Old Moon

Friday, September 3, 2010


If a novel is in print, its cover becomes one of the most important things about it to anyone who has no clue about what's inside.  The title has needed to take on a life of its own just in order to get the book to the cover stage.

I just read a how-to book on queries. The author tells us that the title has to "blow the socks off" the agent or editor, just as the cover letter and query must do the same. [Already I know I'm defeated. I don't write thrillers, can't relate to horror or dark fantasy, can't imagine a bodice buster I could pen.] Instructions are to include the title as early as possible in the letter, and to repeat it if we can. Following are orders not to self-dramatize, not to rave about your wonderful story, and above all, to be brief--all standard, like reminders to address an individual and to try to say why you've chosen that person.

Discussing the synopsis, we're told to include every character and the contents of every chapter, and never to hide the ending. This we must be accomplish in no more than two pages--one and a half is better. Later on, these instructions are mentioned again, but this time, we're allowed ten to twenty pages. We are exhorted not merely to state what happens, but to include atmosphere and theme and descriptions! The short form is for the query. Well, so is the long form. How can you possibly include everything in a 500-page opus in less than two pages? If the person being queried gives no limits in the guidelines, which synopsis should we use? If there isn't an obvious subplot, or perhaps there are a couple of short ones, do we leave them in or remove them in the interests of brevity?

Anyone who has written a novel is aware that the writing is a whole lot easier than trying to produce a synopsis at all, let alone one that is readable, interesting, and doesn't quickly guarantee utter confusion among characters and plot points. The book on queries does absolutely insist that no query should go out without a synopsis. The reasoning is that if the reader is even slightly intrigued, the synopsis will at least provide a glimpse of the story and the author's ability to write.

All the examples cited (quite a few) are from mysteries, thrillers, and other genre material. No wonder my editor mentioned (again) the problem of selling a literary novel after he had worked with me for about nine months. After six drafts, a good deal of investment of money as well as time, I'm beginning to have a sense of futility. I'll write yet another synopsis, then send out another couple of dozen queries to agents about whom I know nothing that doesn't appear in their websites or Publisher's Weekly, and try to concentrate on essays and reviews and poetry. I get the feeling, it's much too late. I can't collar agents at writers conferences any more, I don't know anyone with an agent who will reveal that persons's name, I don't have influential acquaintances. What I have is the Internet. I've given up (because of the cost of postage and paper and ink) on anyone I can't approach online. And besides, I need a really good title.

 I've considered four different ones. The first I rejected after the third draft. The one I'm sticking with for the time being I picked because it states the theme of the book. Unfortunately, I know well enough it won't blow anyone's socks off. In fact, it isn't labeled for the unimaginative until two thirds of the way through the story. The thing is, the whole point is inherent it its title. That's why I feel stubborn about trying to dream up another (though I did consider THE MAN WHO LOVED HORSES; it might bring to mind WATER FOR ELEPHANTS?)

 So don't hold your breath looking for SECOND GROWTH.


glenda Beall said...

Titles are hard for me even the title for a poem eludes me and I often call on my critique group to help me. I didn't choose the title for my poetry book.
I can imagine how difficult it must be to pick the perfect title for a novel - one that knocks the socks off the reader.
But I love your title, Maiden Run.
By the way, is it on Kindle? I am getting a Kindle soon. Just can't resist. I hear they have not slowed the purchase of books on paper, but more men read Kindle than women and so more writers are being read both on paper and electronically.

JLC said...

If only I could take advantage of the right writers' group! Back in Conn. I belonged to one.
Yes, both my novels are available for Kindle, also on www.writewordsinc.com and www.fictionwise.com. I think maybe elsewhere too. The problem is that I don't believe the publisher ever made the necessary corrections on the e-books. The typos will drive you nuts.
Thanks for reading!