What makes a good book title? Lulu can help.

Titles are my Achilles heel. I’m really, really bad at them.

One problem is that I favour the abstract and poetic: titles whose meaning becomes clear only once you’ve read the book. For example, I wanted to call my first book “Welcome to Elkader” (instead of “Silence is Death”), but that was roundly rejected at the press as being way too obscure.

So what makes a good title?

Judging from what’s floating around the interwebs, conventional wisdom boils down to the following (which, frankly, all seems pretty obvious):

1) A title’s got to be easy to remember.

2) It should be descriptive.

3) It should avoid all the usual pitfalls: cliché, sappiness, clunkiness, being overly literal. . . And apparently, it shouldn’t be a full grammatical sentence (oops).

That said, I do love internet tools when it comes to titles, especially those gimmicky generators, where you plug in a noun, verb, a gerund, etc.

There’s got to be some mathematical calculation or algorithm that will determine success, so when I came across the “Lulu Titlescorer,” I had to give it a whirl.

Here’s what Lulu does (from the website):

The Lulu Titlescorer has been developed exclusively for Lulu by statisticians who studied the titles of 50 years’ worth of top bestsellers and identified which title attributes separated the bestsellers from the rest.

We commissioned a research team to analyse the title of every novel to have topped the hardback fiction section of the New York Times Bestseller List during the half-century from 1955 to 2004 and then compare them with the titles of a control group of less successful novels by the same authors.

The team, lead by British statistician Dr. Atai Winkler, then used the data gathered from a total of some 700 titles to create this “Lulu Titlescorer” a program able to predict the chances that any given title would produce a New York Times No. 1 bestseller.

How could I resist? I plugged in a few titles from my long-list in Lulu. (My book is about a Lithuanian librarian who saved Jews during the Holocaust by hiding them in the university library where she worked. It will require a descriptive subtitle not included in the options below.)

Interestingly, my working title, Beloved Profession (what I’ve been calling the book for about five years now), scored highest. And my current favourite, Ex Libris, scored lowest.

The results:

Beloved Profession = 69.0% chance of being a bestselling title

Margin = 63.7 % chance of being a bestselling title

The Good Librarian = 41.4% chance of being a bestselling title

The Librarian = 35.9% chance of being a bestselling title

Ex Libris = 26.3% chance of being a bestselling title

Thoughts?

[Photo: jayRaz]

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Internet resources for writers: publicity, grants, submitting

USING SOCIAL NETWORKING TO CREATE A PLATFORM:

I’m not expert on this, but my friend Jill Murray (www.jillmurray.com) is. She’s a Montreal author of young adult fiction, and is super-tech-savvy. She recently gave a talk on how to build a web presence through social networking, and posted her slides on her website. I found the advice there really good. Check it out here. You can find a link to Jill Murray’s website at the right margin as well.

GRANTS:

If you could use some tips on grant writing, check out Mira’s List. It’s a great blog where Mira Bartok gathers and disseminates grant announcements. I’ve subscribed to her email list, and have received a grant as a result of a listing I found there. You can also get to Mira’s List via the link under Grants at the right margin.

SUBMISSION IDEAS:

Though she doesn’t update very often any more, Sarah Wagner Yost’s blog archives give some good ideas as to where to submit personal essays and travel writing. She recommends trying The Smart Set and Modern Love (NYT) for starters. She provides editors’ email addresses and submission guidelines.

[Photo: austinevan]

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On patience and peer review: How university presses work

I published my first book with a university press. The process was long, slow, and often arduous. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

University presses take a long view of writing: the books they publish contribute to knowledge, build on tradition, and rely on the checks and balances of a community of thinkers, writers and researchers through peer review. The review process of book manuscripts (i.e. books before they are published)  in the humanities is usually single-blind: evaluating readers may know the identity of the author, but the reviewers remain anonymous.

Bottom line: university presses publish a large number of books that would never see the light of day otherwise. These presses and the texts they disseminate are important for our culture, our memory, and for the way that future generations will regard us.

To those watching (and waiting for!) a friend or loved one to make their way through the academic publication process, the route can seem incredibly long.

Let me explain how it works:

1. Start working on a book and get enough of it done that you can convincingly pitch it to a press and send a good sample (usually 50 pages).

2. Send a book prospectus (cover letter, CV, book outline, sample chapter or two) out to as many presses as you can think of that publish in your field and wait.

3. Brace yourself for rejections and wait for a positive reply. Good news at this stage doesn’t mean the press wants to publish you – only that they will give you a shot at peer review once the book is finished.

4. Write the book and send the completed manuscript to the press.

5. Wait for the press to find two readers (i.e. experts in your field or the book’s topic) to evaluate the manuscript and write reports. This is peer review.

6.  Be patient, because everyone is busy, and the payment for peer review is mostly symbolic. It could take six months.

7.  Steel yourself for the reports when they arrive. Peer review can be nasty (but isn’t always).

8.  Write a response to the readers’ reports, explaining how you will deal with criticisms or concerns that the readers raised. Often you will be required to do additional research or rewrite entire sections of the book, depending on how your review went.

9.  Wait while the press’s board of directors votes on your book. If this goes well, they will issue a contract that nevertheless contains a clause that allows for rejection if you deliver and unsatisfactory text.

10. Get back to the book and start editing.

11. Submit the final manuscript and wait for news as to when the book will appear. It could be eighteen months or more before it’s published. University presses are strapped for resources and have to pace themselves carefully.

12. Production: copyediting, proofreading, indexing. This could take another six months.

13. Publication!

[Photo: Daveybot]

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