Guest Blog Fail (a Nathan Bransford Rejection)

A lot of you in the writing community will know that agent-extraordinaire Nathan Bransford is on holiday this week.  Before he left, in a move that soundly placed him in the category “nice + savvy”, he had a brief competition to choose guest hosts for his blog.  The results?  More than 250 entries in less than 30 hours, and 5 super winnahs!

Alas, I was not one of them, which was probably just as well.  I don’t know what my poor, modest site would have done with the kind of traffic he’d generate. 

But rather than waste my work, here is my proposed entry, verbatim. 

Dear Mr. Bransford:    Thank you for this opportunity and I hope your vacation is an enjoyable/purposeful one.   My proposed post is as follows:  

A Post for the Titularly-Challenged: 

Today’s subject is not about the intricacies of the British caste system.  (Although if you’re sending me a manuscript set in regency England, you damn well better be able to separate your earls from your barons–without a crowbar, if you know what I mean.)

No, this post is about creating titles that will practically bounce your book right off the shelf and into the readers’ arms. 

I can hear some of you protesting now.  “Why spend so much time on a few little words, Nathan?  I suck at titles, Nathan.  It’ll only be changed eleventy-three times by the marketing people anyway, Nathan.” 

Trust me, people:  moniker’s matter.  Particularly if yours is so outstandingly blah that I’ve finished the first line of your query and my finger’s already hovering over the delete button.  Do you honestly think that any reader, who isn’t already attached to your authorial name, will be even one smidgen of a jot kinder? 

I didn’t think so.

That established, let’s take a moment to examine what a stellar title can do:

  1. Orient the reader to the “who, what, where, when, why, or how” of the manuscript
  2. Create micro-tension by raising a story question
  3. Display voice*
  4. Endear you to the cover art people by instantaneously evoking an image 

A good title will perform one or more of the above.  A great title will achieve them all. 

Here are some of my personal favorites: 

  • Californication
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • Children of a Lesser God
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
  • The Lost Recipe for Happiness
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth
  • Lord of the Flies
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • You Suck:  a Love Story
  • Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang 

How about you?  What are your favorite titles, and why do they work so well? *As with all other things literary, a captivating voice in a title can make up for an otherwise pedantic subject.

So now that I’ve shared, I have three questions for the Tartitude readership:

  1. Didn’t I do an awesome job of mimicking NB’s voice????
  2. Am I on the money, with respect to what makes a title work?
  3. What titles have you rubber-necking in the bookstore?
Green with Envy (Flickr Creative Commons)

Green with Envy (Flickr Creative Commons)

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4 thoughts on “Guest Blog Fail (a Nathan Bransford Rejection)

  1. So sorry you didn’t win the guest blog gig — just as well, because the rest of us would have had to hate you if you’d won. Jealousy is such a petty thing.

    Hmm. I’m thinking Crusie titles: Welcome to Temptation, Bet Me, Faking It, Tell Me Lies — all great titles.

    The Anna Campbell book, Untouched, has the perfect title for the story.


    1. Re the jealousy: what you’re really saying here is that you don’t look good in green. 😛

      I’m trying not to second-guess myself about everything, but hope people who read this piece know I don’t begrudge the winner their success. It’s just that without the set-up of this being a contest entry, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense.

  2. Hit SEND by mistake, sorry. BONK by Mary Roach – weird book, perfect title for it.

    Blink, Freakanomics, Cod — all cool titles.

    Welcome to the Monkey House – Kurt Vonnegut

    The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Wolfe

    Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand

    Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein

    That’s all I can think of right now.

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