Writers’ Roundup: January 15

Don’t you love when your Google Reader is bursting with awesome information? So much good stuff out there this week, including several memoir-specific posts:

  • A guest blogger on Guide to Literary Agents offers Tips for Writing and Selling the Book-Length Memoir. “You need to find the narrative,” he writes. “It can’t just be the random and disorganized (or chronically-arranged) events of an interesting life.”
  • At Getting Past the Gatekeeper, a literary agent explains why writers shouldn’t get “prickly” when their submission goes to slush. She also has some fun ideas about planning your dream book party.
  • What’s sell-through? Literary agent Jessica Faust explains why it matters how many of your books sell verses how many are shipped.
  • The Creative Penn comes through again with 5 Reasons Writers Need to Embrace Technology. Those of you who’ve been ignoring the obvious — that people are online and those people could buy your book — you know who you are!
  • Joyce Carol Oates, who has published more than 50 novels, is writing a memoir. This piece from the Wall Street Journal offers a glimpse into the author’s writing life.
  • And your non-writing link for the week, intended to make you care that newspapers are dying! Via Romenesko, every journo’s fave site for media news: A new study shows most of our news still comes from print media.

Happy writing!

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Brainstorming a brilliant title

A friend recently asked me, “When you find the right title, will it hit you over the head? Will you just know?”

I hope so, because I haven’t felt smacked by one yet. That’s why I’m turning to you: Wanna help brainstorm a title for my travel memoir?

You’ll first need to know what my book is about. (That’s easy for loyal readers of my travel blog.)

Some titles have automatic resonance, which means the reader understands automatically what the book is about. In other words, the title is self-explanatory. Others don’t acquire resonance until after you’ve read the book. I’ll use Eat, Pray, Love as an example because it’s the same genre as my book and many of you have probably read it. When I first picked up the book, I had no idea what the title meant. It wasn’t until after I read her story, and understood that each of those words represented a leg of her journey, that the title had meaning for me.

Why does this matter? Because thinking about titles through these prisms has helped me understand what might work for my book. As I’ve explained in previous posts, I’d like my subtitle to be something like, A woman’s solo journey through Africa. Since that explains the essence of my travel memoir, the main title can have either automatic or acquired resonance.

Several scenes in particular seem like they would lend themselves to a title with acquired resonance, including a few I described on my travel blog: Seeing a bright Milky Way in rural Cameroon; celebrating in that same Cameroonian village when I offer the gift of school; making a special delivery in Madagascar.

Some ideas in my brainstorming file with that don’t quite work:

  • Bush Taxi Adventures: A woman’s solo journey through Africa
  • Madame or Mademoiselle? (too complicated, readers of this blog decided)
  • In Search of Pizza (too light-hearted, though I like the idea of a funny title)
  • My Mozzie Net and Me
  • Bumpy Roads
  • Milky Way Meanderings
  • Dancing with Glowsticks
  • Please Send Pants
  • FuFu for Breakfast
  • African skies (too close to Under African Skies)
  • The Path Left by the Moon
  • Digesting Africa

You get the idea. Plenty of authors wait until they’ve written their entire book to come up with a title, and I may end up doing that. But for now, brainstorming is where it’s at.

So throw your ideas out there! Drop them in the comments section below. Even titles that aren’t perfect, like the ones listed above, help get my brain juices flowing.

What should I title my book?

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Morphing a good title into the perfect title

Thanks for all the feedback on my working title, Madame or Mademoiselle? A Woman’s Solo Journey Through Africa.

Here’s the consensus: Readers seemed to like the subtitle, A Woman’s Solo Journey Through Africa. But not everyone was satisfied with the first half of the title, Madame or Mademoiselle?

It’s too long, some critics said. It’s not easy to pronounce out loud. And it might discourage potential male readers from buying the book.

This was helpful criticism. More than anything, it reinforced my gut feeling, that the first half of the title is decent, but not perfect. And that’s what I’m looking for — the perfect title.

The theme behind the title, however, seemed to go over well. So I’m sticking with the theme, continuing to write and hoping a title will come to me as I put words on the page. If it doesn’t, I might just be back here asking y’all to participate in a brainstorming session.

That magical title

To pitch my book to agents and publishers, I need a title.

I know what you’re thinking: How can I possibly come up with a title when I haven’t written the book? It ain’t easy. But since I’ve already outlined the book for my book proposal and developed a theme, it’s feasible to build upon that base and create a working title.

I need something catchy. Something that “tells and sells,” as literary agent Michael Larsen advises in his book about writing a proposal. A title that will appeal to a wide audience, one that offers a bit of the book’s flavor.

Most successful women’s travel books use the Title: Subtitle format, and for good reason: It allows for creativity but also gives the reader a sense of what the book’s about. To prove my point, here are a few examples from my bookshelf full of travel memoirs:

* Somebody’s Heart is Burning: A Woman Wanderer in Africa. By Tanya Shaffer.

* Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. By Elizabeth Gilbert.

* Tales of a Female Nomad: Living At Large in the World. By Rita Golden Gelman.

* Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman. By Alice Steinbach.

Since the second phrase usually explains the meat of the book, I brainstormed the subtitle first. What makes my book stand out? What makes it different from other travel books? 1. I’m a woman. 2. I traveled solo. 3. I traveled in Africa. And so I came up with this subtitle: A Woman’s Solo Journey Through Africa.

The primary title is a bit harder because it requires more creativity. So far, I’m leaning toward Madame or Mademoiselle? Here’s a paragraph straight from my book proposal that explains why that title’s appropriate:

Unlike other women’s travel books, the author is not looking for love, nor escape from a failed relationship. Instead, she seeks freedom and independence, a chance to see the world through her own eyes. Paradoxically, to fend off men hoping to snag a white woman as their wife — “Mrs. or Miss?” they ask, and, “Are you married?” — the author constantly lies about her single status, claiming that her husband is back at the hotel or at home in the states.

Together, those pieces form this title:

Madame or Mademoiselle? A Woman’s Solo Journey Through Africa.

Whatcha think? Does it work? Or should I go back to the drawing board?