April 12

Why Is a Title/Subtitle Important?

I frequently receive proposals for an “untitled” book. For me, that’s always a red flag. If you don’t have a title and subtitle for your book, you’ve missed your first opportunity to tell me what the book is about. (And it makes me wonder if YOU know what your book is about.) It’s almost like being introduced to someone at a party and saying, “What’s my name? Oh, my name isn’t important.” Your potential new friend will think, “What a weirdo,” and talk to someone else!

That is not to say that any old title is good. Your title, ideally, should encapsulate the thesis of the book.  (Remember my previous post on “an sit, quid sit, quale sit”?) It needs to be memorable; it needs to be concise; your title should shoot for the dramatic, and avoid the melodramatic. If possible, the title should coin a new phrase. “The Purpose Driven Life” is a good example. People who haven’t even read the book immediately understand the concept.

The subtitle should be the “helper” for the title. Tim Kimmel’s book, “Little House on the Freeway,” a take-off on “Little House on the Prairie,” seems to indicate something about a fast-paced life, but is it a critique of contemporary society? Today’s urban housing issues? The subtitle solves the mystery: “Help for the Hurried Home.” And that’s another thing about a title: it should spark curiosity along with revealing the thesis of the book.

One thing to avoid, generally, is rhyming, especially if your book is about a serious topic. I was working on a subtitle for a book, and came up with “Finding a Restful Life amid Stressful Strife.” Memorable, maybe, but a bit too cutesy. Alliteration can work, but don’t overdo it. Would you really want to read a book entitled, “The Apostle Paul’s Prayerful Pattern for Perfect Peace”?

Focus on the thesis! The goal is something memorable, and memorable for the right reason, which tells the reader the book in a nutshell.

March 21

There’s No Secret Shortcut

I was sent an email a while ago by a local author who wanted us to look at his manuscript. When I sent him our submission guidelines, he wrote back to say that he did not have time to follow the “routine way” of submitting a manuscript, but wanted me to come to his office (I don’t remember where it was, probably half an hour  or more from my location) and let him show me what he had to offer.

Even if I had the time to mosey on over to his office, reading his manuscript would not have told me everything I needed to know about the book. I would like to have a short synopsis of the book and an outline of the chapters, because if I like the book, I have to turn around and sell it to a committee of people who haven’t got time to read an entire manuscript (like I do?). I’d like a little biographical information on this author. (If he’s an axe murderer, it could really put a crimp in the sales of the book!) I’d like to know how the author envisions this book; we may be thinking of a paperback and he may be thinking of a hardcover gift book with a ribbon  bookmark. I’d like to know what other books are out there that might be similar (I may be competing with too many other books on the one hand, or I may be breaking new publishing ground on the other). And I’d like to know what he plans to do to help promote the book. In short, I want a complete proposal.

But our would-be author friend could not be bothered to prepare a complete proposal. He wanted to bypass the normal method of submission because he considered himself too important to do it. He’s obviously someone who is going to be hard to work with.

This why so many publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Most unsolicited material is by people who can’t write, don’t know the markets, and refuse to learn. Does that sound jaded? If it does consider that while my publishing house still looks at unsolicited manuscripts, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of unsolicited authors in the last five years that we have published.

Like most editors I know, I am continually having people call me, write me or email me, wanting to know the “secret shortcut” to getting published. There isn’t one! Finding a publisher for your manuscript is a lot of work, but it can be done. Hang in there and don’t get discouraged.