What Should We Call Me?

After many months and more rounds of edits than probably healthy, cover reveal day is finally here for my forthcoming fantasy novel Off Book. A rather meta-humor story (where the characters in it are well aware that they’re characters in a book) I think the title suits it.

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Of course… that wasn’t always the title. Just like the several edits the overall story went through between initial writing and now, the book’s title has gone through no less than four iterations (after being discussed in multiple marketing meeting). And so it seemed to be the perfect day to discuss just what makes a good title.

1. Don’t feel like you need a title right away.

Some authors come up with their titles before ever putting pen to paper, some are still looking for a good one as they get a query ready to send. Personally, I find coming up with titles feels more difficult than actually writing a full novel half the time and so I often have “working titles” while writing a book that will likely change three or four times before I’ve reached “the end” There is absolutely no problem with not having a title while you’re working on a book. Just make sure that you can always find your file if you work on a computer by having a “working title” that is distinct enough (for example, title it after your main character rather than just “Story” or “Untitled”)

2. Look for strong themes

Either while planning (if you like to title before writing a book), writing (if you like to title while in process), or editing (if you like to title after) keep an eye out for strong themes you could build a title around. Is your character dealing with a certain emotion? Look for words that embody that. Does your character have a distinct name? Try to figure out if there is a way use that (one of the early titles of Off Book was Ashes to Ashes because of the character’s last name, for example, though more on that later). Once you have some focus, it will become easier to narrow down title options.

3. Consider if this is part of a series.

If you are writing a series, take into consideration if there are any title patterns you will want to use. Many series try to use similar sounds for their books. For example George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords…), Traci Borum’s Chilton Crosse Series (Painting the Moon, Finding the Rainbow…), or even my own Broken Line Series (The Copper Witch, The Porcelain Child, The Paper Masque) Each book has a unique title, but follows the same pattern (A ____ of ____. ___ing the ____. The ____ ____) If you are coming up with the title for a later book of a series, try to find a way to tie it to the previous books. If you are titling the first book of a series, try to come up with something that will allow for similar follow-up titles.

4. Do some market research.

This is where things can get a little bit trickier, for while titles can be just as creative as the books inside the cover, titles are largely about marketing. You want to find something that catches the reader’s eye, fits the feel/genre of the book, and (where many people get tripped up) doesn’t get lost in search results. It is not possible to copyright a title so just because someone has used a certain title before doesn’t mean you can’t. Just because you can, however, doesn’t mean you should. While one of my working titles was Ashes to Ashes, going with that would have likely been a bit of a marketing nightmare. Enough books (and TV shows) have used that title that it was likely my book would get lost far down the search results. Another possibility (Between the Lines) while considered ended up bringing up a number of Romance novels when researched. You don’t necessarily need to go for entirely unique, but you don’t likely want to end up with your book being the 5000th of the same name or immediately assumed to be a different genre than it is because you pick a name associated with a number of [other genre] books. A quick search at the Amazon Kindle Store or otherwise online will help you get an idea if you are on the right track with what you’ve come up with so far.

5. Let your publisher help you.

If you are self publishing, it is up to you to come up with something you can market well, but if you are working with a traditional publisher, listen to their marketing team. You can fight for a title you’ve come up with if you want, but publishers generally have a good reason for asking for title changes (most often having to do with how they intend to market your book) so being willing to work with them will help you down the road. Always consider a title a “working title” until your book hits the shelf.

Off Book: Coming soon from REUTS Publications. Read more about it here, request to be part of the blog tour here, or find it on Goodreads

Twenty-year-old Eloise has learned all she can from the School, where characters live until joining their novels. No one knows genre and plot structure better than her, but despite her knowledge, she’s yet to be assigned to her own story. All her friends are off starting their lives with their authors—and if Eloise doesn’t get assigned soon, she’ll fade away, forgotten by all.

When she is suddenly offered a job at the Recording Office, she takes the chance to write her own future. Suddenly living among the post-storied, Eloise meets Barnaby Fitzwilliam, a former romance novel hero who hasn’t lost any of his in-story charm. But just as their relationship begins to get serious, everything Eloise has been taught gets turned upside down when she’s sucked into a novel she was never meant to be part of.

Now, caught where the only rules are made by the authors and truly anything is possible, Eloise must find her way back home—or else her life might end before she ever gets the chance to live it.

Set in a world dictated by Authors, OFF BOOK explores the story beneath the stories we all know and love, taking readers and characters alike on an adventure just waiting to be written.

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Hate Storms and Self-Publishing

(Note: Having written this post a few days ago, I have spent a fair deal of time debating whether or not this should be posted as I do not especially like the idea of spreading things that end up quite so hateful and dramatic through this blog. As this situation has showcased an important point about self-publishing, however, I have decided to hit “publish”. Should anyone have any comments, I only ask you attempt to remain respectful. Unnecessarily rude comments will be deleted).

Last week, a blog post for a woman named Quin Woodward Pu went viral detailing her response to what otherwise seemed like a pretty benign “I’m not feeling it” text message. While I do personally agree with the bulk of commentators that her text back to this unnamed man seems, well, crazy, one thing got me thinking. In passing in Pu’s text she mentions that she is “a 25 year old with two published books and a condo” as evidence for why she won’t be affected by him not being interested (I think?) With that detail out there, it didn’t take long for one commentator (what can I say, I sometimes like reading angry responses to things on the internet, it’s a guilty pleasure)  to find her book on Amazon and bring it into the hate storm as fair game.

As of me typing this blog post, both books have been brought down to below two stars based on an influx of one-star reviews that, more likely than not, are tied to her blog post (some directly mention the blog post in the reviews). Now, I never support writing mean reviews for books that are focused on the author rather than the book itself (just recently Goodreads cracked down on reviewers after an author pulled the release of her book from being attacked with one-star reviews before anyone could even read her book because of asking what people thought was a “stupid” question on a site forum) but the ones who read either the book or the free excerpt on amazon and thought the writing was bad quickly pointed out something else–both of Pu’s books are self-published (Amazon lists the publishers of books on their listings and “Createspace” [Amazon’s self-publishing platform] is the one listed for Pu).

Now, there are several very good self-published books out there. For authors who want to maintain complete control over their books, or are just sick and tired of the traditional publishing model, it’s a great option. But while the self-publishing stigma is slowly starting to dissipate as more authors start putting out quality books through such outlets, the reaction to Pu’s books shows that stigma is far from gone.

The problem, you see, is that by passing the power to publish from publishers to authors, you lose the gatekeepers (and the support systems) publishing was once use to. In some ways this is good. As I’ve stated before, publishers buy books they think will sell. If they don’t think a great book will come off the shelf, they will pass on it. Self-publishing allows a great book to attempt standing on its own merit. It does mean, however, that anyone can put out anything in any state. The people employed to find good stories and writing (acquisitions editors, slush pile readers, [and to be honest] publishing interns) aren’t controlling the publishing platform anymore. If someone wants to publish a book that is barely legible from typos and entirely nonsensical, they can put it out there and point to being a “published author”. Without the support system publishers offer as well (content editors, copy editors, cover designers, etc.) it is entirely on the author to make sure they are turning out a professional product (either by being multi-talented artists who can also do graphic design or putting up the money to hire freelancers/editing firms before going to print). And the fact is, many self-published authors just don’t take the time to do so.

I did read the free sample of one of Pu’s books before writing this post, and did I, personally, think that sample at least shows good writing? Not especially. Even the first few pages have typos that should have been picked up and as an editor I would have had several notes for her to work on before going to press. Do some of the people who have taken the time to read a bit–rather than simply attacking her as a person–truly believe that that’s what the book deserves for a rating? Very possibly (unless the book gets much better further on, I’m not sure it would have gotten much better marks from me). Does she deserve her books ending up in the hate storm that’s becoming attached to her name? That’s where it gets difficult.

Like I said before, I never support rating a book that’s available off an author’s personal life/their beliefs/anything that isn’t the book’s own merit. It is a nasty thing to do, period. With Pu’s seemingly self-important attitude about being “published” as a talking point, though, it nearly seems as though she purposefully threw the books into the line of fire.

Who knows? There’s the old adage about any publicity being good publicity. Perhaps people will start buying her books just to see/to hate read them, in which case, good for her, royalties are going to go through the roof. Personally, I think what this example really says, though, is that one needs to be careful when self-publishing. Using a platform like Createspace or Lulu shouldn’t be a mark of shame on any author, but when you’re bypassing the gatekeeping method so long used in publishing for your own path, you are opening yourself up to the full brunt of critiques to your book. There is no “idiot publisher” people will point to whose fault it is for letting a bad book out in such a state. It automatically becomes some “idiot author” who thinks “they’re good enough to sully the name of books” with their opus. Your book suddenly has to carry the entire weight of proof that it is a good book. Otherwise, it’s simple for the great internet droves to dismiss as some nobody who just wants to see their name on a cover without being a “real” author.

And so, if there’s anything to take away from all of this as an author (other than don’t post inflammatory things on the internet without purposefully hoping to get a stir) it is to be thorough when planning to self-publish. As your own publisher, it’s up to you to make sure that your work is the best it can be before being sent off into the world. Nobody else is going to. Hire an editor (hopefully a good one) if you can. Get tons and tons of beta readers and an English teacher to copy-edit (at the least) if you can’t. You are taking a road to publishing that has its benefits, but also many, many pitfalls to watch for. Don’t make it easy for people to dismiss you with a pat on the head.

As to people attacking you as a person, not your book, in a review? Ignore them. Seriously. They’re jerks.

(For those who wish to see the blog post that sparked the hate storm, you can find it here [assuming Pu doesn’t feel the need to remove it at some point]. Fair warning though, of all the comments I’ve found around the internet about this story, the ones on her blog are by far the worst,  devolving to mean comments about her race, appearance, and weight rather than any comments about the post/her actions).

Concerning Pseudonyms

This morning I woke up to an always welcome sight in my inbox — a “You may have gotten however many rejections before on this manuscript, but this isn’t one. We’re interested in publishing your novel” letter.

They are currently working out a contract, so nothing’s signed (I won’t fully be excited until I’ve looked that over. No counting chickens before they’ve hatched), but it got me to thinking about one very important topic: pseudonyms.

Now, anyone who has ever gone over to glance at my biography page can see a list of published works. I didn’t use a pseudonym for any of them. Honestly, I never saw much of a need to/my name is awesome/I’m a little vain (if the previous slash didn’t get that across, I mean, Dall – beginning of the alphabet, easy to pronounce, generally pretty…)

This manuscript, however, is a little different. While I have never written anything like a memoir (see my “Write What You Know” post to see why. My life just isn’t that interesting) this manuscript is closer to being autobiographical than anything else I have written. And while I will neither confirm nor deny this, there might be some characters surprisingly close to people I know in my real life. None are those people, none are named to be those people, but there may more may not be some striking similarities.

I assure everyone in my life who is now wondering if her or she has told me anything incriminating, everything is completely fictional, and with each edit it has become more and more so (again, my life=boring, had to spice it up a little), but still…

And thus we find ourselves back where I started. Obviously a pseudonym would be handy in separating anything personal that is left in the work from me, and thus anyone who might feel they are unfavorably portrayed in a book that may or may not contain a likeness of someone potentially like them. Of course, I’m not talking about slander (note: pseudonyms do not protect you from being sued for slander), but it would add a little more privacy for everyone. And there are other benefits of course, as outlined in articles such as this, this, and this.

But then, there are the bad things, like what do you do about marketing? Obviously, having written under the name “Jessica Dall”, I have always marketed myself as such. Everything from my webpage (jessicadall.yolasite.com), to my Twitter account (@JessicaDall), to this blog are, quite noticeably, under Jessica Dall. People talk about “branding” in many articles about pseudonyms. This work would be a stark break with the “brand”.

And there’s the fact that everyone who might be in the book would probably know I had written it anyway. I would still have to market it, of course. And I’m not planning on undergoing any sort of identity-hiding plastic surgery just to separate myself from the novel. It is just a novel after all. (Though I bet doing all book signings with my head under a paper bag would be quite a marketing gimmick…)

So is a pseudonym worth it? I actually don’t know. When I sign something (assuming I actually sign something) I will have to come to a decision. But for now, I’m still rather up in the air. Truly, it seems to be a matter of personal preference. People chose to use, and not to use, pen names for any number of reasons. And so, I’ll actually have to figure out those reasons. Great.