Self-Publishing With Tom Wood

I used to have a professor who would often ask, “So, what are you writing right now?”

The first few times he asked, I gave him a synopsis of whatever plot I’d been kicking around, major character traits, etc. Inevitably, my professor would stop me and say, “Yeah, but what’s your title?”

His lesson was simple: if you aren’t committed enough to a piece to sit down and think of a good, working title, then why should anyone else care about what you’re writing?

Granted, that’s a bit harsh, but his philosophy helped me to understand that titles are paramount to shaping readers’ perception of your work, and the creation of titles is not to be taken any more lightly than any other component of the writing process.

Often, though, finding the right title for your work seems impossible. Nothing fits; nothing inspires. In this month’s column, author and self-publishing wiz Tom Wood offers insight into how to find the perfect title for your work.

Finding the Perfect Title

By Tom Wood

“Vendetta Stone: The Force Awakens.”

“Whaddya think?” the marketing genius said. “It’s got a nice ring, huh?”

A thoughtful pause.

“You’ve had some wild ideas that worked before, but I don’t know about this one,” the treasurer/vice-president retorted. “What do you think, boss?”

An instant response from the chief executive of Me, Myself and I Self-Publishing, LLC: “Next! One more like that and you guys are fired!”

Sigh.

As great as it would be to capitalize on the success of the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise, it probably wouldn’t be the best title for the sequel to my self-published debut novel. So, I’ll pass on this one. Go in a different direction. Try something else, perhaps a little more in tune with what the book is actually about.

A silly conversation, at best, but it illustrates the decisions you have to make about perhaps the most important aspect of your self-published novel: The Perfect Title.

Look at it this way: You’ve spent countless hours writing and rewriting your novel, then run it past an editor, your critique group, your beta readers—or maybe just the relatives—and you’re going to spend just a few minutes, perhaps several hours (or maybe even a couple of days) coming up with the first words a potential reader sees about your book? Traditional publishing houses hold scheduled meetings to consider different titles for books.

There are a number of facets to consider in boiling the guts of your book down to one catchy turn of a phrase when trying to connect with potential readers.

But you have to think of it as a smart business decision, one that intrigues/hooks a reader before they’ve read the back cover or the first paragraph of the first chapter. The title may or may not tie in to the cover art, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Inspiration for The Perfect Title can come from anywhere.

It might be a line from your book. Or it could come from “The Good Book.” Some of the great book titles inspired by phrases from the Bible include Chariots of Fire, East of Eden, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Sun Also Rises, and Vengeance Is Mine.

Titles inspired by our literary predecessors are also not uncommon. Lines from some of William Shakespeare’s greatest works have wound up in book titles, including Something Wicked This Way Comes, Brave New World, and The Fault in our Stars.

Inspiration might be found in a sense of whimsy, a twist of a popular phrase, some other form of media, or an off-hand comment from a family member or friend. It might take weeks, months, and perhaps even years, to decide on the right title for your book. Then after you’ve settled on one, something else comes to mind and you go in an entirely new direction.

And sometimes we’re just in the right place at the right time for that spark of imagination that will lead to a great title.

For me, inspiration was a combination of all these. And it came from one of the last things I wrote.

Vendetta Stone tells the story of Nashville advertising executive Jackson Stone and his quest to find his wife’s killer.

After months of kicking around ideas, and not being happy with any of them, at my wife’s suggestion I decided to spend an afternoon downstairs boiling the book down to its basics to come up with ideas for the title. I had the television on, but wasn’t really watching.

Ten minutes into what I expected to be a day-long process, I decided to focus on these angles:

  • Jackson Stone. I wanted the main character’s name somewhere, somehow in the title. Stone provided more opportunities and gave it a little more grit. Stone’s _____ or _____ Stone. OK. That’s settled.
  • Play up the revenge element. I started thinking about synonyms for revenge and pairing them with Stone. Avenge, vengeance, retaliation, payback and retribution all came to mind. I said combinations out loud, seeing if that had that certain ring to them. Stone’s Vengeance? Nah. Payback for Stone? Nope.

At almost the exact moment I said “Vendetta Stone,” a commercial for Rosetta Stone, the language-learning software, came on the television …

Ding, ding, ding.

Excited, I quickly Googled for Rosetta Stone and found this definition at dictionary.com: “A clue, breakthrough or discovery that provides crucial knowledge for the solving of a puzzle or problem.”

Light bulbs exploded in my brain.

I knew I had found The Perfect Title.

But these moments of inspiration aren’t always so easy to come by. More often than not, finding The Perfect Title requires long hours and several bad ideas before you land on a good one. Test out different methods and figure out what works best for you. There’s no wrong way to go about finding your own perfect title.

Tom WoodA veteran sports writer and copy editor, Tom Wood has covered a variety of events ranging from the Iroquois Memorial Steeplechase to the Atlanta Olympic Games for The Tennessean in Nashville. After retirement, he continues his passion for writing, contributing to the Civil War-based anthology, Filtered Through Time and conducting an interview with Stephen King for Feast of Fear: Conversations with Stephen King. In the last year, Tom has begun writing Western fiction short stories, two of which have been published by Western Trail Blazer. “Tennesseans West” is his next project with four other authors involved. He is also an actor and can be seen in several episodes of the ABC series “Nashville”. He also coordinates the Killer Nashville guest blog series. Vendetta Stone is his first novel and he is working on the sequel.

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