On Choosing a Book Title: Beware the Spider

I just registered the ISBNs and obtained the Library of Congress Control Number for my new Black Orchid Chronicles adventure: Beware the Spider.

Beware sign

This is the second installment of an intended trilogy that started last year with The Mark of the Spider.

Regular readers know I sent the 420-page manuscript out to beta readers two weeks ago; they have another two weeks to read and send back feedback.

I also dispatched the cover design specs to the fantastic team at Damonza.com.

These are all big deals for several reasons, the most critical being that I decided on a title.

That’s right. Without the title, none of those other steps — ISBNs, LCCN and design specs — could have taken place. I can send the manuscript out without a title, or with any title, but the project does not move toward publication without the FINAL title attached.

Problems in Title Land

Initially, going back as far as August 2018, I expected the title of the new book to be Flight of the Spider. It says so right there on the back cover of The Mark of the Spider.

As I got closer to taking those decisive steps mentioned above, I wavered. The title, which had sounded so good, reverberated less clearly.

In my mind, The Mark of the Spider would be followed by Flight of the Spider (no initial The) and then The Blood of the Spider. Same naming convention throughout except I didn’t really like the sound of THE Flight, etc. So I deleted it.

That got me thinking that Spiders don’t really fly, which was never the point. The point was that the spider was fleeing. But that didn’t come through on first glance, and I understand (as an addicted reader) that readers don’t give book titles or covers a second glance. It’s one and done.

So trash the whole notion of Flight of the Spider. What then?

Beware the Spider is a more complex story than The Mark of the Spider. It is full of deceit and duplicity and appearances that are not real. How to convey that? Deceit of the Spider? Not only a mouthful, it’s a snoozer. And all of the variants I tried suffered from the same afflictions.

Inspiration struck and saved me. The Spider’s Web. That’s more like it. It takes off the spider idea and weaving complex webs. Webs can be full of intrigue. Seemed perfect.

Until I checked Amazon to see if another author had used the title. And, yes, several had. Including one who ranks among the top 20 sellers of thrillers.

I tried an entirely different direction. Empaya Iba, the spider demon of the Black Orchid Chronicles, uses the protagonist, nature photographer Sebastian Arnett, to do his bidding. Aha. The Spider’s Dupe. The Spider’s Surrogate. The Spider’s Proxy. The Spider’s Stand-in.

Reaction from the people I rely on day-in and day-out for all kinds of feedback — my wife, my son and my writing buddy, Ken Lawrence — was universal: Meh.

Ken said, and I quote:

Pick a title that carries the evil of the spider.

Among the titles he suggested was Beware the Spider. And there you have it.

Lessons Learned: Titling a Book

Some of this I knew going in, but a few of these are new knowledge:

  • Make your title appropriate to the subject and theme of the book. As Ken reminded me, make the spider evil.
  • Check Amazon or the Library of Congress catalog to see if someone else has used the title. Titles cannot be copyrighted, but who wants to put out a book with the same name as a book that already exists and that may have an audience?
  • Examine variants of your theme. The Mark of the Spider vs. The Spider’s Mark, or even Spider’s Mark. Which one reads better? (Spider’s Mark reads really well, but see the next point.)
  • Speak the title. This goes back to the point immediately above. If you’re telling someone the title, does it trip off the tongue or does it tie up the tongue? (The Mark of the Spider sounds better to me.)
  • Get feedback from readers. If people hold their noses, you have some valuable feedback.

The Mark of the Spider, Book 1 of the Black Orchid Chronicles, is available in digital and trade paperback (5.5 x 8.5″, 334 pp.) formats at these fine booksellers.
Buy the paperback and get the ebook FREE.

Beta Readers: What’s the Point?

As I get ready to ship out version 1.4 of the rewrite of Flight of the Spider: Book 2 of the Black Orchid Chronicles, to beta readers, I’m reminded again of the value of these early readers.

What’s a beta reader? You ask.

It’s someone who agrees to read your unpublished manuscript and provide an opinion about the work as a whole and comment (briefly) on things that worked and didn’t worked. Quite frankly, the comments about what doesn’t work are more valuable to me than anything else.

If I don’t realize something is broken, I can’t fix it.

And believe me, the manuscript beta readers get is far different from the first, second or even third version. Most, but not all, of the characters have survived. About 75% of the action is the same.

Much else is completely different. In the latest rewrite of The Flight of the Spider, I deleted 98 pages of material and wrote 100 pages of new material in a manuscript that comes in at about 420 pages.

Two other thoughts about betas:

  1. They are getting a manuscript I think is ready to publish. In my mind, there are no more rewrites — unless, of course, the beta readers say it’s necessary.
  2. Beta readers are not writers or editors: They are READERS. I want their opinion as readers.

What I Ask of Beta Readers

The point of a beta reader is to perform a reality check. Is this really a story? Are the characters interesting? Do they do interesting things? Does the ending justify the beginning and middle?

Here’s what I want to know:

(These are literally the questions I send to beta readers.)

  • questionsDid you enjoy the book? Why? Why not?
  • What part or parts bored you?
    • Was there any part you would condense or delete?
    • Was there any part you wanted more of, or greater detail?
  • Was there anything that confused or frustrated you?
  • Were the characters believable?
    • Could you relate to the main character?
    •  Did you have a favorite character? Who? Why?
    • Did you find Empaya Iba frightening, scary or evil in any way?
  • Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, or other details?
  • Was the ending satisfying? Believable?
  • Did anything offend you?
  • What would you change?
  • Would you recommend the book to a friend? If not, why not?

Flight of the Spider should make its appearance in late spring or early summer. Watch this space.

If you would like to be a beta reader for Book 3 of the Black Orchid Chronicles, tentatively entitled Spider’s Revenge, drop me a line using my contact page.


Reviewer Can’t Wait for Sequel

Jane Cairns, the person behind the Mystery Reviews + Writing blog, reviewed The Mark of the Spider, Book 1 of the Black Orchid Chronicles.

Screen Shot 2019-02-01 at 2.10.06 PM

She calls it ” a good beginning to this supernatural series” and says:

I look forward to reading the second installment and learning the ongoing fate of Arnett, Campion and T.

You can read the entire review here.

Progress on the Sequel

The rewrite of Flight of the Spider: Book 2 of the Black Orchid Chronicles is almost done, despite accidentally destroying the manuscript once and discovering 10 pages of material I intended to remove still survived.

I’ve deleted 98 pages of material, dropping the word count from about 76,500 to around 73,000.

That translates into rewriting about 100 pages of the original.

I promised to deliver the completed manuscript to beta reviewers on Feb. 1. Yeah, I didn’t make that deadline. It’s looking more like mid-February. (More on the value of beta readers later.)

Once I hear back from the betas — they get four weeks to read and report — I’ll know when it will be ready to publish.

BTW, I’ve already written 200 pages on Book 3 of the Black Orchid Chronicles, tentatively entitled “Spider’s Revenge.”