What’s In A Name? The Terror of Titles

Hey everyone, Flobo here with a quickie bonus post for the week. Today, I want to talk to you about me! Yaaaaaayy!

OK, that’s not completely true. Rather, I want to chat about the TITLES of your work but I’m going to use my books as an example.

It was the spring of 2008. Me, an overstressed sleep deprived film student, wrote a handful of screenplays that I thought my peers would be interested in making into short films. Boy, did I thought wrong. Not only were my scripts IGNORED, but many questioned why would I even write screenplays if my major wasn’t in screenwriting (it was in video editing, you see). Undeterred, I took the first batch of screenplays and crafted them into short stories. BAM! An unlikely author was born. On Christmas Eve 2008, my first book was unleashed to the masses:

Ahh yes, “By The Ounce And Other Tales”. The book was a collection of short stories and poetry. Even though two other short stories (“Tortuga Key: A Florida Getaway”, and “Legacy”) were considered the flagship entries, I named the anthology after a quirky sci-fi/fantasy/romance piece entitled “By The Ounce”.

The Gist: Guy who was unlucky at love comes across a “salesman” who sells synthetic emotions “by the ounce”. Hoping to win the heart of the girl he loves, the poor sap buys a supply of Love and Confidence

Anyway, I’m not going to lie to you. I’m not some famous author who is blogging from his palatial estate in Monaco, but “By The Ounce” worked favorably for me. People were interested in the title, as they weren’t sure if it was a weight-loss book, a true crime story about cocaine, or something else. The compass on the cover added to the confusion. The thing is, it was GOOD CONFUSION. It’s the kind of stuff you see on billboards that say “COMING SOON: BLAH BLAH BLAH”. The title had built-in marketing, and it was pretty simple to search for on Google.

So my fans (aka Mom) asked about my literary plans soon after. Was I going to keep writing, or was this supposed to be a one-time deal? I actually treated “By The Ounce” as such, because of my go-for-broke strategy of publishing through one of those big box POD publishers. You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones that suck every dollar from the poor sap who just wants to write?

I digress.

After taking a break, I came back in 2009 with a vengeance. This new book I was working on was supposed to be my coming out party. I was going to show the world that I, Flobo Boyce, was a true author. “Hear me roar” and all that jazz. I took the craft seriously,  making sure my characters were real people and that my stories were fully visualized. The average word count of a story in By The Ounce was 1,500 words. In my second book? 3,500. Still tiny, but a step in the “write” direction.

See what I did there? Write Direction? Man, I’m soooooooo clever. Or not.

Anyway, in April 2010:

Mass Transit

Mass Transit!  This time, the book was named after a poem that appeared in the volume. Up until that point, it was my Magnum Opus, love letter to New York City (my hometown), and the best short story collection ever! I know as an author, I can’t really choose my favorite book much like how a parent can’t choose their favorite child, however I used “Mass Transit” as my calling card. There wasn’t a sophomore slump in my mind. Nope!

But initial sales were soft.

I was baffled. There are probably dozens of reasons why that was the case. The economy, the demand for short story collections, the length of some the stories, etc. However, the thing I was realized that was hurting me (and something I didn’t think of beforehand) was the title.

Mass Transit doesn’t explicitly say what could you expect from the book (unlike how “And Other Tales” implies multiple stories) Was it a crime fiction book? A romantic comedy a la “Sliding Doors”? A non-fiction history of trains in major cities?

And yeah, you could almost rule the Google search out. How were people going to find my book? I wasn’t on the level to market it as “From the dude that brought you “By The Ounce And Other Tales” so that wasn’t my A option.

I did myself a disservice and the lesson was learned: Crafting your title and giving some hint to your audience what to expect makes your book that much more attractive to the buying public. Of course there are exceptions. “Snakes on A Plane” and “Ninja Assassin” are almost comical in how they describe the movies they are attached to. It’s akin to an off-brand product just describing it’s contents.

"Ahh man, my favorite! Beer-Beer!" - Doug Walker, thatguywiththeglasses.com

There is a balance. The 2012 film “Man On a Ledge” is pretty straightforward. However, because we associate ledges with falling, there is  allusion to “danger”. Even though I haven’t seen the film, I would guess it was a thriller or suspense. It would be a terrible name for a horror film though.  “Dan, just come inside you fool!”

I like to think as my writing as the gift and the title as the wrapping. Sure, you can just throw it in a gift bag, staple the top and pass it to your audience (what I actually do for Xmas), or you can probably give your gift the high-end wrapping it deserves before handing it over (what I wish I actually did for Xmas)

Hope this helps. Keep writing everyone!