Thursday, August 19, 2010

Does anyone know how to get a watering can out of a vagina?

We'll answer that question in a moment.

Today I've been skulking around some of the Amazon discussion boards (when I clearly should've been writing), and I've been noticing a trend in those annoying-but-oh-so-necessary threads that allow you to self-promote:

Most writers have NO CLUE how to title their own book.

Mark it down, you heard it here, first.

While I see ad nauseum articles about how to design a very high-end book cover or have it done professionally, I have not seen ONE article pertaining to how an author should title their upcoming short story, essay or novel.

You might be asking why this is so important.  And I'll tell ya.

Usually, when you've got a lazy Saturday afternoon with nothing better to do, you'll brave the snow to head down to your local Barnes & Noble and start perusing the books available.  And while you don't consciously recognise what's happening, there are sinister and silent forces at work--they're called Psychology.  As you walk through the stacks of books, your eye is subconsciously heading toward the cover with the most appealing colours, interesting character depictions, and artist's composition.  You are unaware of it, but your senses are being assaulted by the psychology behind the marketing.  Once you see something interesting that "catches your eye," then you look at the title.  If your book passes the first two Turing tests, then you automatically turn it to the back cover and begin reading the synopsis, trying to find what it's about.  If you have then passed all tests, you decide you can pass the wallet test and head to the counter to purchase the book.  Then on Sunday, you spend your winter afternoon huddled in a sweet leather armchair, covered with your favourite woobie, and a cup of steaming tea, and you devour your book, getting lost in those interesting characters who first beckoned to you from that cover.

But what about in this digital world?  Well, we don't necessarily have the luxury of browsing tons of listings of books.  Sometimes, books are only listed by their titles.  I'm not discounting the continued need for a decent cover.  If you hang out at the Amazon discussion boards for any length of time, then you'll see that when an author is promoting his book, he has the option of inserting a hyperlink into his post that will then reference his book for sale on Amazon or on Amazon Kindle.

But there IS no picture.  Only a link.  And a title.  What then?

I've seen authors over there dance in their descriptions, sort of like a monkey-grinder in a really bad circus.  And all the while you know, that they really have NO clue about how to do a decent and catching description, either.

But, one lousy problem at a time.

One thing I've learned in writing comedy, both stand-up and fiction, is that the more descriptive you can be, the better your joke or anecdote.  Comedy is in the details.  So why then, are there all these books that begin with "How to Catch a Killer, or How to ________?"  Or, "The ________, Book One?"  Maybe because no one has ever told these new authors that a good title is just as effective in acting as the hook for selling your book, as a good back cover description on a hardcover edition.

Let's do an anatomy of this for a moment.  Last week when I was posting my first downloads to the Kindle boards, I noticed something quite interesting:  The post simply entitled, "Bitch," got twice as many viewers as the post entitled, "Blood Alley."  And again yesterday with my two new releases:  an old friend from my writing group congratulated me on my writing, and when I told him about my collection of short-stories geared for men, he said, "Hey, love the cover, love the title.  Will check it out."  Six hours later, he had it downloaded.  Last night while posting my new collection of comedic short-stories and essays to Kindle, my roommate happened to walk by my computer and said, "Hey, I LOVE that title."  Zen In the Art of Absurdity (Comedic short-stories and essays that will make you want to shove forks through your eyes)

Tell me which of the following covers is more appealing, sans titles, and which you might be inclined to purchase:

Take a good look at this cover--and it is an actual cover from one of my recent books.  By most industry standards, it would be considered a crappy cover, and I would agree.  There's nothing but a gradient on it.  No composition, no characters, no hint of what the book might even be about.
Now take a look at this cover:

Again, not much composition, although with this one, I took the concept of the story to which the cover was attached, and at least added some composition.  So, by all accounts, this is a much better cover than the last one, wouldn't you agree?

Would you believe the first one has sold more copies than this one?  The one above belongs to my flash-fiction story Bitch, and this one to my short-story, Blood Alley.  (all of my books are available in the widget along the right-side of your monitor)

Why?  Because the cover design was sheer genius?  Sure, I'll take it, but follow along.  I contend, it's because in the digital medium, where one is not afforded the chance to peruse stacks and stacks of books at one's leisure, at least on discussion boards where people go to search out new digital releases and aren't always shown the cover first, it takes a darn good title to pique one's interest.

And sadly, I think that's an important topic being dropped from author's minds and blogs.  With the markets now being oversaturated with new releases, it's constantly assaulting a potential reader's senses, and we, as authors and writers, need to up the stakes and get serious.  We need to stand out amongst all others if we want to sell books and articles, and the best way, I've seen so far, in doing that, is to have a title that grabs your reader by the throat, chokes the life out of them, and forces them to cry uncle by saying, "Okay, already!  I'll read your book!"

So, congratulate me, I'm obviously the first to discover it.  Mark it down.

I would love to hear people's opinions on this, because, and it's been known to happen--rarely, but still--I could be completely full of shite.  Weirder things have happened.

So.  Why the strange title to this post?  You're at the bottom of this thing, done reading now, aren't you?

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