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What’s in a Name? When It Comes to Book Titles, More than You Think

41+-uU7IeCL._SL500_AA300_Jen was sitting in a theater last week, watching Raiders of the Lost Ark and marveling at how perfect it was, soup to nuts (and no, she didn’t travel in a Delorean back to 1981). Then she started thinking about the title and realized it was pretty spot-on as well. Not only did it evoke adventure and a certain disregard for the rules, it really does a great job at describing WHAT the movie’s about.

When we go about titling our book projects, we might focus on either something that’s going to be sexy or intriguing, OR descriptive and literal.

Guess what? It’s important to consider both.

Most nonfiction books also have a subtitle, and possibly an additional “reading line”—an extra line on the cover that specifically conveys a promise to the reader. When beginning to ponder your title/subtitle, there are several things to keep in mind: It should be intriguing, of course, but—particularly if it’s nonfiction—it also needs to clearly convey the book’s concept and be easily searchable for those shopping online.

Keep these considerations in mind as you work on your title:

Still think titles aren’t that big of a deal? Well, imagine if these bestsellers had been titled differently:

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Using Traditional Chinese Parenting Techniques to Raise a Successful Child

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Men Who Hate Women (original Swedish title)

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
The Theory of Memetics in Everyday Life

Learn how to craft a great title, subtitle, and reading line, as well as the 8 other key proposal elements, in our Feb. 9 All-Day Workshop, 30 Days to a Winning Book Proposal.


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5 Tips to Break Through Writer’s Block

shutterstock_941235251The new year offers the perfect opportunity to get start on a new writing project, be it an essay, a short story, poetry, or a book. You open your laptop or crack open your notebook and…are paralyzed by the blank white space.

This is not uncommon.

We’ve all been stopped up for some reason or another, so we thought we’d share 5 of our favorite ways to kick-start a writing project.

  1. Turn off your inner editor. As former editors, we understand the desire to wow and amaze with our first draft. But, realistically, this doesn’t happen all that often. In fact, it’s as rare as a unicorn sighting. So we recommend thinking of your first go as just writing down notes. It takes the pressure off. And when you go back and reread your “notes,” you’ll be surprised at how good your first brain dump is.
  2. Create a comfortable environment. Whether it’s hunkering down at your favorite coffee shop or sitting in a comfortable chair at home with a steaming mug of Earl Grey, take care of your physical creature comforts so you can feel as if the writing process is a pleasure, a treat from soup to nuts. Along those lines, consider the medium. Are you a speedy typist, or do you love writing longhand with a specific pen, filling up a beautiful journal with your prose and poetry? Think about how you prefer to write and gather the appropriate tools to help you on your literary journey.
  3. Change things up. That said, sometimes it’s good to break it up. If you are stuck, change your surroundings and your process. If you are a serious techie who never leaves your ergonomic chair, take a small notebook on your walk along the beach so you can jot down your thoughts with a fresh eye.
  4. Give yourself a prompt. You don’t have to write in a linear or chronological manner. Give yourself a short writing challenge, perhaps at the beginning of your writing time. If you are writing a memoir, detail your childhood bedroom as thoroughly as possible or imagine the adult protagonist in your novel at his senior prom or getting fired from his job. These writing exercises can inform your work and get your juices flowing.
  5. Work on different parts of the same project. We love developing book proposals, because if we get stuck on or sick of the manuscript, we can go to the bookstore and research our competition or possible publishers. We can brainstorm inexpensive and/or wacky marketing and publicity ideas. These are concrete elements, as necessary to your submission as your manuscript sample, so it’s a productive part of your writing process.

If you are ready to write your proposal, we are offering an all-day intensive of our proven workshop, 30 Days to a Winning Book Proposal, on 2/9/13. More information about our class can be found here.

(photo: wispringsco.org)

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The Text Files: Organizing your digital files

Like most people, we take things for granted. Like saving and organizing our computer files. But when a client asked us to teach a class on the subject, we realized that y’all could benefit from a few pointers.

This is an ongoing challenge for the best of us. When we worked in book publishing as editors, we often had files flying back and forth, often through buggy outlets like aol. Attachments would lose formatting, “track changes” is frankly an eyesore to use, and the danger of the wrong files being sent to design or worse, the printer, was imminent. So we had to use our mad OCD skills to whip our hard drives into shape.

Setting up a project folder
So, using Jen’s book, Beyond the Family Tree (originally titled It’s All Relative), let’s look at how to set up a folder on your hard drive (better yet, use a cloud-based system like Dropbox to ensure it’s backed up).

  1. Create a folder for the entire project, labeling it by your working title.
  2. Create subfolders for your immediate needs, such as Proposal, Correspondence, Research, Manuscript, Interviews, Artwork/photography, etc.
  3. Within your Proposal folder, create subfolders for each of the nine areas of your book proposal: Title, Intro, About the Book, About the Author, Competing Titles, Marketing, Outline, Sample Text, Additional Materials.
  4. Within your Manuscript folder, depending on the size and scope of your chapters, create subfolders for each chapter. We like to put the chapter numeral first so that they automatically order themselves when you open the folder.
  5. Whenever you create a new file, save it to the proper folder immediately.

Naming Word files
Now, let’s talk about naming your Word docs. Usually, we just save the same file (frequently, we might add), saving over the previous version, because we aren’t concerned with saving the original file. But that’s just us. Multiple versions are helpful when doing developmental editing (not as important when copyediting or proofreading).

When writing multiple versions of your manuscript, chapter, or proposal section, try using v1 (for version one), v2, v3, etc. at the end of each file name. For example, 1_Tools_v2 (folks using Windows find using the underscore instead of spaces to be preferable; Mac users don’t seem to have the same issue) would indicate that this file is version two of chapter 1 which is about Tools. Super. The only problem with this is timing. If files are going back and forth between you and an editor or collaborator, there could be two people working on “v2” or someone could forget to rename the new version. If you’re working on the text by yourself, however, this is a great way to organize your files, since you might want to save and retain the first draft before you start seriously editing round two.

Another approach is to put the date in the file name, for example 1_Tools_20120820 or 082012_1_Tools. This is a totally valid approach and while there is a datestamp on your files, this can further help delineate between versions as or more effectively than the “v1, v2” nomenclature. But whatever you do, be consistent. Putting the date at the beginning of the file name will ensure it always shows up first in your folder window (if you have your system set up that way); so too will chapter files always be in order if you start off with the chapter number.

Working within a file can be sticky enough. Setting up your files properly can leave your mind free to focus on the important stuff, namely your work. Write on!

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