What’s in a name?
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
You absolutely can judge a book by its cover. (It may not be appropriate to, but you can and people do.)
I think this blog would be categorised as as vaguely solicited advice. Numerous people have asked questions about my book, and the publishing process, since its publication, and as there is loads of advice about what to do to try and get published, I wanted to write something about life once the process has begun.
All writers, if they are having a book published, want to be noticed. If you’re not a name that people would know to look for on the shelf then an eye catching name and cover could be your chance to make a positive first impression to a casual book browser.
My book is called The Northern Line. It was named so after numerous discussions with fellow poets, primarily the multi-published poet who helped me edit my manuscript, who shared with my their experiences of not only releasing a book but touring and promoting their work. For me the name The Northern Line is a statement of intent, it’s iconic, it’s powerful and people know it. It also reflects the transient nature of what I was trying to produce.
The manuscript had the name attached to it when I approached my publisher, and as it matched the themes within the book and gave it context within my own life, they chose to support my name choice. A good publisher wants the best for their writers, they know that the limited number that family and friends will buy won’t keep the publishing house going for long, so they will support you if you’re on the right track and guide you if you’re not.
Three things I considered when looking for a title:
Theme: There was no point in calling my book ‘Talking to a Rhino up a Tree’ when my book is about love, tube trains and city life. Obscure titles can be amazing, and there is even an award dedicated to them, but even those tend to have some link back to the theme of the book.
Inspiration: Your inspiration is as good of a place as any to start looking for a title as by the time I’d done with my edits, the starting point was far enough away that it while still being connected to the theme it wasn’t the be all of the book. By looking at the inspiration it helped me find a title that was overarching and could be loosely connected to all of the poems within the context of me.
Marketability: Luckily, I write poetry and it isn’t that popular so being a port of calm in the rough waves of the mass market was never the issue. However, with a strong poetry scene at the minute, the competition for the few sales there are is hugely fierce. Remember how you’ll promote it: Twitter, at gigs, Facebook and so on. You need something short enough to fit into a tweet with promotional text around it, something that if you belt it out after your set at a gig then it will be remembered and something catchy enough that people will like and share your posts. There is no room for indulgence on social media built around the austerity of language.
With a book title, as with editing, sometimes you have to ‘kill your darlings’. I can’t even remember my original book title, but I know that it wasn’t very good. If you have a publisher and they advise you to consider alternative titles, then talk to them, explain your context, your themes and together you can create something worthy of the words that will fill the pages.
The initial response from people has been that they really like the cover. I am loathed to say that because then there is the implication that they don’t like the contents…I am talking about people who’ve just picked up a copy though, not people who have read it.
I provided the designer, that the publisher appointed to work with me, a brief based on the same ideas that I had around the title (theme, inspiration, marketability). They came back to me with five very different, but extremely considered and thoughtful, designs that matched the brief.
From this I pulled together key features, and they subsequently brought them alive as a cover. I had a number of ideas throughout the process that were overruled, and rightly so, because they wouldn’t have looked that good. I’m a writer not a designer and while I believe my input into the design process was valuable, that’s all it was input.
I had to put my trust in the designer and publisher to be on my team, to recognise what I was aiming for, and to deliver. It’s scary to put your trust in others when they’re dealing with something as personal as your writing, but by this point it’s gone beyond your writing – it’s now a thing that multiple artists are working on, it’s a team effort.
A good clear cover can support the marketability of your book by providing a colour palette and font for your social media outlet too.
People rightly get very excited when approached by a publisher after a submission, and as part of your submission research you should have assessed whether you could work with that particular publisher, but make sure you’re attracted to the other books that they produce. This will be a demonstration that they’re committed to working with their authors to achieve a dream, not just people who want to churn out books.
You want to end up with a book looking and feeling the way that you want it, but equally you need to work with your publisher. It’s not a one way street and they’ve probably been in the business longer than you. Talk to other writers too, seek their advice, and happy writing.
My publisher, Winter Goose Publishing, has opened for unsolicited submissions for a short time and I’d thoroughly endorse you submitting to them via their website.