Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Husband Married a Hooker! Part 1

“I couldn’t put it down!”

This is the accolade every writer longs to hear. And the best way to earn this ultimate compliment is by peppering your prose with hooks.

The dictionary describes a hook as a stratagem for snaring someone and writers need to snare their readers hard, fast and securely if they want to keep them turning pages. If a writer sprinkles her prose with hooks, she creates a path for her readers to follow through the narrative. In my workshop, My Husband Married a Hooker, I share tricks to help writers hook their readers using their title, their opening line, chapter breaks, embedded hooks and even the final sentence.

And hopefully hook their readers into searching out their backlists!

Here's the Reader's Digest version of the first part of that workshop:

Hooking with your title ~ Make ‘em pick up the book! The title is your foot in the door. It’s the first chance for you to show the reader what kind of story they’re going to get. CL Wilson’s Lord of the Fading Lands isn’t likely to be mistaken for a contemporary comedy. Why? The title is too reminiscent of Tolkein. This is one place where it’s ok to be like something else. You want to call an image to the reader’s mind that will tell them where your book falls in the grand scheme of literature.

Authors sometimes have no say on the final title, but make up a good one anyway. It's your first chance to hook your editor. I sold STROKE OF GENIUS on the strength of the title and a paragraph.

Why is it a good title? My editor loved the play on words. There's a hint of a naughty double entendre in the word stroke. It lets my reader know they're in for a sensual romp. And it gives a clue about my hero--the artistic genius.

Here are some good title tricks:

Something familiar—Take something your readers will recognize and give it a twist.
Play on movie titles: Karen Hawkins' Sleepless in Scotland.
Play on TV: Elizabeth Boyle’s How I Met My Countess.
Song Lyrics: Susan Elizabeth Phillips Ain’t She Sweet? (And of course, her heroine isn't!)
Old sayings: Mary Balogh's First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Seduction, And Last Comes Love. She's taken the old saw "First comes love" and given it a shake-up. Isn't that brilliant for a set of connected stories?

Series titles—Set up a recurring theme.
One for the Money by Janet Evanovitch. She has an unlimited supply of numbers for subsequent books.
A is for Alibi by Susan Grafton. Same principle, but only 26 available titles. Darn.
The Serpent Prince, the Raven Prince, The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt. By repeating Prince in each title, she's given readers a clue that they are related stories. And if they enjoyed one, they'll want the next.

Alliteration—People respond to patterns. We crave it. Christie Craig’s Divorced, Desperate and Dating plays to our need for pattern beautifully. So does Mary Janice Davidson's Undead and Unpopular. I used this trick for my Distracting the Duchess, Pleasuring the Pirate and Vexing the Viscount.

There are plenty of good ways to develop a hooking title. Just remember, the goal is to surprise and delight your readers into picking up the book. Next Wednesday, I'll talk about how to hook your readers with the first sentence.

And even though I don't have my author copies of STROKE OF GENIUS yet, I'd like to give away one to someone who leaves a comment or question here today. When I get back from RT in Ohio, I'll have my DH pick the random winner, so be sure to let me know you were here.

Here's the discussion question:
What's the best title you've ever seen and why do you think it's a good one? If you're a writer, it's ok to use one of your own if you like! Just be prepared to share why it fits your story.

22 comments:

Gillian Layne said...

I thought The Forrest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan was a brilliant title, just because it's so provocative. My daughters love it, too.

I love cozy mystery titles. The Diva Runs out of Thyme, Larceny and Lace, Dead As A Scone. If Books Could Kill.

Mary Balogh's set of titles were one of my favorites of Regency. I also liked the title The Education of Mrs. Brimley; it's in my tbr pile.

Deb said...

HA, I love the title of today's post! Thank you, Emily, for pointing out the obvious to me because some of the play on words of the titles went right over my head. Or, maybe not, but I just wasn't thinking about the authors playing with words.

I'm not a writer, but if I had to title my story it would be Life On A Treadmill: Running All The Time, But Not Getting Very Far. (Seems like I'm running errands, taking my daughter to soccer practices and games, etc.) :)

Fave title---hmmm, I'm going to have to think about that one. I did just read Amanda Forester's The Highlander's Sword and thought, um, about something with the male anatomy.

Maria said...

Really great post, don't have a favorite title although all of the titles that you mentioned are great..I tend to read 4 genres and 3 fall under the general "romance" catagory and I have to say that you hit the nail on the head with this, as someone who reads series it is really helpfull if the title gives me a clue that it's part of the series, in the paranormal romance catagory I'm reading the Kate Douglas series by Ilona Andrews and everyone of the books has the word "Magic" in the title and lets me know it's part of the seris.

Magdalen said...

I'll nominate "Her Man of Affairs" by Elizabeth Mansfield. As a series Regency, it's not a particularly sensual book, but the title riffs on both the surface meaning (hero charged with task of sorting out heroine's financial affairs) and also their personal relationship (which, although romantic more than sexual, is still mildly scandalous as he's not of her class).

I have to take points off for series' titles that are too interchangeable: Simply X and Strictly Y in the case of Balogh, and Forbidden, Forbidden Joy, etc. by Jo Beverley. The title then becomes divorced from the plot, characters, etc. and thus doesn't help the reader to know what will be in the book or, after reading it, what the book was about.

EmilyBryan said...

Gillian--Dead as a Scone must be a murder mystery about a baker!

EmilyBryan said...

Deb--I think we recognize the plays on words on a subconscious level a lot of times. Now that you know to look for it, I bet they leap out at you.

And oh, yes, there's something subliminal about swords!

EmilyBryan said...

Maria--The repeated word in the title really is a good way to clue the reader that the books are related.

EmilyBryan said...

Magdalen--Good point. Not only does a title in a series have to fit the series, it first and foremost has to fit the book.

Glynis said...

I love titles that play on words. When I read your post,I thought of The Missionary Position by Christopher Hitchens. I thought it a clever title, it is about Mother Theresa.

Steve V said...

The title Stroke of Genius caught my eye. Usually I am not interested in romantic reads,I am more interested in Sci-Fi. Might have to give this one a try.

s7anna said...

Some of my fave titles are from the FBI series by Kay Hooper...Hiding in the Shadows, Out of the Shadows, Stealing Shadows, Sense of Evil, Touching Evil, Whisper of Evil, Blood Dreams, Blood Sins and the latest Blood Ties. They are just so appropriate for the storyline and always gives me chills...perfect for a great suspense story.

hugs,
Anna

Keira of LoveRomancePassion said...

The most recent title to grab me was Beastly. It instantly brough to mind Beauty and the Beast (which I love) and it was an adverb which was different and cool. I found out it was being made into a movie and got the book asap from the library. The cover has a black background, red text, and a white rose, which were other clues that the book was something I wanted to read.

EmilyBryan said...

Glynis--That's a surprising title for a book about a nun.

EmilyBryan said...

Hi Steve--Thanks for stopping by my blog. I do get fanmail from male readers from time to time. One of the gals in my local RWA chapter was collecting books to send to some soldiers. They actually requested some romance titles. Even tough guys need love.

EmilyBryan said...

Anna--Sounds like those titles accurately reflect the books, which is the goal.

Carol L. said...

Hi Emily,
Loved the post. One of my favorite titles is your Pleasuring the Pirate.
What a delicious thought first of all and then it's just so fitting for the story.
Carol L.
Lucky7450@aol.com

EmilyBryan said...

Keira--Interesting that the black white and red colors on the cover were a clue to you that you'd want to read it. Hmmmm... wonder what my multi-colored STROKE OF GENIUS cover says to readers?

Chelsea B. said...

I think Gena Showalter's Lord of the Underworld book titles go perfectly with her books!

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks, Carol. I'm sure my Pirate loved you too!

EmilyBryan said...

Chelsea--Yes! Gena's work is brilliant.

librarypat said...

Brenda Joyce has a series out called THE MASTERS OF TIME. All the titles start with DARK:
DARK RIVAL, DARK SEDUCTION, DARK EMBRACE, DARK VICTORY, and DARK LOVER.
Gives you a feel for the series.

The recent books THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF PERSEPHONE PARKER and THE DARKLY LUMINOUS FIGHT FOR PERSEPHONE PARKER by Leanna Renee Hieber are great titles and my current favorites.

EmilyBryan said...

Pat--I talked to Leanna at RT and her Percy Parker has been optioned for development into a Broadway musical! How exciting is that?