“A good title should be like a good metaphor: It should intrigue without being too baffling or too obvious.”
— Walker Percy, quoted in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Eckstut and Sterry —
Last week I spoke with David Henry Sterry, one half of the Book Doctors team. We had a great chat and he was gracious, insightful and, what I appreciated most, candid. I read him my pitch, and he offered feedback.
His perspective was invaluable, because as with most things that we care about deeply, I was too close. My pitch lacks suspense (it’s a memoir; you know I didn’t die). Even in the first paragraph, which I thought really pulled the reader in, he said that I was telling and not showing – something I had heard him say to other writers during pitch events and somehow thought I was doing. He helped me see more clearly how I was narrating events rather than, as they like to say, painting word pictures. When thinking about a pitch as an entirely different genre of writing, I recognize not only how difficult it is but also how unpracticed I am.
As the movie trailer for a book, the pitch should begin with a close up, bringing the reader into the midst of the action, and then slowly pull back for greater perspective. Maybe, halfway through, a voice over can be added. One thing David said, that I found exceedingly helpful, was that my entire pitch is a voice over. I need to work on showing and not telling, adding suspense, and figuring out a way to let the reader know who the hero is, what he wants, and what is preventing him from getting it. Where is the yearning? What’s at stake?! It’s a whole new way of approaching the project.
One of the last things we discussed was the title. I have heard the Book Doctors say multiple times, at events and in their book, that a good title can sell a book (and a bad one can doom it). I was never excited about my working title, The Narrow Margin, but I did like it. It was inspired by a quote from a letter that William Maxwell wrote to Eudora Welty in 1953, in which he says, “The story makes me feel instead of just think how narrow the margin of safety is, for every one.” Well that title is out, although a friend of mine who has read a draft suggested it as the title of the first section, and I dig that idea. So we’ll see what happens.
The most fun advice I got in the title department was this: gather together a group of trusted friends who have read the book or at least know something about it, get a dry erase board or other note taking device to brainstorm keywords (the more search friendly the better), add booze, get title. Voilà!
It’s supposed to be a group effort but I may have gone ahead and tried this by myself a time or two. Same thing, right?
Recently read The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.