Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Getting Past the Cover Art

Billy the Kid (1860 – 1881).
If I was inclined take advice offered by the professionals, I'd entitle this piece "How to create a good title." That's where I'd have to stop, however, because the hardest thing for me about writing is coming up with an interesting title in the first place. Ordinarily, you'd think the topic would be the determining factor, but not necessarily. In the book publishing business, with the exception of academic works like mine, author titles are rarely seen in print. Usually the publisher makes the final decision.

My problem is complicated by the fact that I tend to write using the Nike philosophy, i.e. just do it, and then try to figure out what to call an essay after it's finished. Interestingly, even in a small venue such as this, a well-crafted title is more important than content, when it comes to attracting readers. Good content keeps them coming back, but they won't stop by at all if the title doesn't grab their attention. Ironically, some days I think I've got a winner and my visitors counter indicates everyone is at the beach, reading Michael Palmer's new novel (The Last Surgeon). Other days I think I've blown it completely and readers are lined out the door.

Ideally, blog post titles incorporate key words or a phrase within the body of the essay so web search engines can pick them up more easily. I don't understand how that works, but it's what the Google people tell me, so I assume they know what they're talking about. Suiting the needs of the techno geeks, however, doesn't necessarily mean a title will be intriguing, particularly when content leans more toward the creative side of the spectrum. So, this explains why, every now and then, you may expect one thing from me and get another.

People are like that, too. Men with names like John and Bill, we're told by those who know such things, are considered solid, grounded, and dependable. If there's any truth in that, John Denver and I lucked out, big time. Then again, there's John Wilkes Booth and William Bonnie (Billy the Kid), so names guarantee nothing. What ultimately counts is content, and with people as well as literature, that means getting past the cover art, however appealing it may be.

(Public Domain image of Billy the Kid via Wikipedia)

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