Posted in Book titles, Writing books, Writing craft

5 tips for choosing better titles for your writing [books, blog pieces, articles, short stories]

What is the one thing that all forms of writing―any fiction genre, nonfiction trade books, academic and professional books, magazine articles, newspaper stories, blog posts―have in common besides, of course, the fact that they all contain words? They all have titles. And those titles are essential for you as a writer if you expect anyone to read what you’ve written.

My question is this: how do you choose a title for an individual piece of your writing? How does any writer? There’s no easy answer to this because writers are inspired by various factors when choosing titles. But those titles are, arguably, the most important promotional tool you have in your toolbox.

After spending almost three decades in the academic world, reading (and writing) academic papers), I’m here to tell you that I’ve seen more hideous titles than you can ever hope to see in your life. Academics are the absolute worst. They seem to think that complicated, densely worded, erudite-sounding titles make them sound smart. They do not. However, this problem of wanting to sound clever isn’t confined to academics. Anyone who writes for a living―or even a hobby―would do themselves a favour by reconsidering the titles they place on their work for readers’ consumption.

This week I have five tips that I’ve picked up through thirty years of writing to help you choose better titles. Here is the summary. For the complete discussion, click on the WRITE.FIX.REPEAT. video.

  1. Your title should be unique. How can you figure this out? Search for it. For books, try Amazon. For blog pieces, plug a few things into a search engine.
  2. Your title should reflect what the book/blog/article is really about. Trying to be cute or smart or something else just to be clever without really reflecting the content is just wrong.
  3. Your title should be easy to remember. Wouldn’t you like readers to be able to tell their friends the name of the book/blog/article? If it’s long and complicated, they’ll forget it. Or their eyes will glaze over (I’m talking to you academically-oriented writers).
  4. Don’t pack it with keywords. (Sometimes referred to as keyword stuffing.) This includes things such as repeating words, adding words out of context, adding irrelevant words. It’s not necessary and makes for crappy titles.
  5. Try to incorporate a hook without being overly clever. How can you know if your title is a hook? Maybe it’s easier to examine those that aren’t. For example, one-word titles, or the label title, don’t really grab readers. (Jaws notwithstanding.) What if I’d called this blog piece simply “Titles?” Would you have been as interested? If I called “Better Titles,” that would have been marginally better. But specificity that focuses on the potential reader is the best.

Believe it or not, there are online assistants for finding titles, but they are generated by AI and usually have issues. But they might intrigue you all the same.

The site Tweakyourbiz.com generates titles. It’s a bit odd, but fun, nonetheless.

Spend a little time finding the right title.

Some other resources:

JUDITH BRILES.  How to Create Titles to Hook Your Readers https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2016/02/63714/

Headline analyzer https://www.aminstitute.com/headline/

Posted in Writing, Writing craft

5 tips for writers to make better use of their blogs

You have a blog, don’t you? If you don’t, you might consider starting one―but probably not for the reasons you think.

I can’t remember what I was thinking when I started this writing blog in 2011―ten years ago. My writing life was at a different point then, and the objectives I had at the time no longer make sense. Yet, I continue to write. I took a hiatus for a while when my career and life didn’t give me much extra time, but I always come back to it. I use it for lots of things, although lately, I seem to be focusing on giving writing advice. This focus is merely an evolution reflecting both me and my career.

My first blog post was called A book’s backstory…or a writer’s backstory? And this is, of course, the reason why this blog is called Backstory. In that post, I considered whether I’d focus on my own backstory (a slice of the writer’s life kind of thing) or my books’ backstories (my process and plans). In the end, I didn’t have to make a decision. It simply evolved. And you don’t have to make a decision either. You just need to blog.

There’s a tendency for writers to feel one of two ways about a blog. Either they think a blog is simply a tool for selling books, or they think it’s a waste of time. I believe that it is neither and that there are good reasons for you to consider blogging.  Chief among them is that a blog is a space where you can build your reputation as a writer while connecting with readers through a feedback loop. Lots of great ideas come from readers, you know.

Consider spending five minutes watching the video linked below for my details on the tips.

  1. I suggest that you begin with an objective or two. Even if you’ve been blogging for a while, are you really sure why you’re doing it? Are you sure about what you’re trying to accomplish? This is where you begin. Then it can evolve.
  2. Consider using your blog for writing practice. We all need to practice our writing, and not all our writing belongs in long-form material.
  3. Use your blog to write about interesting finds from your research that didn’t make it into a book or article. You might even find, through writing, this becomes the basis for a new piece.
  4. Conduct an annual review of your blog. This is something I should have done from the beginning. I do it now. I answer a couple of questions: Am I still focused on my objectives, or have I steered off into another territory? Is that where I really want to be?
  5. Do not turn your blog into a selling tool. Like your website in general, avoid, at all costs, the temptation to use your blog to bludgeon readers with a sales pitch for your books. Of course, you can mention your books. After all, that’s why many of your blog readers are following you. But don’t’ short-change them by promoting your books in every blog post.

Obviously, there’s a downside to blogging: it takes time. However, I think this is time well spent if your blog is focused and stays on point. You need to write something every day, and it doesn’t have to be on a major project. Perhaps your blog is a way for you to get in that writing, even between projects. Keep in mind that a blog can also be a good way to grow your audience, but it will be time better spent if you focus on what it can do for your writing rather than your sales.

Oh, and make sure it’s well-written and looks professional.

Posted in Book marketing, Book promotion

Five Tips for Better Book Trailers

I don’t know about you, but I love a good book trailer. And by “good,” I don’t mean expensive. By “good,” I mean a book trailer that concisely captures my imagination for fiction or beckons me to learn more when it comes to nonfiction. In both cases, it has to be tight and visually stimulating.

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that book trailers can accomplish a few things, despite the lack of hard evidence that they increase book sales in any significant way. But a great book trailer can be your book’s calling card to book bloggers, reviewers, agents and yes, even to some readers. But it has to be good.

Here are my five tips for better book trailers:

  1. Make sure you set out a specific goal for your book trailer. Trailers without purpose are not focused. Your goal should say what you want to realistically accomplish with these marketing tools and precisely who you want to reach. What and who are essential drivers for what you will put in that book trailer. See tip #2.
  2. Write a script. I cannot tell you how soul-sucking it is to see a book trailer that is clearly unscripted. These pieces of crap are meandering commercials that appear to have been crafted by children. (Scratch that: children these days can generally do better with an iPhone and iMovie.)
  3. Plan the visuals. You know what a script like this ought to look like, don’t you? Your script should resemble a documentary script more closely than a script for a movie. This kind of script layout means that you have two columns: the voice-over (if you’re using one―which I recommend) on one side and a column for visuals opposite it. The visuals should be carefully connected to the voice-over or on-screen titles or the script’s visual direction.
  4. Avoid anything campy or kitschy unless that’s what your book is. Too many writers (and their book trailer makers) seem to think that the more gimmicks they put in, the better. Not so. It can be very off-putting to viewers or even misleading if that approach doesn’t represent the book’s genre, story, voice and message.
  5. Keep it the right length. So, how long should a book trailer be? There are no hard and fast rules about this, but in my experience, I’ve found a kind of sweet spot. A 20-second trailer isn’t a trailer―it’s a teaser. A 4-minute trailer is bordering on a movie.

I suppose the cardinal rule for book trailers is the same as the cardinal rule for writing: never bore your readers (or, in this case, your viewers).

If you’re no expert in video production and editing, find someone who is. The final edit is what we’ll see and what we’ll use to judge your book― and you. Make a good first impression!

For some samples…