Sunday, June 29, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger Janet Kobobel Grant

It's a thrill to have Janet as a guest blogger on Fiction Matters. She is a wonderful woman of God, and a prolific writer, in addition to being the founder of a literary agency. She's sharing with us her expertise in the area of titling your work. A colleague of hers has dubbed her "The Queen of Titles". And while Janet says, "That's hyperbole", she shows her expertise in this two part article called Razzle Dazzle Titles.

Janet Kobobel Grant established Books & Such Literary Agency in 1996 after working in the book publishing industry for more than twenty years. She had her own imprint at Zondervan Publishing and served as managing editor of books at Focus on the Family.

Janet understands the inside scoop on publishing as well, having helped to launch Here’s Life Publisher, managed her own imprint with Zondervan, and served as managing editor of books for Focus on the Family. Working in these capacities provided her with a strong publishing network, experience in negotiating contracts, and comprehension of each production stage a book must move through, from acquisition to printed matter.

Her desire to help authors create the most marketable, carefully crafted manuscripts and to see those authors succeed in their careers was probably born in the library she frequented as a child.

Here is a Sampling of Books by Janet:

With Fern Nichols of Every Child Needs a Praying Mom (Bonnie says: This book is on my "must buy" list!) A silver medallion winner

Several Women of Faith Bible studies.

The Breast Cancer Care Book (with Sally M. Knox, M.D. and a Retailers Choice finalist);

99 Annoying Attributes of God: Why God is God and You're Not
(Bonnie says: Don't you just want to order this one right now?!)

(There are more! But, for the sake of all you faithful blog readers, I'll save some for Wednesday's blog post from Janet)

Razzle-Dazzle Titles
By Janet Kobobel Grant

I recently was involved in a conversation about titling with several authors. Two authors had very different views on titles. One said, “’How to Title’ was left out of my gift-mix when the Lord called me to be a writer.” Another said, “I think I got my first book contract because of the title I gave it: Famous Jerks of the Bible. It still draws a lot of attention.”

Most of us probably fall somewhere between those two authors. But one thing we have in common with both of them is that we have to realize the title of a project can make or break it. I present more than one thousand projects to editors each year. It’s part of what I do every day. And I learn a lot from the responses editors give. Recently, I set out to pitch a project to twelve editors. Nine asked to see the proposal. One of the reasons: It has a great title. The Marriage Phoenix: When You Love Your Spouse but Not Your Marriage. The author wanted to title it: The Marriage Funeral: When Dead Is Better Than Divorce. His title was, uh…dead on delivery, negative and a real-downer. I turned the concept into a positive with the Phoenix title.

Another author wanted to write a book on worry but didn’t know what to call it. Actually, the author’s title was Managed Anger Jesus-Style. I suggested the title be Partly Cloudy with Scattered Worries: Weathering Your Fears, Fretting, and Fuming. After deciding on that title, the whole structure for the book fell into place with chapters entitled, “Anticipating a Storm: Fear of the Future”; “Ice Storm: How to Keep Wondering From Slipping into Worrying”; “Dense Fog: How to Wait Out Times When God’s Answers Are Slow in Coming.” And the publisher came up with a cover that matched the weather theme—all this was set into place through the title.

Titles have to carry a heavy load of freight. Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself that help to test if a title is bearing all the weight it needs to:

--Does the title convey the tone of the book? If you heard about a novel entitled Conflict, what genre would you suspect the book was? Suspense? Mystery? Women’s fiction? In actuality, the story was about a playwright who is afraid of conflict—so much so she can’t write conflict into her plays. The book’s genre? Romantic comedy. The novel eventually was published as My Life as a Doormat (in Three Acts). The new title is playful and hints at the play writing that serves as a centerpiece to the story.

--Does the title tell enough about the book to intrigue the potential reader? One author describes this as having both steak and sauce in a title. Example: Ann Coulter’s How to Talk to a Liberal (that’s just the steak) now here’s the sauce (If You Must). But don’t be so esoteric or literary that people can’t figure out what your book is about (especially for nonfiction). Here are two obscure titles: The God of Stones and Spiders and Twilight Labyrinth. But here’s an intriguing title you might have heard of: The Secret Life of Bees.
For nonfiction titles, don’t be afraid to have an intriguing title matched with a straightforward subtitle: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Janet will be back on Wednesday with four more "tests" for your titles, and more hints for making your title stand out from the crowd (in good ways!)

Let's hear from you, faithful blog readers. How has Janet's perspective on titling your work got you thinking?

I know I'm impressed with her gift for titles, and inspired to dig deep for that perfect title that will 'razzle dazzle' an editor and/or agent!

I bid you good writing.


Anonymous said...

Janet is much too modest. Her expertise at titles is unparalleled. The thing that bothers me the most about this is she makes it look so easy!


Kathleen Y'Barbo

Sharlene MacLaren said...

Hi, Janet! Great article! One of my favorite aspects of writing (sounds weird) is thinking up titles. They have nothing to do with anything, but I love to try to think up titles that have never been used (a hard thing to do by the way). In my files is a list of titles with absolutely no story line behind them! hahaha. But it's a nice list anyway.

Jean Syswerda is one of my closest, dearest friends, by the way...

Hugs and blessings,

Anonymous said...

I always struggle with titles.

This is great stuff. Looking forward to more!

DeAnna Julie Dodson

Cathy Elliott said...

Janet truly IS unparalleled in title territory. Loved reading the inside scoop on how changing a title changed the future of the book. So creative! My admiration for her continues to grow.

Thanks for an entertaining and insightful entry.


Anonymous said...

Janet, when choosing titles, how much weight should we give toward appealing to web surfers?

Virginia Smith said...

Great article. Thanks for the insights. Though I admit I'm a little intimidated -- I'm right there with the author who was not gifted in the Coming Up With Catchy Titles department.

Looking forward to more!

Bonnie Grove said...

Kathleen, I'm with you! She makes it look effortless. It isn't for me!

Sharlene, maybe you could post a few of your random titles for us. It could be inspiring!

Hmmm, web surfers. Good question! I'm confident Janet will have a good answer for this when she responds in her upcoming post (I'm sending her all the comments from her posts and she will be responding to all of them at one time. She'd love to jump on here and respond to each one as they come in, but she's up to her eyeballs in work at the moment).

Kathleen Popa said...

Loved the Marriage Phoenix title - especially the sub-title. Great article, great agent!

Colleen Taylor said...

When I taught English literature at Briercrest College, it was rumored that students could get a good grade if their essay titles were creative. Apparently, in at least one dorm, guys would help each other come up with "razzle dazzle" titles in search of that elusive A. (Well, not so elusive in my first year of teaching.)

I'm not sure that wow-me titles actually affected the grades, since those were mainly based on the content of the essay, but I'm sure it made marking papers more approachable and enjoyable.