A Room Without Windows: Horace Mann

“A house without books is like a room without windows.”

Horace Mann

I feel a special connection with Mann since he served as the first president of my alma mater, Antioch College.

Antioch College seal.png

Windows serve two functions:

  • To let in light.
  • To allow us to see out.

Antioch filled those roles for me wonderfully.

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.