I recently attended a session at the New England SCBWI conference during which the presenter, speaking about catching an editor’s or agent’s eye with your book, asked the audience to think of a book we love. Then she asked us to think of a book we love enough to read 15 times. That is (approximately) how many times an editor has to read a book on the road to publication.
She was speaking primarily about novels, but as picture book writers we have to remember that not only will an editor have to read our words many times over, but parents will probably have to read them many more times than that. Raise your hand if you can recite The Very Hungry Caterpillar by heart. (Me! Me! Me!)
Section 4 of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul is entitled “Language of Your Story,” with good reason. Picture books are meant to be read aloud, and read repeatedly — both excellent reasons to make sure that our words are as poetic, beautiful, and easy-to-read as we can make them.
True confessions: I did not have time this past month to do all of the exercises she recommended in this section. But the next time I am revising I do plan to go back and work through some of them, especially the checklist of techniques for slashing word count in Chapter 15.
For now, I will plow ahead into the next section, which consists of only two chapters.
Chapter 16 is called “Grabbing the Reader with a Great Title.” Boy, do I need this chapter! My usual MO with titles is I think of some working title for my manuscript when I start it. That remains the title until someone in one of my critique groups gently suggests that the title really could be stronger and maybe no longer has anything to do with the story. At which point, I’m stuck because now I’m kind of attached to my old title.
In Chapter 16, Ann Whitford Paul outlines all the things a good title should accomplish. It must be:
- express the mood of the book
- hint at what the book is about
- not give away the ending
- create surprise
- give the illustrator an idea for the cover
- child can easily say it out loud
- include the mc’s name (but doesn’t have to)
That last one is an important point. I do find that I’m more drawn to titles that include a name. I’m not sure why. Maybe it helps me to start to feel a connection with the character before even opening the book.
Just out of curiousity, I looked up the list of picture book titles listed in Candlewick’s fall 2013 catalog (one of my favorite publishers). These have presumably been through some sort of vetting process and deemed “good.” It was interesting to look at the list and see how well these titles achieve the items on the checklist above.
Candlewick – Fall 2013 picture books
Jazzy in the Jungle
Peck, Peck, Peck
My Blue Is Happy
Ike’s Incredible Ink
Digger, Dozer, Dumper
Maude: The Not-So-Noticeable Shrimpton
My Dream Playground
Little Owl Lost
See What a Seal Can Do
Most of these are strong titles, but the ones with most appeal to me are Digger, Dozer, Dumper (I’m a sucker for alliteration) and Little Owl Lost (for the mystery factor). What about you? What are some of your favorite titles, and why?