Communities are awesome. Well, more specifically, communities bound together with a common vision and the strength of stepping up to the plate again and again are awesome.
I have to tell you the story of how this edition of the Ask an Author feature came around because, although it is a little embarrassing for me, it really reflects something special about authors: they have such a capacity to band together once they are part of a small group working together on something specific.
I usually email this group of authors a good week before the feature goes up. They are all quite busy individuals and I want to make sure that they enjoy writing their submission rather than stressing out about it. But this time around, I made a pretty big mistake. I noted down in my editorial calendar that I had to contact you all on Monday 18 April… But what I should have written is to contact them last Monday 11 April because the next edition is set to go up this Thursday 21 April 2016.
But despite the turnaround is, just check out the number and the quality of the responses I got within 48 hours! A reflection of the dedication of the authors in this group.
So without any further ado, this week’s question, which focuses on titles and covers. It might be the shortest sentence they write, but a title is probably the most important thing an author can come up with. How do each of our authors come up with a book title? Do they do it before they start writing, as they are writing, or after they are done writing their book? Similarly, how do they come up with a cover concept? Do they do it themselves? Do they delegate it completely? Have they ever chosen a title or a cover that they either completely regret or are still extremely proud of?
Wow, good question, Sahar! It’s really made me think about my title process. I usually start with a working title, and then, as the story progresses, come up with something more concrete and relevant. My latest book, Into the Mist (Cohesion Press) was originally called Global Blockbuster. It gave me such a kick to see that very flippant file-name because it reminded me of my intent to write something explosive and compelling. As the story evolved, and the misty mountain ranges of the Urewera Ranges became more significant ‒ almost a character in itself ‒ then the name Into the Mist emerged. I didn’t check to see how many other books already had that title because it was right for the story. (Luckily, Stephen King hadn’t already used it).
My YA novel, Misplaced, was Story for Florence, since it was inspired by my dear friend who went missing in France over a decade ago, and who has yet to be found.
The first scribblings of my middle grade novel Battle of the Birds were entitled The Mound Rising. It’s an odd title, with odd beginnings. Living in Madison, Wisconsin, many years ago, I was missing home. I had this crazy idea that an effigy mound ‒ an actual one, shaped like an eagle which occurs on a Madison campus ‒ might be a secret portal back home. The eagle would throw off the leaf-litter, emerge from the ground, and fly me back home.
A Dash of Reality is a play on words, since the novel is a fun romp about running and reality TV. The story began with the lacklustre filename: Novel. A Dash of Reality’s first cover was a disaster. It involved a piece of original art commissioned from a talented local artist who knew the setting well. The resulting cover was fun, full of colour, quirky, and, to those in the know, gave visual cues to the setting. I loved it but, being sensible, I carried out a focus group study of local readers who knew the story. Everyone said it was perfect. They were wrong. That first cover did not sell the book. Oh, it worked well locally, but international readers thought it looked naïve and unprofessional. I did not learn this for a long time ‒ people were too polite to tell me ‒ but when I found out I had the cover redone by a professional designer. The revised cover is still quirky and fun and colourful, but now I hope it has wider appeal than just my hometown.
For my first book – Cursed Love – the title came to me before I started writing the book. I knew what the story was about, and that title reflected that. Running Away was also the same – I had two characters who were running away from their problems.
Shards of Ice, however was a different story. I had it as ‘Ice Planet’ although it wasn’t the title I wanted. It was a friend who suggested that title, and it really fit. Some titles come as I am writing the story, or just before, and it is really helpful in the telling of the story as it helps to keep it in line. Of the two stories that don’t have titles, I have struggled to get them really working for me, because I don’t have any idea of how I want the story to be told. I hope that makes sense.
I usually begin writing and throw around titles throughout the whole rough draft process. I will start with a title and invariably change it 2, 3, sometimes 4 times by the end of writing it. As far as the cover, I like to pick the photo or model and then let my friend do her magic as far as looks. This has come after doing a rewrite on Wake Up! Based on a true story of abuse and betrayal. Hopefully, the next book will be great so I don’t have to do a 2nd edition.
Titles are funny things. They seem to either arrive fully formed and perfect at the generation of the idea, or else they remain elusive and unfathomable until the last minute, when they are cobbled together from the prose just so I can ship the story off to editors. I have some titles that I love (The Demon, The Hare and the Girl in the Green Needle Crown) and some I’m still not happy with (No Home for Us) and many in between. Covers are a different matter. I farm them off to my talented graphic Designer (Dwell Design and Press, http://parchmentplace.wix.com/dwell-design) and I’m always happy with the results.
Titles are the bane of my existence. They truly are. I have so much trouble with them that quite often the placeholder title becomes the real title, simply because I can’t think of anything better or because it’s now so familiar I can’t think of anything that could replace it. I now try and think of them before I start writing, because I know how often I get stuck with them if they are with me for the duration of the writing period, and it has begun to get easier. Only slightly though.
Covers are another beast entirely. I have a fabulous cover designer and I tend to leave things in her hands. We typically do a massive search for images at the same time, passing things back and forth until she gets a feel for the vibe I am going for, though more often than not, she changes that dramatically 😉 I trust her, so it’s okay. There is one cover that I picked the image for and had complete say so over, and it’s still one of my favs. I’m not such a visual person so it can be really hard for me to come up with a concept on my own. I’m so pleased I have someone to work with.
Titles are an entity of their own. Sometimes I know the title right away. Other times, I don’t have a title until the story is finished. However,I have noticed that if I outline a novel, the title will come by the time the outline is completed. The cover concept is more difficult in the sense that I feel it must not only represent the story, but also a part of my personality. The idea may be mine, but the final book cover is a collaboration between me and the artist. So far, I have been fortunate to have worked with great artists.
When it comes to the title, it depends. A few times I would write around the title, but then I end up changing it three or four times before it goes out for review. I prefer to come up with the concept of my cover, and my brother ties it all together. So far, I love my titles and covers.
My title is based on a statement made to me by a wise woman many years ago! She always ended our meetings with a statement: “Don’t Dance with Ugly People.” Many, many years later I realized I had done just that and wrote my book titled To Dance with Ugly People to detail how miserable that can make your life and to warn others to not make the mistakes I’d made.
Do you do it before you start writing, as you are writing, or after you are done writing your book? Before I was writing.
Similarly, how do you come up with a cover concept? I search Morguefiles for a suffering pix.
Do you do it yourself? Yes, using Morguefiles and Createspace. I am self-published.
Do you delegate it completely? Have you ever chosen a title or a cover that you either completely regret or are still extremely proud of? I am proud of the title, To Dance with Ugly People, although I have had people laugh at the title because they are taking it literally rather than metaphorically. The sequel is titled Ugly People can’t dance.
I think up my titles before writing. I have never written a story or book without first thinking of its title. The title has a way of guiding me. If there is no title I’m afraid I’ll stray away from the storyline because it’s open to changes. For that, I love having my titles first.
As for book covers, I do mine. I started with a not so great work but I’m above average now with graphics design. All my covers, except one, we’re done by me. I love the challenge of doing my cover. I have gone further by helping a lot of authors with their book covers too.
Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: A.C. Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.