Monday, May 20, 2019

Let's Talk Titles and Covers

For this month's topic, I'm going to brag a little about the fabulously talented and creative people at Sourcebooks who do so much to make my books far better than I could on my own.  I'm blessed enough to be the author of four middle grade books, all of which have been published by Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky.  Each one of those books has received a title created by my editor, and each title has an awesome cover designed by the artists and freelancers who make my books look more amazing than I could have ever imagined.

While working on my debut novel, my title for it was simply Ratchet.  My editor Aubrey Poole came up with This Journal Belongs to Ratchet.  As soon as she suggested it, I loved it!  And as soon as I saw this cover, I was over the moon.

My working title for my second novel was more like a tongue twister - Sixth Grade Lists and Letters and Lots Lots More.  Aubrey did her magic once more with the amazingly creative - Always, Abigail.  Again, in an instant, I was in love with another title and cover.

My summer camp story I called Camp Sisters.  The consensus was that title was "too quiet."  As a result, Aubrey proposed Just Like Me, and my third book and its wonderful cover came to life. 

By the time I was writing the book I called Saving Elsie Mae, I was working with my new editor at Sourcebooks, Steve Geck.  He came up with Elsie Mae Has Something to Say, and it was time for me to fall in love with another new title and cover.


Besides titles and covers, 
the entire Sourcebooks Team does so much to take each one of my books to a level I never even thought was possible.  
That's why being a Sourcebooks author really rocks!

Happy Reading,



Sunday, May 19, 2019

What's in a Title

I've long written titles. I'd like to think I've become better at the practice over my four- and five-year-old self, who pretty much stamped every story I wrote with large block letters: The Cat Who (insert verb here). That little girl aspired to be taken seriously as a writer, but it wouldn't be until much later that I'd actually start learning to be one and varying my writing in all forms.

As a journalist, I'd write headlines - a sister to the title, really - mostly to politics and crime that I covered in a small town. Short, impactful, to the point. I did shoot for wordplay where I could - it draws in the reader in a place where one already is competing for such short attention spans.

Moving on to titles for novels became an entirely different story, however, despite the same goal to grab the reader's attention. I was attempting to snag readers of a different variety, here. This time middle grade readers, parents, potentially educators and other book lovers who might pick up a mystery relayed from the point of view of a cat.

The Great Cat Nap. The Clawed Monet.

I found selecting titles for my middle grade novels fun and entertaining. I even have the working title for the third in the series (stubbornly stuck in Writer's Block Land in this current timeframe). Those titles never changed from working title to past my agent and editors at the time.

In writing young adult, I struggle more for those titles. Often, I've thought I've had the one that best fits it, only to have a critique partner (or two, or three) tell me it needs to be changed. It seems trends in recent years have swung towards giving young adult longer titles, almost poetic in nature. A long song lyric or piece of prose. I'll Give You the Sun. All the Bright Places. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. The short, quick titles of the past - The Outsiders, The Giver, Twilight - seem to be fewer now than they used to be.

I have no idea what the next title of my next completed manuscript will be, as I currently don't know which of my works in progress will beat the other to the finish. That's part of the fun of being a writer, however. The next big thing is just one more keystroke or pen swipe away.

Happy Reading!

AM Bostwick

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Reading with My Sister

When I think of being caught reading, I think first not of where I loved to read as a child, or when, but with whom. I did all my childhood reading with my sister.

She and I are just a year apart in age - 361 days to be exact - and we spent our summers together doing nothing but reading. Back then the public library would let you check out only four books at a time, so we would walk to the library every two days, check out our four books, walk home and spend two days in nonstop reading, and then walk back to get four more. Actually, since we could each check out four books, that gave us a stash of eight titles to devour.

We loved - and still love - all the same books: the Betsy-Tacy books of Maud Hart Lovelace, the Shoes books of Noel Streatfeild, Half Magic and other titles by Edward Eager, the Adventure books of Enid Blyton: Castle of Adventure, River of Adventure, Island of Adventure, Sea of Adventure, Valley of Adventure, and so many more.

We kept returning to our favorites, but each favorite was initially discovered purely by chance. We found the Shoes books, for example, because one of us opened up Skating Shoes and found it had a character named Aunt Claudia. There aren't very many books about Claudias (The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is another). We poked into our first Adventure book and loved it for its British expressions: the children eat "tinned pineapple" and carry "torches" - it was only much later in life that we realized they really just eat canned pineapple and carry flashlights.

We loved the Adventure books so much that for these books alone, we decided it was unfair for either one of us to read a new Adventure book first. So we would sit side by side, in the shade of a big backyard tree, each holding one edge of the book, as we read silently. Because I am the older sister, and could read a tiny bit faster, I remember pausing at the end of each double-spread for her to be ready to turn the page.

Now we are all grown up, and my sister and her husband own a bookstore in the charming town of Nashville, Indiana: Fallen Leaf Books. The store carries new titles, but plenty of used titles as well, which my sister and I prefer. We want to read these books of our childhood in discarded library copies with the reinforced binding; we want that childhood experience repeated in every sweet detail.

Now for Christmas, when I open my presents from my sister, I often gasp with pleasure at finding a treasure that she alone knows I would cherish. Could it be... Circus of Adventure? Or Movie Shoes? Why, yet it could!

How lucky we were to have had a childhood spent reading together.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

What Should a Book's Title do? By Michele Weber Hurwitz

Sometimes, coming up with the perfect title for your book can be a frustrating experience for authors and editors. How to capture the essence of the book in just a few short words? How to make it stand out? How to find just the right tone and impression?

A book's title should do three important things: it should be unique, be memorable, and provide insight to the story.

It's becoming more difficult to choose a title that hasn't been done before, but you and your editor should aim to come up with something that is uniquely personal to your book. Second, choose a title that readers and prospective readers will instantly remember. Nothing's worse than a reader who loved your book and wants to tell a friend, but can't remember the title. The title needs to be something that easily comes to mind when searching for the book online or at a bookstore.

Perhaps most important, give readers a glimpse of what they can expect from your novel. A good title begs readers to open the cover.

Simple, one-word titles often work in middle grade, such as Pax or Crenshaw or Holes. In fact, I think Holes is an amazing title because it works on several levels for the story. Longer titles are also used in middle grade and can draw readers in too, such as with my second book, The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days. Or, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, which is such a funny and spot-on title.

When you're trying to come up with the perfect title, ask yourself some important questions, such as WHO is the book about? Many titles are just that, such as Flora & Ulysses, or The One and Only Ivan.

WHAT is the novel about? The Hunger Games, or The Crossover, or Brown Girl Dreaming, which is a lovely mix of who and what.

Also consider WHEN and WHERE your novel takes place, and that may give insight to the perfect title, like One Crazy Summer and Beyond the Bright Sea.

Often, titles are pulled from a line of dialogue or illustrate an overall theme of the book, such as Wonder and Esperanza Rising.

Last tip is to think of your title as a mini Haiku poem with a flow of syllables and a few words. It can be alliterative, action paced, mysterious, or descriptive, like The Girl Who Drank the Moon, or Inside Out and Back Again, or Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.

I've found that I spend weeks fretting over the title and then something just comes when I'm not even thinking about it. For my next book, coming in spring 2020, my editor came up with a variation of the title while she was walking her dog, emailed me, and we tweaked it slightly to give it just the perfect ring.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of four middle grade novels from Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. Find her online at

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Title by Any Other Name

I’ve enjoyed reading how everyone at SMACK DAB comes up with titles for their books. Some writers I know can’t write the book without coming up with a “working title”. While everyone agrees it’s an important marketing decision, there’s no consensus on the perfect way to create an attention grabbing, memorable, informative title. In searching for some resources to share, in hopes of finding the perfect tactic, I discovered many articles on writing a title, supporting a vast array of advice, from the trite (go with your gut!) to the complex (it’s like writing a poem). Ultimately, I discovered there’s no real code to the process, and what worked for one author, or book, may not work for another author, or book.

Some titles are sentences or snippets of dialogue. (Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng; I Know What You Did Last Summer, by Lois Duncan)

Some titles are poetic. (The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman; The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera; One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez).

Some titles are punny wordplays. (A Rogue Not Taken, by Sarah McLean; The Toyminator, by Robert Rankin; Cockatiels at Seven, by Donna Andrews; No Use Dying Over Spilled Milk, by Tamar Myers).

Some titles are more direct, and informative. (Girls of Gettysburg, by Bobbi Miller; Pandemic, by Yvonne Ventresca).

There’s a lot of titles with Girls in the title, such as my own Girls of Gettysburg. But let’s not forget The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Cat Valente; Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and its sequels The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson; The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank; Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier; Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli; Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson; Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell; Blueberry Girl, by Neil Gaiman; Strawberry Girl, by Lois Lenski; Kiss The Girls, by James Patterson; All-American Girl, by Meg Cabot; The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Heidi W. Durrow.

There’s a few with Boys in the title, too. Including The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis; The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne; About a Boy, by Nick Hornby; Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder; Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman; The Boy Next Door, by Meg Cabot; The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman; The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvator; The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba; Roller Boy, by Marcia Strykowski.

Some of my favorite titles include a combination of poetic punny wordplay.  Something Wicked This Way Comes, By Ray Bradbury; The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, by Leslea Newman; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith, as well as his Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter; Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi Barrett; To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; and Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants, by Dav Pilkey (I mean, really, that one is the bestest title ever!).

What do you think of these titles? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams; Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt; The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky; The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler; and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst.

What are some of your favorite titles?

-- Bobbi "I Have No Idea What Makes a Good Title" Miller

Monday, May 13, 2019

Catch Me If You Can, by Chris Tebbetts

This image is a slide from a presentation I gave a few years ago, where I was asked to speak  about the influences that made me a writer. And, predictably enough, one of the first things that came to mind on that topic was the kind of reader I was as a kid. Which is to say, a voracious one. On any given day, I was known to have been found in any number locations around the house with my nose stuck in one book or another. 

Besides the predictable spots (in my room, on the couch, etc.) I also had something called The Chris Club when I was maybe ten years old. I was its sole member—president, vice president, secretary and treasurer—and the entire agenda of the “club” was to hang out in our little clubhouse-sized walk-in storage closet and read as much as possible.  

Another favorite reading spot was under the dining room table. I’m not even sure why, except that with the chairs all pushed in, it gave me a sense of hiding out in plain sight that somehow appealed to me. I’ve always been comfortable with solitude, which is another part of what makes writing a good gig for me, and I didn’t become a social creature until middle school. So, during those early middle grade years, I was just fine on my own, as long as I had something to read.

I even had my own version of a treehouse—well, something short of a “house,” but my dad did nail a board to a sturdy branch in the largest tree in our backyard for me, and that was enough. During the warmer months when my mom was more likely to shoo me outside, I’d frequently climb up into that tree with a book and lounge there on that piece of plywood like some kind of outdoor couch for long stretches of time.

I only wish I read as much and as enthusiastically today as I did back then. I mean, don’t get me a wrong. I love a good book. But those middle grade years were like book magic for me, and if anyone wanted to go back in time to catch me reading, that’s exactly where I’d send them.  

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Rose By Any Other Name...Might Be Better.

For this month’s TITLE TALK theme, I took an informal survey of fellow children’s book authors asking them if their original titles were the ones used on the published book. I was surprised that most were able to keep their titles at publication. Those that ended up with different titles decided they were better choices for the book. Only one hated the final title chosen.

In my case, BOTH my middle grade historicals ended up with different titles than I’d started with. When I submitted the manuscript for WHEELS OF CHANGE, it had the title THE CARRIAGE MAKER’S DAUGHTER, which is what the story is about. But, the editor thought we would be in danger of excluding boys from reading the book with that title. Boys and girls love the book, so the editor was spot on for that choice.

My soon-to-be-published second historical had the working title of FISH, WISH, AND OTHER FOUR LETTER WORDS.  This was the title I woke up from a dream with and it helped guide me through the poems that make up this novel-in-verse. Many of the entries were indeed four letter words.  But, we all know that kids would see that title and come up with all the WRONG four-letter words!  So, it was no surprise that the tile was changed, and is now WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY.

For those of us who lament and wonder why our editors seem to want to change titles, take heart.  Be thankful that someone is looking out for you and wants your book to be well received. That isn’t always the case as you can see in these awful titles of actual children’s books:

Here is a link to the Worst Book Titles Ever.

Do you agree?  I’ll let you decide. Makes me grateful that the changes editors have made for most of the children’s books out in the world are for the better.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Me, Caught? Constantly!

by Jody Feldman

Me, circa 5th grade, in my favorite reading chair;
surprisingly, without a book.

When I was in school, especially in 4th - 7th grades, you’d rarely catch me without a book. Sure, I read before 4th grade--more than your average kid. Certainly I've kept reading since. It was those four years, however, that my reading memories are the strongest.

What did I read? I wish I had a list.* I do know I read all (or nearly all) of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series. I read The Secret Garden, Harriet the Spy, and the Encyclopedia Brown books. I spent too long poring over the Scholastic book orders to cull my purchase list to however many my parents could afford, which was always too few. I remember constant trips to the library. I remember nearly memorizing the backs of cereal boxes and reading every possible sign on road trips.

Not once, however, do I remember my parents telling me to stop reading. Maybe I was sensitive enough that I self-regulated in appropriate situations. Or maybe not. Maybe my parents understood the value of reading which they, themselves, continued the rest of their lives.

Even back then, during those four years of intensive reading, I could discern a well-written book from one that felt slapped together. I could appreciate the rhythm and flow of words and ideas. I could tell a satisfying ending from one that left me wanting.

I’m so grateful I had the parents I did, the ones who never, ever told me to put down a book. They didn’t know it at the time; neither did I. But when I was reading, I was also learning to write.

*When I visit schools, I often encourage students
to keep a running list of books they've read
to look back on when they're older.