Wal-Mart’s dog food was once called Wal-Mart Dog Food. Customers ignored it. Then Wal-Mart’s marketing folks retitled it Ol’Roy, after Sam Walton’s favorite dog. It’s now among America’s best selling brands, despite that it gets extremely low grades from consumer advocacy websites.
The content didn’t change. What drew customers? The title. You can use this principle to sell your work to an editor—then interest a reader.
Meet a need
I’ll bet the title to this article caught your attention. Why? Getting an editor’s eye is important to you.
Ol’ Roy recalls our best-loved moments with our own pets, lends a feel of familiarity, and evokes loyalty. Book titles such as Jane Orcutt’s Lullaby or Deborah Raney’s A Vow to Cherish induce emotion.
Use five words or fewer. For every rule, however, there is the rare call to break it. A few years ago, CWG apprentice Jacki Christopher wrote the compelling, The Girl Who Got A Lot of Good Things She Really Didn’t Deserve. The title’s unusual nature and length drew me in.
Play a cliché
This is one place where a cliché is okay. It’s shorthand between you and your reader for common experiences. Kristin Billerbeck’s Calm, Cool, and Adjusted is about a chiropractor. CWG apprentice Lydia Pate wrote an article entitled “A Bad Hair Day,” about her sister’s struggle with cancer.
Make Me Smile
Promise a light moment and I’ll likely take a look. Patsy Clairmont’s books God Uses Cracked Pots and Normal is Just a Setting on Your Dryer are good examples.
Hint at the Topic
CWG student Elfie Rosario submitted an article with the title, “Virtuous Reality.” In two words I knew what it was about: Christians standing against impurity.
As Wal-Mart learned with Ol’ Roy’s kibble, your title is your first chance to draw in an editor, then engage your reader—no bones about it.
Author Sandra Byrd serves as a mentor for the Guild’s Craftsman Fiction course. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.
Photo credit: jamesbarker