Anne DIMEUR

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I took a full year's subscription  to Jericho writers.  The sum was debited from my account on the 15th October 2020.  I do not understand why there is a problem with my e-mail address.  Could you look into this for me? My e-mail address (unless I made a mistake when I typed it in) is as follows : anne_foster@hotmail.fr 

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Can somebody tell me where to go to re-set my password, please?

Hi again Jane, It's a pleasure to read your thoughts.  Megan (my manuscript assessor) suggested I read "Story Genius" by Lisa Cron.  I've only read a quarter so far, but it's amusingly written and contains a treasure box of advice for novice writers. If you can get a copy of it, it's worth reading.  L. Cron prones the internal struggle of the protagonist as being the most important element in any story.  The reader has to forget his/her reality and live the life of the character as if it were his/her own.  What does the charcter want?  What is keeping him/her from it? What change appears in the character's desires after discovery of elements unknown at the start?  So to sum up, story is what happens to the character internally, not externally. There are lots of other points brought up in the book and I'm glad to have discovered it. But what you say is true, we can't help drawing on the experiences we've had and the people we've known when writing our stories.  It's also what makes them all the more credible.

I found what I wrote yesterday so I've done a copy and paste of it.

Hi Jane, It was good to know that someone read my remarks on Jericho. So, you're in the same conundrum as I am, wondering what's wrong with your manuscript. In my case, it was mainly the structure. I didn't get to the mid-point soon enough, dragging out the elusive questions asked by the main protagonist and never giving the answers. Megan pointed out that this slowed down the story. She suggested I gave at least one crucial answer at the mid-point, then go on from there to show how this revelation affected the other characters. This is what I am, at present, trying to do. In fact, I wrote this story a long time before I joined Jericho (2020) and knew nothing about mid-points in those days, but I'm doing my best to improve! Megan also said I had too much going on (I used coastal erosion as a backdrop for the erosion of the family cell but it eventually took up too much place becoming practically a subject in its own right). She suggested I leave it as a metaphore rather than give it so much space. This has certainly tightened up the intrigue. But I've still got lots to do and hope I'll manage to make it into a story worthy of publishing. If you can afford it, do get the appraisal done. (I live in France and not being able to fly back to England due to lockdown meant I wasn't spending money on airfare, so I used that). The assessment rewarded me with twenty pages of well-founded remarks, suggestions and help in general which has boosted my enthusiasm. Anyway, keep going with your work and don't give up. It'll pay off in the end.  

I posted a reply to your remark but I'm not sure I put it in the right place.  I'm still not very used to working my way around the Jericho Writers site.


Hi Jane, It was good to know that someone read my remarks on Jericho. So, you're in the same conundrum as I am, wondering what's wrong with your manuscript. In my case, it was mainly the structure. I didn't get to the mid-point soon enough, dragging out the elusive questions asked by the main protagonist and never giving the answers. Megan pointed out that this slowed down the story. She suggested I gave at least one crucial answer at the mid-point, then go on from there to show how this revelation affected the other characters. This is what I am, at present, trying to do. In fact, I wrote this story a long time before I joined Jericho (2020) and knew nothing about mid-points in those days, but I'm doing my best to improve! Megan also said I had too much going on (I used coastal erosion as a backdrop for the erosion of the family cell but it eventually took up too much place becoming practically a subject in its own right). She suggested I leave it as a metaphore rather than give it so much space. This has certainly tightened up the intrigue. But I've still got lots to do and hope I'll manage to make it into a story worthy of publishing. If you can afford it, do get the appraisal done. (I live in France and not being able to fly back to England due to lockdown meant I wasn't spending money on airfare, so I used that). The assessment rewarded me with twenty pages of well-founded remarks, suggestions and help in general which has boosted my enthusiasm. Anyway, keep going with your work and don't give up. It'll pay off in the end.  

What did I do in April and what will I do in May?  In April I was biting my nails worrying about what sort of feedback I'd get on the manuscript I sent in for appraisal, and in May, I shall be rewriting my story!  Well, not all of it, but big portions.  

The assessment was done by Megan Collins Hatfield and what she's done is remarkable.  I was unable to make out what was wrong with my story. Despite hours of thoughts and re-writes, taking pieces out and adding bits on as well as considering what was said in the webinar 'show don't tell', I couldn't seem to get the story to read right.  I was at sea with all the information I was using and didn't know how to organise it.  Megan has set me straight. She was very positive. There were things she liked (my style, my characters, my descriptions and above all, the main idea behind the novel) but there were lots of things that she didn't  like and which will need remanaging.  I had completely lost the thread of the intrigue because I had too many things going on and this was distracting from the main theme. In my draft, I also made the characters act in ways which were not always logical.  I spun out passages that needed to be shorter or done away with.  Megan has really made me realise these things, opening my eyes to the pitfalls the unexperienced writer can fall into (and that I plunged into, fearlessly !).  Consequently, I'm raring to get back to work and this time, make my novel into something well organised and totally coherent.  And cheers to Jericho Writers for having chosen Megan to do the job.  She did it  brilliantly.  Many, many thanks to all concerned. It certainly wasn't a waste of money.


What did I do in April and what will I do in May?  In April I was biting my nails worrying about what sort of feedback I'd get on the manuscript I sent in for appraisal, and in May, I shall be rewriting my story!  Well, not all of it, but big portions.  

The assessment was done by Megan Collins Hatfield and what she's done is remarkable.  I was unable to make out what was wrong with my story. Despite hours of thoughts and re-writes, taking pieces out and adding bits on as well as considering what was said in the webinar 'show don't tell', I couldn't seem to get the story to read right.  I was at sea with all the information I was using and didn't know how to organise it.  Megan has set me straight. She was very positive. There were things she liked (my style, my characters, my descriptions and above all, the main idea behind the novel) but there were lots of things that she didn't  like and which will need remanaging.  I had completely lost the thread of the plot because I had too many things going on and this was distracting from the main theme. In my draft, I also made the characters act in ways which were not always logical.  I spun out passages that needed to be shorter or done away with.  Megan has really made me realise these things, opening my eyes to the pitfalls the unexperienced writer can fall into (and that I plunged into fearlessly !).  Consequently, I'm raring to get back to work and this time, make it into something well organised and totally logical.  And cheers to Jericho Writers for having chosen Megan to do the job.  Many, many thanks to all concerned.  

Hi Bob,  you're poem evokes scenes and thoughts that we landlubbers would not know about if it weren't for seafaring poets like you.  Well done!  And happy valentine's day.

Added a forum 

Can somebody tell me where to go to re-set my password, please?

I can't find the children's poetry page.  I'd like to get some feedback on two or three poems but don't know how to get in contact with those who particularly treat poetry.  In fact, the poems are quite long and are complete stories in rhyme (about two to three pages) but I still need feedback.  Can someone tell me how to find the poetry post please?

Hi, I'm new to this site.  I'd like to put one of my kids' nonsense poems on your forum to get other people's points of view.  For example, my poem "problematic plurals" is about a witch that can't learn her plurals: mouse/mice, house/hice, etc.  But I'm wondering if it's not too complicated for children. It reads out loud very well and has an easy rhythm but I still have that little doubt. Another query: what would stop anyone else claiming it as their own?  

Added a post 

Of all the writing habits I have, one of the worst – the worst from good financial sense point of view – is that I like writing LONG books.

My first novel was a spine-breaking 180,000 words. Not one of my novels has ever been less than 110,000 words. The first “short story” I wrote was 8,000 words, which is to say miles too long to be an actual short story. Heck, even this email is likely to be far longer than any other email you get in your inbox today.

Ah well. There are some things you can’t fight, and my addiction to length is one of them.

But that also means that when it comes to short-form copy, I’m at a loss.

I’m not especially good at book blurbs, which want to be about 100-120 words (depending a bit on layouts and where you’re expecting them to appear.) Since titles need to be short and punchy, I’m not especially good at those either.

In a word: I’m pretty damn rubbish when it comes to coming up with titles … and this email is going to tell you how to write them.

Which means if you want to ignore the entire contents of what follows, on the basis that I obviously, obviously, obviously don’t know what I’m talking about, then I have to say that the evidence is very much in your favour.

That said, I think it’s clear enough what a title needs to do. It wants to:

  1. Be highly consistent with your genre
  2. Offer some intrigue – for example, launch a question in the mind of the reader
  3. Ideally, it’ll encapsulate “the promise of the premise” in a few very short words, distilling the essence of your idea down to its very purest form.

The genre-consistency is the most essential, and the easiest to achieve. It matters a lot now that so many books are being bought on Amazon, because book covers – at the title selection stage – are no more than thumbnails. A bit bigger than a phone icon, but really not much. So yes, the cover has to work hard and successfully in thumbnail form, but the title has more work to do now than it did before.

Genre consistency is therefore key. Your title has to say to your target readers, “this is the sort of book that readers like you like”. It has to invite the click through to your book page itself. That’s its task.

The intrigue is harder to do, but also kinda obvious. “Gone Girl” works because of the Go Girl / Gone Girl pun, and those double Gs, and the brevity. But it also works because it launches a question in the mind of the reader: Who is this girl and why has she gone? By contrast, “The Girl on the Train” feels a little flat to me. There are lots of women on lots of trains. There’s nothing particularly evocative or intriguing in the image. I don’t as it happens think that book was much good, but I don’t think the title stood out either. (I think the book sold well because of some pale resemblances between the excellent Gone Girl and its lacklustre sister. The trade, desperate for a follow-up hit to Gone Girl, pounced on whatever it had.)

The third element in a successful title – the “promise of the premise” one – is really hard to do. I’ve not often managed it, and I’ve probably had a slightly less successful career as a result.

So what works? Well, here are some examples of titles that do absolutely nail it:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Brilliant! That title didn’t translate the rather dour and serious Swedish original (Man Som Hatar Kvinnor / Men Who Hate Women). Rather it took the brilliance of the central character and captured her in six words. She was a girl (vulnerable), and she had a tattoo (tough and subversive), and the tattoo was of a dragon (exotic and dangerous). That mixture of terms put the promise of the book’s premise right onto the front cover and propelled the book’s explosive success.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that the title also completely excludes mention of Mikael Blomkvist, who is as central to that first book as Salander is. But no one bought the book for Blomkvist and no one remembers the book for Blomkvist either. So the title cut him out, and did the right thing in doing so.

The Da Vinci Code

Brilliant. Dan Brown is fairly limited as a writer, but it was a stroke of genius to glue together the idea of ancient cultural artefacts with some kind of secret code. Stir those two things up with a bit of Holy Grail myth-making and the result (for his audience) was commercial dynamite.

And – boom! – that dynamite was right there in the title too. The Da Vinci part namechecks the world’s most famous artist. The Code part promises that there are secret codes to be unravelled.

Four words delivering the promise of the premise in full.

I let You Go

This was Clare Mackintosh’s breakout hit, about a mother whose young son was killed in a hit-and-run car accident. The promise of the premise is right there in four very short words … and given a first person twist, which just adds a extra bite to the hook in question. A brilliant bit of title-making.

___

So that’s what a title wants to do. A few last comments to finish off.

One, I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite rare a title alone does much to propel sale success.

Because there are a lot of books out there, and because everyone’s trying to do the same thing, there’s not much chance to be genuinely distinctive. My fifth Fiona Griffiths novel was called The Dead House, but there are at least three other books on Amazon with that title, or something very like it. That didn’t make my title bad, in fact – it did the promise of the premise thing just fine – but I certainly couldn’t say my title was so distinctive it did anything much for sales.

Two, if you’re going for trad publishing, it’s worth remembering that absolutely any title you have in mind at the moment is effectively provisional. If your publishers don’t like it, they’ll ask you to change it. And if they don’t like your title #2, they’ll ask you to come up with some others. In short, if, like me, you’re bad at titles, you just don’t need to worry too much (if you’re going the trad publishing route, that is.) There’s be plenty of opportunity to hone your choice well prior to publication.

Three, you don’t want to think about title in isolation. There should, ideally, be a kind of reverberation between your title and the cover. That reverberation should be oblique rather than direct. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go had for its cover image a butterfly trapped against a window – a metaphorical reference to the anguish of the book’s premise. If instead it had shown a mother obviously distraught as a car struck her son, the cover – and title – would have seemed painfully clunky and ridiculous.

If you get a great cover image that doesn’t work with your chosen title, then change the title. If you have a superb title and your cover designer’s image is too directly an illustration of it, then change the image. That title/cover pairing is crucial to your sales success, so you can afford no half-measures in getting it right.

That’s all from me.

My kids are making elderflower cordial and singing as they do so. They are also wearing helmets for no reason that I can possibly understand.

Till soon

Harry

PS: Want to know what I think of your title? Then I’ll tell you. Just pop your title (plus short description of your book) in the comments below. I’ll tell you what I think.

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