Category Archives: LonTobyn Chronicle

Writing Tip Wednesday: I Suck At Titles, So Let Me Offer Some Advice…

I suck at titles. Or at least I think of myself as sucking at titles. It turns out, though, that many of my colleagues think that they suck at titles, too, and I’ve always kind of admired their titles. Which either means A) that all of us just THINK we suck at titles, or B) I REALLY suck at titles, so much that I can’t even judge the quality of other people’s titles.

For the purposes of this post, let’s go with option A.

The other day I asked the folks in my Facebook group (the David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson Facebook Group – you can join here) to suggest possible topics for the Writing Tip Wednesday feature on my blog. I will be taking suggestions for as long as you all want to offer them, so again, if you want to join the group, the link is here. (Too much?)

People responded with several suggestions (finding agents, marshaling ideas into a coherent story, using a pseudonym – all of these sound good to me and all of them will eventually work their way into posts), but one that seemed to get some traction related to coming up with titles for novels and short stories.

I found this somewhat amusing, because I suck at titles. Or at least I think of myself as sucking at titles. It turns out, though, that many of my colleagues think that they suck at titles, too, and I’ve always kind of admired their titles. Which either means A) that all of us just THINK we suck at titles, or B) I REALLY suck at titles, so much that I can’t even judge the quality of other people’s titles.

For the purposes of this post, let’s go with option A.

I tend to think that titling a novel and titling a short story are quite different. For one thing, with a novel we have more to work with. To my mind, it’s just easier to find the right turn of phrase for a 100,000 word project, than it is for one that’s only, say, 6,000 words. More, quite often our novels are connected to a series of books, and together the franchise can yield an effective title pattern. (The Harry Potter books are an obvious example.) Short story titles can be more difficult.

So allow me to begin with a couple of basics.

A title, whether for a novel or a shorter piece, should be as simple as possible. It should be memorable, or if not, at least easy to remember (and those are two separate things). It should tell the reader something about the story, but not so much that it either gives away key information or depends on the reader understanding details he or she can’t possibly know. Keep your titles short, avoid words or phrases that are unique to your made-up world or that are likely to be unfamiliar. Obviously there are exceptions to this. (My very first book was called Children of Amarid, which turned out to be a crappy title, because, A) no one knew who Amarid was, and B) everyone assumed (incorrectly) that it was a book for kids. And yet the book did well commercially and critically. So, what the hell do I know?

The Hunger Games is a great title for a book, particularly for the first in a franchise. Simple words that are put together in a way that is both intriguing and memorable. The title captures the essence of the book, introducing a fundamental element of the plotting that will remain central throughout the entire series.

I believe my best titles were those I used in the Thieftaker series. I knew I was writing a sequence of books and I knew as well that I was introducing many readers to a profession that was somewhat different for our genre. And so calling the first book Thieftaker allowed me to present the series concept right out of the gate, kind of like a musical act titling their first album eponymously. For the second book, since I was still building series momentum, I wanted a title that related back to the first in some way. And since I had Ethan both hunting for a thief and being hunted by one, I went with Thieves’ Quarry.

By the time I was working on book 3, I thought another “Thief” title would feel hokey, and so was ready to go with something different. My first choice, City of Shades, was TERRIBLE. Shades is another word for ghosts, and, yes, ghosts figure prominently in the story, but still… Yuck. Then I started thinking about my villain, who was a sea captain, almost a pirate. When the final title, A Plunder of Souls, came to me, I knew I had a winner. Again, simple words – unlike “shades” there is no word there that can be misinterpreted. But the words were memorable, evocative, and unusual, especially taken together. Same with the fourth title, Dead Man’s Reach, which sounds ominous and atmospheric, but also evokes the image of a body of water (continuing the nautical theme).

When I work on short story titles, of course, I don’t have to worry as much about a franchise. Yes, I write stories in universes first created in novels (Thieftaker, Fearsson, Islevale) but we don’t market short fiction the same way. Which means that those guidelines I mentioned earlier are even more important for short story titles: keep them simple, make them easy to remember, make them relevant to the story, and avoid words and phrases that are likely to trip up readers. For instance, a couple of years ago I wrote a Thieftaker story for the Razor’s Edge anthology. The story had intrigue, a historical battle, magic, and a villain, a woman who could conjure and who wears a green gown. I could have named the story any number of things, but I went with simple: “The Woman in Green.” She is key to the story, the title is easy to recall and not at all confusing, and there is, to my mind, something slightly mysterious about presenting her in that way.

A few more things to remember about titles. First, they can’t be copyrighted. You can use a title that you have seen elsewhere, and someone can use your title if it fits their story. This also means that there is no harm in using a memorable phrase, say from a nursery rhyme or idiom, as a title. Plenty of people do. (I’ve long thought James Patterson’s use of “Along came a spider” was brilliant.) That said, once I find a title, I do an Amazon search, because though different works can have the same titles, I prefer to have as few duplicates with my titles as possible, and I really don’t want to name my book after something that has been released in the last year or two. Also, keep in mind the genre you’re writing in. If you’re writing an epic fantasy, you might want to avoid titles that sound like science fiction. If you’re writing military SF, you probably don’t want to use a title that sounds like a Regency romance. (Although, as with everything else, there are exceptions. Irony can be fun.) And finally, as with all “rules” about writing. There are as many exceptions to the rules as there are rules themselves. As I say, my very first book had what I would now consider a terrible title, and it did very well. For every Hunger Games or American Gods, there is a The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, and lots of them do just fine.

In the end you need a title that speaks to you, that captures what you were after as you wrote. Some of my titles (His Father’s Eyes, for instance) come to me in mere moments. Others, like A Plunder of Souls, I struggle with with months. Ask friends what they think of your title. Ask them what sort of book comes to mind when they hear it. And understand that in the end, a publisher might change your title. It’s never happened to me, but it does happen. Because ultimately titles are part of marketing, and many of us authors really, really suck at that…

Keep writing!

Quick-Tip Tuesday: Mapping Out the New Year

What can I say? I have a bit of an OCD streak. Okay, maybe even more than “a bit.”

But setting work goals and making up a work schedule for a new year is not just about me being the writing equivalent of Felix Unger (kids, ask your parents). I find that mapping out my professional year improves my chances of meeting whatever goals I might have for the coming months.

I have always been one to make New Year’s Resolutions and to set goals for the coming year as one wall calendar gives way to the next. Probably it’s the same impulse that leads me to outline most of my books, and to organize my book and CD collections alphabetically by artist. What can I say? I have a bit of an OCD streak. Okay, maybe even more than “a bit.”

But setting work goals and making up a work schedule for a new year is not just about me being the writing equivalent of Felix Unger (kids, ask your parents). I find that mapping out my professional year improves my chances of meeting whatever goals I might have for the coming months. Because at the root of the exercise is the creation of self-imposed deadlines, which, as I’ve mentioned previously, I treat as immutable, just as I would a deadline given to me by an editor. If I keep my deadlines realistic, and I commit myself to meeting them, I should have a productive year. And as writers, we really can’t ask for more than that.

So, that said, here are my goals for 2017:

1. I have just sent off to my agent the first book in an as-yet-uncontracted new series. I love the book and look forward to writing the rest of the series. My next step in working on this project is to write a synopsis of book 1 (which will help my agent place the book with a publisher) and to write as well brief descriptions of books 2 and 3.

1.a.  Once I’ve completed those preliminary steps, I want to dive in and write the second book. The first book took me a while and I have a feeling this second one will, too. I would guess that I’ll be writing the first draft of Book 2 through the end of April.

2. The next thing I have in mind to do is write a new Thieftaker novella about Ethan Kaille’s early life. (For those who are fans of the Thieftaker books, I plan to write the story of the Ruby Blade mutiny, which led to Ethan’s imprisonment.) I believe I can get this done in about 6 weeks, which will take me to mid-June. Once this is complete, I will gather all the Thieftaker short stories, of which there are about 8, and release them as a collection. I hope to see that in print by the end of the year.

3. Around mid-June I will also begin work on another new project that I’m undertaking with a couple of friends. We’re not yet ready to talk about this publicly, but essentially I will be writing a new novel of approximately 90,000 words. I should be able to have that written by the end of the summer.

4. During the summer, I will also begin editing for reissue the five books of my Winds of the Forelands series (originally released 2002-2007). As with my LonTobyn books, which I re-released in 2016 as Author’s Edits of the original books, I will be polishing and tightening the prose of these books without changing any of the plotting or character work. Since I’ll be working on item 3 at the same time — interspersing writing days with editing days — this will take me past the end of the summer and probably well into the fall.

5. Finally, I will also leave room in my schedule for the unexpected: editing work on the new project, assuming that we place it with a publisher some time during the year; short stories that I might be asked to write for anthologies or the like; travel for family stuff, or for conventions.

Those tasks should take me through much of 2017. If I can get all of that done — and I believe I can, meeting all of my self-assigned deadlines — I’ll consider it a successful year.

What about you? What are your professional plans for the coming year?

Another Stop on the Blog Tour

Overtelling, pointing out the already obvious, undermines our writing. In a sense, “Trust your reader” is another way of saying “Trust yourself.” Err on the side of telling too little. Let your story speak for itself. And if your Beta readers or your editors don’t understand something, they’ll let you know and you can bolster the narrative with a bit more exposition.

Today on the blog tour, I stop by to visit with the wonderful Melissa Gilbert. My post on Melissa’s site (The Enchanted Alley) is on things I’ve learned in my years as a professional writer. You can find the post here, along with more information about my LonTobyn Chronicle, which I have edited and re-released . I hope you enjoy the post, and I hope you’ll check out the books!

Two Stops on the Blog Tour!

I’m pushing myself to take all sorts of creative chances, following bolder storylines and developing exotic characters. I’m writing leaner, sparser, the way I wish I’d written the old books. In short, I’m trying to make this next project something that the younger me would think was totally cool and the older me sees as an expression of all I’ve learned through my career about writing and storytelling.

Today I’m pleased to direct you to two stops on the 2016 Fall Blog Tour (formerly known as the 2016 Summer/Fall Blog Tour). First, Bea’s Book Nook has (very positive) reviews up of the Author’s Edits of Children of Amarid and The Outlanders, the first two books in my LonTobyn Chronicle. You’ll also find excerpts from both books. You can see the reviews and excerpts here.

I also have a post up at the Beauty in Ruins blog spot. The title of the post is “A Creative Dialog with Myself,” and it’s about the challenges and rewards of going back to edit the LonTobyn series, which was my first published work. Visiting this site also gives you the opportunity to enter a contest to win copies of the books. You can find this post here.

 

Another Day, Another Post!

This bond allows them to draw on the power within the birds to heal, to do battle and protect themselves, and to cast a host of other spells. The birds themselves are characters in the stories, and to this day people who can’t remember any of the titles will talk to me about how much they loved the books by saying “You know: the ones with the hawks and owls.”

The blog tour continues today with a post at Book Whispers about the magic system in my LonTobyn Chronicle, which I am re-releasing this year in edited form. The magic for these books grows out of my lifelong interest in birds and my love of birds of prey: raptors and owls. You can find the post here.

The Author’s Edits of books one and two, Children of Amarid and The Outlanders, are now out and available in ebook and paper formats. And the ebook of Eagle-Sage, the final book in the trilogy, is now available as well. The paper version should be out soon.

New Post, Old Stop on the 2016 Blog Tour

I didn’t want to change anything with respect to plotting, character, world building, magic, setting, etc. Quite the opposite: I wanted to be faithful to the original story. The LonTobyn books had — and still have — a lot of fans, and I didn’t want to change things that those fans might remember fondly. My purpose in editing the books was to clean up the writing so that the other elements of the story could really shine.

The Outlanders, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)The 2016 Blog Tour has returned to the site of my friend, Ken Schrader, who has been kind enough to host me for another short interview. The last time I was with Ken, the Author’s Edit of Children of Amarid, the first book of my Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, had just come out. Now we’re marking the re-release of the second book, The Outlanders. This is also an Author’s Edit (think “Director’s Cut”) and this book, which has long been one of my favorites, reads better than ever. You can find the new interview here.

Eagle-Sage, book 3 of the LonTobyn Chronicle, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)And it’s worth noting that the third book in the series, Eagle-Sage, has just been released in ebook format. The paper edition should be out before long. That’s right, the whole series is available, and just in time for the holidays. Woot! Check them out. And thanks so much to Ken for welcoming me to his blog.

Inspiration, Knowledge, and Speculative Fiction: The Blog Tour Continues

Whether we write horror or science fiction, epic fantasy or paranormal romance, we who write in this genre seek innovative — at times fantastical — perspectives on the familiar. At its best, speculative fiction is a mirror through which we see our own world. The reflection is imperfect to be sure, but frequently more effective because of those distortions and variations.

The Summer/Fall 2016 Blog Tour rolls into FantasyLiterature.com today, with a post about the inspirations and loves that we bring to our writing. The post touches on the inspiration for my first series, the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which I am in the process of re-releasing. The Author’s Edit of Children of Amarid, the first volume, is out as an e-book and trade paperback. The second novel, The Outlanders, will be released within the next month, and Eagle-Sage, book III, should be out before year’s end.

This post is called “Writing What We Know (Or Not)” and you can find it here. I hope you enjoy it.

The Summer/Fall 2016 Blog Tour

Children of Amarid, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)Internet problems and other issues have kept me from updating, and so I have a couple of posts to tell you about today.

I have a post up at the blog of my friend Gail Z. Martin on my return to epic fantasy after so many years of writing urban fantasy. Gail is an epic fantasist who has also done UF as well, so it seemed natural to post about this on her site. I’m grateful to her for hosting me. You can find this post here.

You can also find a synopsis of the first book and information about purchasing the book and/or entering the giveaway for gift cards at Drey’s Library and at Joelle Reizes’s blog Slippery Words. Check them out!

Then and Now in Publishing: A New Blog Tour Post

Children of Amarid was first published in 1997, which is a really, really long time ago. The person who wrote that book must be, you know, old. Not “Rime-of-the-Ancient-Mariner” old, but at least venerable. Perhaps even vintage. Certainly grizzled.

I’m not sure I was ever the Hot New Thing in Fantasy, but if I was, I’m definitely not anymore, and haven’t been for a while. On the other hand, at this point I’m a Survivor, someone who’s Been Around Forever and Seen It All. And I suppose that’s kind of cool.

Today the Summer/Fall 2016 Blog Tour stops by the site of my wonderful friend and fabulous agent, Lucienne Diver. In my post, I use the recent release of the Author’s Edit of Children of Amarid, my first novel, as a jumping off point for a discussion of changes I’ve seen in publishing over the course of my nearly 20 years in the business.

You can find the post here. Please feel free to leave a comment or question. I’ll be checking in during the course of the day. Thanks!

On the Blog Tour: Visiting With Faith Hunter

I knew that I would need to revise the book before it could be published. Kind of the way I knew I would need to rotate the tires on my car at some point. I acknowledged it as part of the production of the novel, but I gave no thought to what it actually meant. Talk about rude awakenings.

Today the Summer/Fall 2016 Blog Tour stops by to visit with my friend, New York Times bestselling author Faith Hunter. My post is about the process of editing Children of Amarid and the other books of my LonTobyn Chronicle for reissue, and about all I learned when working on the original books, back when I was a writing newbie. I knew so little about publishing back then, and was confronted with some difficult lessons. But I emerged from the process stronger, smarter, and better equipped to pursue a career in the book business.

I hope you enjoy this post, which you can find here.