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A Fighting Lion: Exercises in Awesome Titles

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Bar none, the best tool in your author toolbox is a title. Not some suck-ass combination of words culled from your manuscript, supposedly embodying some perceived theme, but a real, hair-on-your-balls statement of bad-assery. Hemingway knew it; Faulkner knew it; and goddamnit, now you know it. Maybe you question that assessment though, and right you should. The second-best tool in your author toolbox is cynicism (oddly, the third best tool is jackal semen). So who am I to tell you that a title is the most wonderful weapon you can wield in the wily war of wagered words? Only Jeff Klima, author of a little book called The Dead Janitors Club. That blows the dust right off your libido, doesn't it? A title like that gets its own groupies, pawns the fatties off on me... and I'm grateful for it.

So how do you get your own sweet title -- one that sends your book from the rejection pile to the bestseller list? Keep reading, and I'll give you the metaphorical keys to the literal printing press.

Firstly, don't let your title have anything to do with the content of your book. Say you write a "refreshingly frank tell-all about your zany, dysfunctional family and their attempts to reunite in the wake of your mother's funeral." Your natural predilection would be to title this book something powerful, pithy, or punny; depending on which role you played in the family. Such titles might include: "My Mother, My Savior;" "Family of the Damned: A Zany, Dysfunctional Families' Attempt to Reunite in the Wake of Their Mother's Death;" or, "A-wake to Re-member." All of these are terrible, and quite possibly could be real. Now, the obvious instinct when confronted with this information is to go screaming in the other direction and title your manuscript something esoteric and New Yorkish hipster dipshit like, "Capricorn." This is also wrong (though less wrong than My Mother, My Savior). No, find some middle ground, but in the spirit of Faulkner, Hemingway, or Klima, blaze some new earth. Don't be constrained by gravity. Thomas Pynchon wasn't -- he named his book Gravity's Rainbow, which is the literary equivalent of pissing boldly on coherence. Instead, your book should have a title like, "Alabaster Johnny and the Sagebrush Thrust"... hmm, somehow I managed to outdipshit the New Yorkish hipsters on that one... okay, try this instead: "The Shepherd's Whistle." Ooh. See how pleased I am with that one? It sounds tough, sounds like it might be relevant (but isn't, unless your zany family is a tribe of Afghani goat-raisers who believe in the redemptive power of a woodwind instrument), and beats anything you got to hell. Now, now, don't take the time to think of something more powerful (you can't), for we have much to accomplish and not much room with which to accomplish it.

Next up: stay the hell away from subtitles. I know you think that your story needs a cover-based explanation to help convey to the feebs in the local bookstore that your family really is, "All that and a bag of chips," but what you are doing, really, is convincing the New Yorkish cultural elite that you have all the cajones of a Ms. Potato Head (and not the Eastern Russian Ms. Potato Head either). Let your powerful title stand on its giant literary cock.

Lastly, and this one is the most important: let your book BE. No, that isn't a lame acronym for "Bring Enjoyment," rather, it means, quite simply, that your book should seem as if it is the almighty truth, and singular bringer of frothy ideas. THE Da Vinci Code, THE Wind in THE Willows, THE Bible -- these are all brilliant works of literary fiction that seem to stand alone atop the heap that is their respective subject matter. Can you name another book about the zany adventures of a driving toad? You feel like you can, but you can't. Why? Because The Wind in the Willows captured the cultural zeitgeist, that's why. It handily cornered the market on mad toad adventure tales. Sure it took two "The's" to do it, but it shellacked the shit out of whoever came before or after it in that particular milieu. And did you notice how that book had everything to do with awesomeness, and nothing to do with "wind" or "willows"? Your honor, I rest my case.