Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cover (and New Titles) Vote!

A few months ago, I offered you all eleven choices for the title of my book, and got lots of good feedback, so I carefully compiled all the data, totaled up all your favorites…and then rejected them all. The problem was that I started thinking about covers and I realized I needed a title that lent itself to an image.

After a lot more brainstorming I came up with these two titles and whipped up some quick-and-sloppy covers using Google images. Obviously, once I choose one, or something else entirely, I can commission an original photo that serves my purposes more clearly (the cricket could be reading a screenplay… or I could combine the two and have a rejected slush pile behind the cricket, etc…)

So which title/cover would you be more likely to pick up in a bookstore, if you’d never heard of the blog?  Or do both of these still suck?  Which new direction should I go in?

And here are the matching back covers. You’ll note that I cobbled together a collection of real testimonials, and a credit for each. I’m showing you the quotes, but I’ve blocked out the name and credit for each one, because I gathered these quotes together from various places (some offered them up as testimonials, some didn’t) and I’d have to contact each person to confirm that I’m welcome to use it.  If you recognize your quote, then let me know it that’s all right...and thanks either way!  I’ve left the actual quotes in to ask you: Are these the sort of quotes I should have?  Are they creating the right or wrong impression?  Would they make you want to buy the book? (Click to enlarge, of course)
(And, of course, I haven’t yet attempted to solicit specific individuals for testimonials. One problem is that I’ve had a lot of unsolicited testimonials from published novelists, but none from screenwriters with impressive-sounding credits. Any big-shots out there want to offer one up? I would appreciate it. Click View My Complete Profile at the bottom of the sidebar to find my email button.)


Bill Peschel said...

Hmmm. Neither of them, but of the two, 'Slushbusters' seems closer to what you want. Except you're not busting slush; it's the slush pile you want to break out of.

And you don't want the reader to listen to the crickets; you want them to silence the crickets. You want them to kill their crickets.

(Have to go back to read the quotes, now.)

Justin Walsh said...

Hey Matt,

Are you intending to self-publish the book, or will you go through an agent to a publisher? If you intend to go the agent/publisher route, then the cover will be taken care of in-house and they'll have title suggestions of their own (though you should still work on coming up with the best one you can).

If you intend to self-publish, your covers are going to need a lot more work. You've got too much information on the front, not enough on the back. Some of the testimonials could do with a little cutting: there's excess verbage that clouds the core recommendation in certain cases. The typesetting and imagery need love.

Of the two titles you've got, I like Listen to the Crickets more. It has inherent irony, lends itself easily to memory, and has connotations of wisdom by association with the saying, 'Listen for the the silence.' (At least that's what I got from it.) Slushbusters, on the other hand, sounds like a cleaning product. And as writers aren't generally the ones who bust piles of slush, it makes it seem more like a guide aimed at agents.

If I knew more about the constraints you're working under, and the aims you have, I could provide more helpful design feedback. My professional background lies in graphics and art direction.

Glad to see things are progressing!

Paul Clarke said...

Congrats on getting to the cover design stage of your book. Personally, I don't really like either. None really give me a good sense of what the book's about. If I were a casual customer in a book store, I doubt I'd even pick those up to read the back.

Maybe that's just me. But given the deep and meaningful content of your book, the covers seem somewhat cheesy. Maybe that's just marketing.

If I had to choose, it would be Slushbusters. But that's probably more because of the image.

Best of luck. I'll buy a copy regardless of the cover.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

The subtitle is perfect, because it says what's true and yet unspoken. It's not about "writing to sell," it's about getting people to care. We all know this, but we don't say it. Saying it gives the subtitle power.

I'm biased against any title that ends in "-busters," as it seems like a tired half-joke/reference that played itself out twenty years ago. Imagine a book published in 1993 entitled "Beam Me Up, Slushpile!" That said, the image of the stack and "You Are Here" is great.

My vote is to keep the first cover but retitle it, with "title irony" in mind for greater eye-grabbing. Right now all I'm coming up with are terrible ones (HOW TO STOP BEING AN AWFUL WRITER is lodged in my brain right now). MOMENT OF CONTACT would tie in with the subtitle, but it also sounds like bad SF or a late-night pay-cable movie. Hm.

Matt Bird said...

Another factor in these new titles is that I was I heard someone persuasively make the case that you can't have a title that anyone can say "no" to:

Me: "Everything You Know about Writing Is Wrong"
Potential Buyer: "No, it isn't"

These were my attempt to come up with non-confrontational titles. For a while, my favorite was "The Unwelcome Storyteller", but I couldn't come up with an image for that one.

Justin: I still haven't decided between self-publishing and otherwise. If someone else publishes it, I know that I won't get to decide the cover (or, for that matter, the title) , but I have to, of course, sell it to them first, so I figured these might help (Trying to sell my vision of the book as something with broad appeal, not another writing book with a bland title and cover)

(Yes, the design and typography are certainly slapdash-- These are just mock-ups)

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Here's a question: are you packaging this as a book about how to write screenplays that will get attention and sales, or how to write better screenplays? What's the story you're pitching? The "Slushbusters" cover implies the first, "Crickets" the second. The blog is pitched far more towards the "Crickets" side of the question, with the idea that if you produce great work, the attention and sales will follow, or at least have a better chance of following. I'd guess that's how the book will go.

Maybe play up the idea of "the song in the noise" or some other sort of "signal to noise" argument. The ringing bell amid the clamor, whatever.

The stack-o-scripts image implies that the reader's challenge is to differentiate herself, and the subtitles imply that the way to do so is through creating emotional connection by better story creation. Maybe the angle to take is "the warm face in the crowd" or "the warmth that melts the slush" or "human connection after fade in" or something like that, but, y'know, not terrible.

tanita✿davis said...

I like the title of the second, and the image of the first, which is likely not really helpful at all! But, the title is probably mostly what you have to worry about, at this point, and I like the crickets a lot.

Unknown said...

Congrats on getting close to finishing your book!

I largely agree with those who've commented already:
The "You are here" image from cover #1 is great - but neither of the titles make me want to pick up the book.

That said - I will pick up the book. I want the thoughts that are inside it and I want to support the good work you've been doing on the blog. I suspect there are many other readers like me, who would happily buy a copy in advance. In which case--

Have you considered a kickstarter campaign? You'll keep both your creative control and a greater portion of the funds generated. You can also call it whatever the hell you like!

MCP said...

I really like the image from the first cover, but think a title involving the crickets is the most compelling as it has to be just about any writer's greatest fear.

Listen to the Crickets probably is a bit too passive. Something proactive and uplifting involving defeating the crickets or silencing them, or don't fear them, etc, I think might get people to check out the book more thoroughly.

The quotes were good, but could be condensed.

Looking forward to the book!

Anonymous said...

I can't even say Slushbusters in my head without stumbling. Crickets is good. But that title is too long. How about Cricketbusters : making people care... or Cricket Busting : how to make... etc.

Parker said...

I'm going to buy this book either way...

I actually like Slushbusters and the image, although I can understand why people think it doesn't totally match up with the meditative quality of your blog's advice. I agree with the idea that Listen To The Crickets is too passive.

Probably should shorten the quotes a bit to make them more "skimmable."
(Also, one of those quotes is mine. That was a fun surprise!)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps "How to make people *care* about stuff you made up" is a better title than both of your suggested titles?
Irony is alright with Fiction but when it comes to instructional non-fiction any title that talks around its topic isnt making a good case for itself.
I mean, "How to write a *damn* good novel" worked out fine.

rams said...

Slushbusters is brilliant (those short U sounds always suggest the daringly vulgar without actually being, you know, vulgar) Love the image, too. And as a former bookstore employee I promise you they only remember the subtitle anyway.

QED said...

Slushbusters seems far superior to me.

j.s. said...

Not sure either one is right, but the image and idea of SLUSHBUSTERS is closer.

The cricket is a creepy visual and too many mental leaps away from its meaning for anyone who doesn't follow the blog. Wait, this isn't a book about performers? There are crickets for writers? Well, you see, there are, but mostly metaphorical ones... It's like SAVE THE CAT but with a scary, ugly animal instead.

SLUSHBUSTERS is a mouthful but there are some strong ideas here that might point you toward a better final choice. The image of the stack is great. What if you riffed off that some more? What if your location arrow was at the top of the stack instead of the bottom and your title were YOUR STORY HERE: "How To Make People Care About Stories You Made Up." or YOUR STORY HERE: "How To Get Your Pages to the Top of Everyone's Stack by Radically Rethinking the Writing Process."

Or alternately, you could have a low arrow and a high arrow next to the pile and call the book TO THE TOP OF THE STACK/PILE: "How to get from THERE to HERE by Radically Rethinking the Writing Process."

I like the idea of a long clarifying Google-friendly subtitle. But right now, visually, at least, it feels like you have two on the cover. You might want to consolidate them.

A title is like the visual poster and five-second super short pitch for your book. First, it must do no harm. It has to sound like what it is and feel like what it is tonally. Weird and catchy are good for grabbing someone's attention through the clutter but not necessarily for closing the sale or honestly representing what's inside.

Nobody worked harder on his titles or had consistently better ones than Hemingway. He routinely went through over 100 different options for each novel and short story. Titling is really more a matter of brute force and sheer hard work than inspiration. The way to find the right title is to try everything. You just keep riffing, exhausting all possibilities and then all the synonyms for those possibilities. If you've not yet put in a minimum of 20-40 hours just on your title, making up lists of important concepts and keywords in your book, riffing off those lists through sites like Onelook, through slang and phrase dictionaries, etc., then you probably haven't given it enough time.

Matt Bird said...

Hmm... Perhaps "Up From the Slush"? Or maybe "The Wisdom of the Crickets"?

I also like the anonymous suggestion of just making the subtitle the title, since it's really the subtitle I love.

And there's always: "The Ultimate Story Checklist: How to Make People Care About Stuff You Made Up"

Devin McKay said...

"Listening to the Crickets" suffers from an inactive protagonist. It also sounds a little New Age-y. Both of which make me tired. If you go with Slushbusters (which is growing on me), you have to parody Ghostbusters by crossing something out.

Matt Bird said...

"Squash the Crickets" with a boot coming down on the poor creature?

Daniel Smith said...

I second Bill Peschel's earlier comment.

Something I found informative when brainstorming titles is use the SUCCESs model from the book MADE TO STICK by Chip and Dan Heath. The title should be Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and a Story. Each of those things builds toward making something more "interesting" and thus more likely to be picked up by a stranger in a book store.

I recommend this book if you or your subscribers haven't read it. The Heath brothers have a free collection of essays they wrote for Fast Company magazine (I think) available for Kindle right now if anyone would like a writing sample before purchasing. The essays are thought provoking too.

David said...

Maybe the fact that you have a lot of testimonials from novelists and none from big-shot screenwriters tells you something about the title (and possibly even the deeper structure of the book).

I, for example, use your blog as a novel-writing resource, and I've recommended it to others writing novels, even though it's ostensibly focused on screenwriting. What this suggests to me is that you're going deeper than screenwriting rules and getting at storytelling rules (which is obviously not news to you).

So maybe you need to be going for a title that suggests this is a resource for fiction writers of all mediums, or that leverages the idea of universal storytelling.

Alyssa said...

I like the slush pile one better

Randy said...

Something with a more positive spin might create a better impression? Yet also with a touch of rebellion... :-) So, perhaps:


Best wishes, thanks for sharing your insights!