her column of the same name in each WD issue) to make us confront the pragmatic issues artsy-smartsy scribes so easily lose track of. If the book compiles Q&A’s from Poelle’s column, is all original material or a mix of both, I couldn’t say. And couldn’t care less. It’s not like I’m about to dig through Writer’s Digest back issues to check. But I can say that it was fun to read from front to back and really helpful in many, many spots. Any writer’s book that gets down to business about the nuts and bolts of the query/submission process and provides inside peeks into what really goes on inside literary agencies and publishers is invaluable. That’s not to say that books on craft (and Lord knows, there are a lot of them) aren’t useful. But to a degree, the craft will refine itself in the doing. But once a project’s ready to share (and if it’s really ready to share) is when the really befuddling stuff begins for most writers. Trust me: You could pick worse writing books to read, and you could certainly pick less entertaining ones.

This was the perfect pre-day-job morning coffee-in-the-car book, knocked off in three such mornings (each of which got extended a bit because I didn’t want to close the book and head to the office). Frankly, I was kind of bummed when I reached the end and got to Poelle’s backmatter, a couple dozen pages of charts and exercises. If she’d wanted to include another hundred chuckle-worthy but worth remembering replies to common writers’ questions, I’d have been all-in for it.

And yes, for the record, I did previously query Barbara Poelle at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and quite early on (maybe too early, in hindsight, my project’s many and deep revisions coming later). I received a courteous auto-reply to confirm receipt of the sub (which I wish more agencies did) but nothing more, and we all know that in the querying process, silence isn’t golden…it’s a rejection. Oh well. Funny you should ask, but there were more than a few good Q&A’s about precisely that kind of thing in the first section of Funny You Should Ask.

Why Will No-One Publish My Novel?

Why Will No-One Publish My Novel?

Fay Weldon’s Why Will No-One Publish My Novel? A Handbook For The Rejected Writer was a library find from this past weekend, but I’ll get my own copy now to keep on shelf beside the very few other writer’s how-to books I cherish like Stephen King’s On Writing (my favorite), Lawrence Block’s Writing The Novel From Plot To Print To Pixels, Elements Of Fiction by Walter Mosely or Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton.

It would’ve been easy to browse right past this little gem of a book, only 4.5” x 7” with extra-heavy carboard covers like a children’s book. But I’m so glad I spotted it. Weldon’s book is a quick read, compiling a series of essays addressing the many, many reasons a writer’s projects are rejected (or simply overlooked), including all the common mistakes writers make from manuscript through submission, while also probing publishing industry issues that inevitably work against writers. The tone’s light-hearted and chatty, particularly in the first third of the book. Weldon’s wise words will get their share of knowing nods from writers in the trenches, cruel truths relayed along with more than a few chuckles. I challenge anyone – writer or not – not to laugh at Weldon’s imaginary literary agency meeting in her sixth chapter.

Fay Weldon Books

I often forego writer’s books that I probably ought to read, in-store skimming suggesting the content’s the same ol’ stuff and not worth the money, or just as often, unsure what I’ll learn from a how-to book’s author with a skimpy resume of their own (no shortage of those among Kindle and e-books). Maybe that’s why I keep returning for re-reads with King, Block, Grafton, Mosley and a few others. Fay Weldon may not be as familiar a name in the U.S as in the UK, but she’s been at it since the 1960’s, with thirty novels to her credit along with story collections, children’s books and non-fiction titles, all those following a career as an advertising copywriter and work in serial fiction, radio and teleplays. Oh yeah…and she was made a CBE, which makes her a Knight or a Lady (not sure which, but then we did fight a revolution over here so wouldn’t have to worry about those things). Suffice to say she’s been at it a while, knows what she’s talking about, and is generous with anecdotes throughout this book.

Why Will No-One Publish My Novel – A Handbook For The Rejected Writer came out in the UK in 2018, but took a while to pop up on my library’s shelf. (Technically, a nearby library. My library only has half a dozen writer’s books, if that.) I’ll be glad when I get my own copy – this one’s a keeper.

Resolutions: None. Only An Agenda.

New Years Eve 2020

With that clock ticking closer to midnight, this duo looked more apprehensive than enthusiastic. Perhaps, like many, they failed to make a suitable list of New Year’s resolutions for 2020.

Count me among that lot.

I have no resolutions for this new decade (which I realize technically doesn’t commence until 2021), knowing from prior experience that I’d never keep them anyway. My vices are few, drinking modestly (if even that), donut shop coffee my drug of choice, reasonably thrifty, diligent in the day job, unfailingly (and happily) faithful in my relationship.

Confession: I smoke, and resolving to quit would be the very best resolution. But I know I won’t, at least not now, so why kid myself? So then…what else? Eat healthy? Exercise more? Be more charitable, kinder to strangers, start going to church?

I don’t do resolutions, but I do have an agenda for 2020.  Not so different than my 2019 agenda, with some tweaks to my writing endeavors: Table The Stiletto Gumshoe’s sequel temporarily, concluding it’s presumptuous to work on the second book of a planned series when the first hasn’t even been sold, much less agented yet. But the agenda includes a refusal to lose heart while continuing the humbling (or soul-crushing) querying process. It’s not rejections that sting. Those are fairly few and, often enough, come with genuinely encouraging remarks. It’s the non-responses that bruise some, and it seems they’ve become the industry norm. But the agenda’s full with short fiction projects for The Stiletto Gumshoe and other things, coupled with a renewed zeal to pay more attention to short fiction markets, contests and competitions, anemic or non-existent compensation aside. Keeping up with all that while aiming for some better balance of ‘real’ writing time and lazy-ass blog-hobbying time is enough of an agenda for my 2020. So, here’s hoping for a happy and productive 2020, for me and all of you!

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