Allison Meldrum

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Writing has been my passion for as long as I can remember and it's been at the centre of almost every job I've ever done, including Journalism, Public Relations and Content Marketing. But I've only recently turned my attentions to my one true love of writing fiction.  And, it's been quite a first year. I've had four short stories published on literary journals East of The Web and Toasted Cheese , with my first ever short story selected as the Editor's Choice. I'm also one of 10 contributing authors to an anthology of short stories on the theme of 'Tolerance' , which is now available on Amazon.  I'm currently knee deep in draft one of my first novel, which I hope to have finished this year. I write mystery, women's fiction and family saga and I love to learn as much as I can from fellow writers in this crazy but wonderful business.

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Hi Patience,

I love the sound of your novel and you write in the same genre as I do (I'm still on my first draft of my first novel though - main protagonist is also a stubbornly tenacious forty something! ).

I don't have experience of Beta reading but I love reading work of others in a similar area to myself for inspiration.

While I can't promise it would be a substantial critique,  I'd be delighted to read what I get a chance to in between other commitments.

I'm sure you will get a better offer from this wonderful community tho!

Allison. 

Wow Jane - what a hugely helpful response!  I so appreciate you taking the time to share this with me.  Well done you for getting to the point of a full MS request  and for finding an independent publisher to accept your book - that's an amazing achievement!  How did you find their details?  I too am a fan of Debi Alper after watching her 'managing expectations' webinar - although it was a little scary!

Thanks again so much for your help and all the best going forward.  

Allison. 

Hi Georgina,

Thank you very much for detailing your experience so well.  That's all extremely interesting to hear.  I hadn't heard of Fiverr and will definitely explore that option.  Was the assessor chosen for you by JW?  That must have been disappointing to hear that he wasn't the correct fit for an unfinished manuscript. 

Thanks again so much for your guidance and all the best with your own writing.

Allison. 

Hi Iren,  Thank you SO much for sharing your thoughts with me on this.  I will definitely take those on board and you're so right about regrets.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained!  All the best with your writing.  Allison. 

Thanks Kate.  That's lovely to know :)

best wishes, Allison. 

Hi Blakeney,  Thanks so much for the advice!  Well done you for having completed more than one novel. I do love writing short stories but am trying to remain focussed on the novel for now to make some decent headway there.   Good to know there's a Short Story group out there too.

All the best,

Allison., 

Thanks Cecile.  I hope you make it to Scotland soon.   And thanks for the welcome to Townhouse.  Just lovely to touch base with some like-minded souls!

Allison. 

Hi Mark.  What a lovely place to live.  Even more impressive mountains than your homeland!  Good luck with the novel (s).

Allison. 

Hi Caron!  Lovely to hear there is a fellow Edinburger here.  I hope you've enjoyed the Easter sun and found some writing time!

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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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