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From Good Title to GREAT with Natalie C. Markey (Plus drawing on Writing Moms class!)

By Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist at Pitch U

Sometimes a Title Just Wants to Zing

This is first in a series on amping up your titles and taglines. 

So many writers go off into left-field with fancy/ obscure/generic / cryptic titles that have great meaning personally, but don’t translate well with their audience.

Diane’s Motto:  Titles (and taglines) are gifts to your audience.  You create them so the audience will be delighted that you thought of them and wrote this fabulous book (or class, or whatever).  Titles are the shortcut to “Wow!  I want that.”

If you’ve been following Pitch U for a while, you’ve probably run across my advice that a plain pitch that is accurate is FAR better than an over-written, “hooky” pitch that actually doesn’t match your book.

So, plain is good.  Plain lets your book stand on its real merits.  Plain says that you trust your story to be interesting enough to capture reader attention without gluing rhinestones all over it. 

Titles, same thing, okay?  Good.

But we all know there are titles and pitches and marketing whatnots that ZING.  These titles are head and shoulders above the rest.  They’re accurate and Fan-freaking-tabulous.

When you hear them, you stop and WANT that product.  Or at least, you want to know more.

So, how do you do that?

Let’s explore several ways to take a good title and make it ZING.

Meet Our Lovely and Talented Guinea Pig

Writing Moms: How to do it all without losing your mind Welcome back Natalie Markey, Pitch U Alumni and instructor of a new, online writing class for all you Mom’s out there who are having to juggle it all.  (Starts October, 2011, $20.00)

You’ll remember Natalie from the Case Study I wrote with her, plus her post Finding Luck in Unforeseen Pitches (and Dogs), which talk about pitching her book to Bob Mayer… accidentally.

Yup, she sold that book, Caring For Your Special Needs Dog, to Bob’s publishing company, Who Dares Wins Publishing.

winner-illustration1 Natalie (sweetheart that she is) will award FREE ENROLLMENT to one commenter (in this post or any in this series).  Thanks, Natalie!

Getting to ZING

So, how do you find a title, phrase, and shorthand that kicks ass, grabs immediate attention, and make the whole thing sing?  What we're looking for is a ZINGER.  That magical thing that sells people without any explanation.  Or at the very least captures you attention so fully you have to find out more.

So, let's look at the title of Natalie’s class.

Writing Moms: How to do it all without losing your mind.

It is accurate and does a good job of saying what the course is about. 

But it's not a 100% zing title.  So, let's look at some seriously cool ways to experiment with possible zingers.

Play On Familiar Titles (Ex: What to Expect When You're Writing)

There are a number of examples of great titles springing to life by taking on the pattern or reference to a bestseller. 

For example:

  • The Tao of Pooh
  • The Tao of Dating
  • The Tao of Twitter
  • The Tao of Physics
  • The Tao of Leadership

I’ve asked Natalie to play around with this concept, and here’s what she came up with….

Natalie’s Lists.

From books:
What to Expect When You're Writing
The Baby Code (The Davinci Code)
In Baby's Time (In My Time by Dick Cheney)
The Diary of a Writing Mom
The Writing Games
Game of Highchairs (Game of Thrones)

From the movies:
The Devil Wears Burp Rags
Inglorious Babies
Million Drafts Baby
Butch Cassidy and the Writer's Kid
How to Train Your Baby
While You Were Writing
Mother's of the Manuscript: The Curse of the Non-Napping Baby
Children of the Word

Advertising slogans:
Baby- She's everywhere you don't want her to be (based off VISA)
Nothing runs like a baby (Deere)

Can't Buy Me Time (Can't Buy Me Love)
Don't Spit up on my Novel (Don't Rain on My Parade)
Luck be A Baby (Luck be A Lady)
Baby Story (Love Story)
Help! (Help! -This one probably doesn't need to be rewritten, the Beatles knew what they were doing!)
Carter's Girl (Material Girl)

Time to Evaluate Your Lists

  • How well do these titles communicate your message to your audience?
  • How well do they showcase what is being offered (in this case it’s a problem and solution)?
  • How well do you get across your tone, genre, style, and voice?
  • What do you think really zings?  Hey, zinging is a gut thing.  Ask your gut some questions.

Natalie’s response: Of all of these I love 'Diary of a Writing Mom' best from the 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' idea.

First of all, I have not read those books but I believe most people have heard of them because of their popularity. But the word diary really does convey what this course is about accurately. It is a self-study. This is a month long journey to finding what works best for you as a writing mom.

This would be a great promotional zinger and communicates the message well.  The other titles were fun and funny but didn't always promote the right message though I still love Game of Highchairs! 'When Writer Met Baby is also good because in that movie their lives changed just as a writer's life changes when a baby comes, just in a much different way.


But we’re not done.  This was just one exercise in finding alternative titles to consider.  So, next up, Natalie will be exploring the next two techniques:

      • Archetypes, Myths, and Patterns and story types. (Warrior Writer Mom)
      • Popular Culture for $300. (If Richard Castle Had to Breastfeed it would be a Different Show)

ADD YOUR COMMENTS to be eligible for Natalie’s drawing!


Natalie C. Markey

Follow me on Twitter @NatalieCMarkey and @TMIexaminer

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