What's in a Name? part 3

 What's In a Name? part 3 on The Write Focus podcast

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 What’s In a Name?

Shakespeare claimed that names by any other word would smell as sweet, then he totally contradicted that statement in his play Romeo and Juliet.

Names matter. And names are important tools for writers.

We’re on to part 3 of our exploration on choosing names. This time we look at character names and titles of books and series.

What to do if you’re stumped on picking names? Maybe this episode can help.

Welcome to The Write Focus, a podcast for writers at all levels. Headed up by M.A. Lee from Writers Ink Books, with assistance from Remi Blank and Edie Roones. Our focus is productivity, process, craft, and tools. Resources along with the transcript of this and other episodes can be found on thewritefocus.blogspot.com. Write to us at winkbooks@aol.com.

So, two episodes ago we burbled about three tips for choosing names as well as the brainstorming techniques and the considerations necessary when selecting names used by creatives. That’s part 1 of What’s In a Name? In the previous episode, part 2 of What’s in a Name?, our burbling covered pen names. Pen names are very important. They create the author brand that helps readers find our books.

Now we’ve reached part 3 of What’s in a Name. This time, we look at character names and ways to generate titles for our books and our series.

First off, let’s remember our 3 guiding tips.

Tip 1: Names must connect with our audience.

Tip 2: Names should be easy to remember.

Tip 3: Try to have a unique name.

How do we come up with Character Names?

First, the 3 tips hold true especially for our primary characters and should reach to our subprimaries and the important secondary characters.

So, Tip 1, connect our character name with our audience.

Names hint at our character’s personality. Even more importantly, names help create the emotions we want the reader to feel for that character. Consider the hardness and the softness of the syllables as well as the number of syllables for the character’s names. Have a name that no reader can possibly pronounce, and the reader will distance themselves from the text.

Most readers will identify or sympathize with the primary or lead character. Even when we write multiple viewpoint characters, we still need a solid character early on for that reader identification.

Consider the character in time and place.

Let’s look at a boxer. You will give him a hard name, short strong syllables, perhaps hinting of an ethnic background. A boxer in New York City is not the same as a boxer from Los Angeles. A boxer in the 1970s may have a completely different name than the one in the 1930s. When the old pro who survived thirty years ago is coaching the new fighter, their names will reference their time periods.

Names also reveal much more than gender. They reveal social status and culture.

A genteel lady of the 1880s would have a soft name, hinting at her parents’ expectations for her life. Alma or Estella. Should she have a hard life on a farm, Alma might be called Elmira. Have Estella born to wealthy parents in the 1940s, she becomes Stella.

Take a name like Robert. We have Rob or Robbie, Bob or Bobby, telling us age and culture. A Robert is not the same person as a Bert. Occasionally, Robert is shortened to Robin. The ways that other characters refer to Robert or Robbie or Bert or Robin gives our readers a wealth of information without our having to write paragraphs upon paragraphs.

Here’s an important detail. Characters rarely choose their own names. Their names are like baggage, slowly revealing elements of their personalities.

We writers may be the ones picking the names, but our characters actually have given names. We may be deciding between Esther or Estelle, but our characters have a back story. Part of that back story is that their names were given to them by their parents or godparents or someone else. Names are given based on parents’ hopes and wishes for their children’s lives. On rare occasions, names are bestowed on babies based on traumas that their parents may have themselves experienced.

Surnames are just as important. The lack of a surname will have to be explained at some point. I recently read a short series in which the lack of a surname was evidence of a caste system, a hierarchal social structure that demeaned those without a surname.

Whatever the back story, whether we relate it on the page or not, will actually help us visualize our characters. When we can visualize them, those details flow onto the page, and the character becomes real to us and to the reader.

Tip 2, Names should be easy to remember for the reader.

Names become easy for readers to remember when we develop strong details for that character at their introduction.

How do we develop strong details? NO, that’s not details of appearance. It’s details of personality.

Nicknames occur based on a character’s revealed personality—or what friends impose upon that character.

If you want the character to be known by a nickname, then introduce that character with the nickname from the beginning. The birth name can be mentioned later on, perhaps when the character is presented to another character. The nickname vs. the birth name can become a common thread throughout the rest of the book.

Here’s an example of the way a character’s personality can change based on the name of that character.

My most recently published novel, The Hazard with Hearts, started with a mad rush of writing which died to nothingness for several weeks.

The name of a primary character created my difficulty. The male protagonist’s name was never difficult. The female protagonist, however, posed several problems.

I had intended the book as a salute to the vintage gothics of Victoria Holt and Jane Aiken Hodges. For my heroine, the name Victoria Winters tempted me greatly. Several pages in, however, her personality was passive, like the Victoria Winters of the TV Dark Shadows series, and no Barnabas Collins or other vampire would take a bite into this story. And after the remake of Dark Shadows as a film, that name “hurt” my sensibilities.

I hunted up another project while I tinkered with the novel’s elements, trying to figure out what my writing problem was. When you write an entire chapter from the heroine’s point of view without using her name once—that is problematic. I had Name Avoidance. I can plead various distractions and completed projects—but those are excuses.

For writers, disruptions are often psychological. We can and must free ourselves from mental prisons. I repeated that reminder continuously, yet I kept stumbling into that mental cage.

As I worked through other projects, I discovered that my protagonist shared a given name with a rather vile young lady in a previous book in the series. After a few hours of contemplating alternate names, I changed her from Victoria to Vivienne.

The next day over 3,000 new words flowed out. On the next, 2,000 words, rethinking early scenes and revising others. 3,000 words more followed the third day. The dam had broken.

Changing the name to Vivienne changed several traits of her personality—and her new active drive changed the trajectory of the back-half of the novel.

Tip 3, Give the character a unique name.

First, help the reader by giving them a unique name. Unique does not mean Unusual. It means that the name will help the character stand strong in the reader’s mind.

We need to walk the reader into the story without confusion. Two characters with names that are too similar only disrupts the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief for the story.

Most books have a host of characters to remember. Books in a series have an especially hard time with introducing new characters.

The easiest and simplest way to keep characters distinct and unique is to use different alphabet letters. If you have a character whose name starts with R, like Robert, don’t give another character a name starting with R, like Richard.

Second, don’t keep using the same names over and over and don’t use the same names that every other writers is using over and over.

Third, keep the characters grouped with their names. A family might draw names from the Bible or from Shakespeare or from Greek mythology. By grouping in this manner, the reader gets back story for the family and can quickly identify brothers and sisters—and you can even extend it to cousins. Or to a community, like an Amish or Mennonite community drawing names from the Bible.

To have a hoard of unique names you need a reliable resource.

The internet is not a reliable resource for names. No list on the internet is comprehensive or quick to use. Most internet lists will give you 25 or 50 of the most common CURRENT names, or sometimes the list may stretch to 100 girl names or 100 boy names. We then have to click on the name to get its meaning and more information. That’s far short of a comprehensive list that will carry us over several novels.

One of the best tools that a writer can have, even working in the world building genres of science fiction and fantasy, is a baby-naming book. Virtually all name books have the meanings of the names. The best baby-naming books not only give the cultural origin of the names but variant spellings and nicknames. Most are divided by gender although many names can cross-over. A few also list famous people with each particular name.

The book that I picked up decades ago is falling apart, the pages held in by a massive stretchy band. Not a rubber band; those eventually harden or break. It’s called Name Your Baby by Lareina Rule, and the paperback is still available—I just checked a couple of online book distributors, the big amazing one as well as a used book dealer.

A baby book lists the names alphabetically. Name Your Baby boasts over 6,500 names. I can quickly flip to the G section for females and skim to find a name.

Even when writing about cultures beyond our anticipated readers, when writing about worlds we have built for fantasy or science fiction, our character names need to relate to our audience.

Skim through a baby-naming book, change a couple of alphabet letters to create an alien-ness to the name, and your world building becomes much easier.

What happens when the baby-naming books let you down? That happened with a book I published in 2019, The Key for Spies. The setting was the northern mountains of Spain in the early 1800s. This is a Basque region, so I needed Basque names. My Name Your Baby book had limitations for that region, and the internet helped here with names for several minor characters. A distraction on the search engine page led to my exploring recipes for that region, and added a wealth of unexpected minor details for the characters.

My, this is a lot on character names. We’ve covered our 3 tips …

so it’s time we switched to titles of our novels and our series.

As we start, we must distinguish between fiction and nonfiction. Or should we? Because I’ve seen nonfiction books with fantastical names and fiction books with straightforward names. Nope, I don’t think that’s a consideration. All we have to keep in mind is our connection with our readers. Audience means everything.

The role of the title is to entice the reader. How do we entice the reader?

Titles are Identifiable. That’s Tip 1, by the way.

Titles connect the reader to what they are looking for: fact or entertainment. Both are divided into genres, whether it’s a nonfiction genre or a fiction one.

Philosophical nonfiction can have metaphorical titles, like Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. Gory thrillers can have hard fact-based titles, like Dean Koontz’ Velocity. Nonfiction that is purely fact-based will announce what it is: Joanna Penn’s Audio for Authors or Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols while fiction will announce its genre or tone: Dick Francis’ Whiphand or Georgette Heyer’s mystery Behold, Here’s Poison.

Titles can play with literary devices like opposition and contrast, irony and allusion, in order to convey what they are. What a title is is related to genre.

Whether a title is short and powerful or metaphorical and lyrical, titles lets us know the kind of story and the kind of writing we can expect.

One of my favorite authors is Alistair MacLean. Yes, I know, years and years ago. The title The Way to Dusty Death is an allusion to Macbeth’s famous speech, by William Shakespeare, the “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” which continues with “all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle.” That dusty death is an allusion to the graveside service, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

MacLean’s novel presents a race car driver protagonist with several car chases—and car crashes—ramping up the tension of the novel. It’s a clever use of the allusion. The title clues in the reader that we will a tricksy logical suspense that has to be solved, not a simple thriller. The antagonist is hidden yet dangerous, and the protagonist will risk everything, perhaps in a foolish gambit to stop the evil.

Tip 2, Titles have a Bit of Punch.

Punch makes titles easy to remember.

Now, how do we achieve punch? Every word in a title has to count. The fewer words, the better.

Single word titles are not an entirely new concept.

In the early 1900s Gene Stratton Porter gave us Freckles. And The Harvester.

Dick Francis gave us Whiphand and Enquiry and Forfeit and Rat Race.

Titles can be names: Charlotte Bronte’s famous Jane Eyre. Her sister Emily’s Wuthering Heights. Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles or Jude the Obscure.

Then Hardy turned more lyrical with Far from the Madding Crowd, an allusion to Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, big broad hint to the reader there.

Recent titles have played with movie titles. The famous To Catch a Thief has had several iterations in the romance marketplace.

Or the title can play with a trope of a particular subgenre, such as a fairy trope with the title Elf in a Forest.

A series of novels about the members of a group, such as a military team, can use the individual names of the team members as the novel titles while the series title itself mentions what they are or where they are: Space Marine Delta Team. (My apologies if that actually is a series title.)

That apology, by the way, brought up the problem with this type of naming.

It’s not unique.

Remember Tip 3? Titles have to be unique.

That’s where the use of contrast and allusion and irony as well as other literary devices like alliteration and metaphor become powerful.

Ellis Peters is best known for her Brother Cadfael series. Her earliest titles played with irony or surprise.

·         A Morbid Taste for Bones. Can we have a taste for bones? That would indeed make us morbid, wouldn’t it?

·         One Corpse Too Many. Why would we have too many corpses? Who would figure that kind of thing out? Why would we have one corpse too many?

·         Then we have such titles as Monkshood that reminds us of the first Cadfael books we bought or A Virgin in Ice that gives us the unusual murder victim or The Rose Rent that plays with alliteration.

Study several of Ellis Peters’ titles and you will quickly see the repeating pattern of irony or surprise or a reminder of the Cadfael character. Couple that with great cover imagery, and readers will snatch the books up.

Tony Hillerman wrote a series of southwest Native American novels with detectives Leaphorn and Chee. His novels follow the same guidelines of irony or a reminder of character and setting. A Thief of Time presents an impossibility; no one can steal time. Skinwalkers and Coyote Waits are clear indications of the setting.

Hear these following intriguing titles? They use these ideas of irony or surprise or character or literary device like alliteration or contrast.

·         Listen for the Whisperer.

·         A Room with Dark Mirrors

·         Watch the Wall, my Darling

·         The Last Camel Died at Noon

·         Wind from a Foreign Sky

·         Sorceress of the Witch World

·         Snow Falling on Cedars

·         A Court of Thorns and Roses

·         A Song of Fire and Ice.

Grab a copy of the USA Today Bestseller list for a little more-current research. All fiction titles used these tips. Find a physical bookshelf at a bookstore or a library—if you can enter a store or a library in these plague year days. Skim the titles. Look for the basic elements.

Here’s the most powerful element to remember about titles. They’re not long.

Usually five words or less. Three of those five words will be vivid, like Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses. We have contrast with the thorns and roses, we have setting with court. We have passion and cruelty and the high politics of the embattled monarchies of the Faerie courts.

George R.R. Martin has kept his titles to four words.

·         A Game of Thrones

·         A Storm of Swords

·         A Feast for Crows

·         A Dance with Dragons >> Notice how all of these contain threat and menace. He also will have, not yet published >>

·         The Winds of Winter AND

·         A Time for Wolves

Titles start the writer’s contract with the reader. Between the title and the cover, the reader can determine the genre. Most importantly, the title gives the reader a Taste of the Writer’s style.


This podcast ran a little longer than the previous ones. Trying to crowd too much in, I guess.

But we’ve finished with our three-part series on What’s In a Name?

Coming Up, we’ll examine the 7 lessons that every new writers needs to learn to become a pro.

We’re book-casting. Is that a word? Anyway, it’s Think like a Pro, beginning next Wednesday.

Until then, Write On.

This is not an affiliate link. The Write Focus does not receive remuneration for these.

Name Your Baby by Lareina Rule

What's In a Name? part 2

 What's In a Name, part 2 of The Write Focus podcast

Listen on Podbean https://eden5695.podbean.com/e/1-7-whats-in-a-name-pen-names-part-2  

 Link to YouTube https://youtu.be/3FTjiyXUH8I (Conversion to a format acceptable to YouTube is still creating glitches. I'm still looking for a solution. The PodBean link has no glitching.)

What’s In a Name? Shakespeare claimed that “a rose by any other word would smell as sweet”, but we know that names did matter in Romeo and Juliet. Tybalt would not have challenged Romeo to a duel if he hadn’t been offended by a Montague’s attendance to a Capulet ball.

Names do matter. Your pen name. Your character names. The names of your books and series.

How do we pick names?

Maybe this episode can help.

Welcome to The Write Focus, a podcast for writers at all levels. Headed up by M.A. Lee from Writers Ink Books. Our focus is productivity, process, craft, and tools. Resources along with the transcript of this and other episodes can be found on thewritefocus.blogspot.com. Write to us at winkbooks@aol.com.

Names are tools for a writer.

In the last episode, as we burbled on about the process of selecting a name for this podcast, we had 3 tips.

Tip 1: Names must connect with our audience.

Tip 2: Names should be easy to remember.

Tip 3: Try to have a unique name.

How do we translate those tips to our pen name?

First, we have to determine if we want a pen name or if we want to use our own name.

Using our own name has strong early benefits to our writing career. Family, friends and acquaintances can easily find and support our writing.

As long as we are writing one type of book, sticking to one genre, then our “Also Boughts” in the various online bookstores won’t get entangled with books in other genres.

However, those benefits can just as easily turn into detriments. Do you have a spiteful relative or co-workers who would go out of their way to leave one-star reviews when you are first publishing? Ouch. That is problematic.

And what if you had a boss like one of mine? She was a sub-boss, actually, who obviously suspected that I was writing my books on “company time”, which was not just her belief that I was unethical but meant that my creative output could be attached by the company. With nickel and dime earnings, that wouldn’t be much. A licensing agreement, however, if one of my stories “hit big”, would have garnered that “company” a lot of money. But I wasn’t—writing on company time, I mean, so she could think it but not prove it. However, that was one more reason for me to start with a pseudonym.

In publicly accepted genres—yes, I know we’re trying to correct social ills, yet this one will linger, your own name remains a benefit—although I’ve had people frown when I said I wrote mysteries with murders in them. Why the frown? I don’t quite know. And in not so acceptable genres like sexy romance or scary supernatural or gory horror, when writing adult themes or situations, your own name is not the best choice Especially if you’re working in a public job like teaching small children or sales at a religious organization.

You can dig your heels in and keep it. More power to you. Stand strong … but you might become tired of the fight, and you may risk your paycheck before the writing starts paying your way.

Here’s another problem with using your own name. Do you want your fans to arrive at your house? It’s great to meet fans at conferences that include readers. It’s not so great when you have fans knocking at your front door, whether they interfere with your writing time or whether they have a few stalker tendences.

So, if you want to protect your day job and prevent awkward questions from your first graders’ parents and your youth minister at church or your sub-boss at the company, use a pen name.

And if things go crap-O-la with your writing, you can generate another pen name and keep writing.

Here’s the best reason to use a pen name.

You plan to be prolific, and you plan to write in several genres, not limiting yourself to one brand.

Readers do not generally cross over to other genres. Say you write a trilogy of squeaky-clean cozy mysteries then decide to write a historical thriller with a harder edge, a bit more gore and certainly more swear words. While I wouldn’t be offended—and as a reader I would be glomming your whole backlist, excited to find a new writer I loved—other readers would not be as excited. We’ve all seen those reviews. “I really enjoyed their cozy mysteries, but this book offended me. I will not buy another book by this writer.”

The wall, however transparent, between the genres does need to be maintained.

A different pen name allows that wall.

I write historical mysteries and fantasy. That’s two completely different genres. I have a “wall” between those genres by using different pen names.

Nora Roberts created a similar transparent wall. The fabulous Nora writes contemporary romance. When she ventured into science fiction mystery romance (with books that are set a few decades in the future), she chose J.D. Robb as a new pen name. Her devoted readers were happy to cross genres; her not-so-devoted readers didn’t drift over the wall. And J.D. Robb brought new readers to the Nora Roberts brand.

Stephen King also has the pen name of Richard Bachman for some of his earliest writings. After he was established, the Bachman books were re-published as “Richard Bachman also known as Stephen King”. The use of a pen name allowed him to get his writing feet under him.

Actually, having a pen name is pretty standard behavior for the professional writers who are prolific. The great Elizabeth Peters, with her mysteries that have an archaeological topic, also has quite a number of more supernatural mysteries under the name Barbara Michaels. Her actual name is Barbara Mertz. At the time that she began publishing, her publisher did not want her previously published nonfiction work to confuse readers. The Elizabeth Peters pseudonym developed years after, when she crossed into the other mystery subgenre.

Dean Koontz has published over 100 novels and sold over 450 million copies of his works. Early in his writing career, he wrote as David Axton, Deanna Dwyer, Leigh Nichols, and Brian Coffey.

I grew up reading Victoria Holt. After a decade or so of reading Holt, I learned that she also wrote under the name Jean Plaidy. Gradually, I learned she was also Philippa Carr. Her real name was Eleanor Hibbert, information I didn’t learn until a couple of years ago while researching author brands. Victoria Holt—as Eleanor Hibbert, actually—had five other pen names. Her publishing editor and her agent encouraged her to use other pen names. In all, she published over 200 books that sold more than 100 million copies. Victoria Holt was the author brand for the vintage gothic romances. Jean Plaidy was historical novels, usually about the queens of England. Philippa Carr was historical mysteries with romance. Each pen name devoted to a particular genre; each creating a BRAND.

A pen name helps create a brand for a writer. A brand will associate a name with a particular genre or subgenre. That’s its purpose. A clear name for a particular kind of book, all to assist the reader with finding more books by that writer.

So, your first decision as a writer is to write your first novel. Your second decision is to decide if you want to use your own name or a pen name. Even if you want to use your own name, you can stick to initials or use the given name that’s not your daily name or use an alteration of it.

Question 1: Keep your own name or use a pen name? Carefully weigh how intrusive the public world is into our private lives.

Question 2: Do you plan to have only one brand? That is, you plan to write in only one genre? The same type of book, like contemporary romances set on islands. Or cozy mysteries without murders? Or historicals that track one family generation after generation? If you answer yes to any of these questions, then using your own name or a version of that name, would simplify the marketing for your books.

Question 3: However, if you plan to be prolific or plan to scatter your writing into more than one genre—children stories versus murder mysteries, or thrillers versus supernatural romance, or gory horror versus cozy mysteries, or even contemporary romance versus historical westerns—then pen names are the way to go.

And the three tips help us make that pen name decision.

Tip 1: Names must connect with our audience. Names can hint at genre and create that author brand.

And names create audience expectation.

If you want a slightly harder edge to fit your genre, use initials, the way Nora Roberts did by switching to J.D. Robb.

Koontz used Deanna Dwyer, with those alliterative Ds, for the early fiction aimed for a female audience. And notice, Deanna is built from his own name of Dean. The David Axton name creates a much harder connotation, for books directed toward a male audience.

Avoid names with a bad social or historical connection. Don’t just laugh at the irony; think about 15 years from now and the marketing battles you may still have to fight.

Tip 2: Names should be easy to remember.

Easy to remember means Easy to Find. Avoid confusion with other writers out there in the world.

See those alliterative Ds that Dean Koontz used. Nora Roberts’ wall between her name and J.D. Robb is easily broken.

Victoria Holt is completely different from Eleanor Hibbert and her other, earlier pen names. Holt is much more easily remembered than Hibbert, and Victoria sounds much more intriguing than Eleanor (not that there’s anything wrong with Eleanor, but people know of Queen Victoria much more than they know of Queen Eleanor of Aquitane). Victoria, then, is a mental connection for a greater group of readers, much more than Eleanor would be.

Tip 3: Try to have a unique name. Remember, nothing is truly unique—except maybe our fingerprints. You may start unique, but that won’t last. I did mention my own problem back in 2015. Months with no other M.A. Lee in the marketplace, then I publish and a couple of months later, Bam! Another writer using that name but in a different genre.

Alliteration is one way to create that unique factor.

A name’s meaning or spelling is another way.

Using an unusual name will make a writer distinguish themselves in the marketplace. Was that the reason Stephen King chose Richard Bachman so early in his career? Who knows what his original purpose was? Bachman is certainly different from the usual WASP (white anglo-saxon protestant) names that dominated in the established bookstores in the 1970s and 1980s? The world has now changed, thank goodness. Barbara Mertz, also landing on the bookshelves in the 1970s, is a vastly different name than Barbara Michaels. I find Mertz much easier to remember than a proliferation of Michaels’.

Don’t go too crazy with an unusual name, however. Readers need to be able to spell your name easily in a search engine when they start looking for more of your books. In the early days of your writing career, with only a couple of books out, your name can help readers recall their experience with the first book of yours that they read.

I’m still not certain how to pronounce the name of one of the great mystery writers of the past. Ngaio Marsh. I can remember it, just not how to pronounce it.

Consider the SOUND of your pen name. Sound creates a mental image, just as the definition of the words creates a mental image. KING dominates a field while Bachman does not.

Here’s the #1 Point ~ Your Writing Name is your Author Brand.

A brand isn’t burned into your flesh. It is burned into your reader’s minds.

1st, a brand creates a contract with the reader. This type of book. This type of characters. This type of ending.

Don’t break this contract with your readers. If you decide to head off into another genre or a vastly different sub-genre, consider a different pen name. The wall between your writing brands doesn’t have to be three-foot thick and brick. You can create a transparent wall, the way Nora Roberts did with J.D. Robb. However, the Barbara Michaels pen name creates a vastly different reader contract than the Elizabeth Peters pen name.

2nd, brands identify quality work with artistic effort. They serve as a stamp of approval for the reader.

And this is the best reason to create a transparent wall between your pen names. You can start with a thick, brick wall between your pen names, then remove it years later. Once you’ve established both brand contracts with your readers, do so. Some readers may not be interested in crossing over to another genre, many will cross eagerly into your other backlist.

Here’s a Shameless Promo.

Look around, and you’ll spot lots of flashbang presentations on creating author brands. As more writers become self-published and traditional writers try to increase their marketing, the author brand is a hot topic.

Well, here’s my own book on Discovering Your Author Brand. How is it different from other books in the marketplace?

1st, it’s packed with examples based on highly successful writers.

Face it, in today’s marketplace, our competition is not just our current peers. Our competition is also every other writer who has come before us. Agatha Christie is still selling. Ray Bradbury’s selling. Arthur Conan Doyle sells. Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot became a Will Smith movie over two decades after Asimov died.

These writers aren’t on the best-seller lists. Only NEWly published books earn places on those lists. But Christie and Doyle and many, many more writers are competition for everyone else entering the marketplace. And they have the cachet of quality that current writers struggle to achieve.

So, in Discovering Your Author Brand, we look at successful author brands and analyze the secrets of their success.

2nd, Discovering Your Author Brand understands that the browsing readers will only give a few nanoseconds to our books.

So, we explain the three main glances that hook the readers before they swim on down the book-browsing river. We also look at the keys to unlock those glances. With the right keys, the brand is revealed, and the door for the reader opens.

To help with the keys and glances, we have worksheets (or charts!) to help you discover the brand for book, series, and your author name—because the first leads to the last.

3rd, we have something that other books don’t have, another way to catch the attention of that swimming reader. Video trailers!

Advertising claims that consumers have to see something 7 times—7!—before they’ll buy. Static ads and promo posts are all well and good, but we writers need an extra oomph to get that 7th look. Enter the video trailer.

Have you ever wanted to set up a video trailer or a brief clip, currently big on social media sites like Facebook Live and TikTok and Instagram and Twitter? Have you hesitated because you don’t know where or how to start?

We have an easily adaptable script as well as guidance on settling the debate between music and narration.

Discovering your Author Brand is packed with explanations and examples. It’s book 7 in the Discovering set, guidebooks designed for new writers on the journey to becoming totally professional.

You can find resources and links as well as the transcript for this episode from The Write Focus at thewritefocus.blogspot.com. Write to us at winkbooks@aol.com.

Coming Up: We still haven’t talked about character names and book titles and series titles.

That’s next Wednesday on The Write Focus. Write on.

Link to Discovering Your Author Brand, our only link this episode.


What's In a Name? Part 1

 Let’s talk names. Even Shakespeare famously said, “What’s in a name?”

For this episode of The Write Focus, we look at the writer’s best tool and the process of developing it. It’s part 1 of “What’s in a Name?”

Welcome to the Write Focus, a podcast for writers at all levels wanting to improve. Improve what? Process, productivity, craft, and tools.

Process is how we go about our writing. Productivity is managing our daily energies to produce content. Craft includes the elements of character and plot and more, for fiction and nonfiction. Tools, that’s what we use to make the writing happen.

The Write Focus is packed with suggestions and tips to guide your epic writing journey. Writing is epic, and you’re the hero of your writing journey.

As with all journeys, you’re on a quest, and the treasure you will find may be that pot of gold OR your name in flashing lights on a theater marquee or something more down-to-earth as you turn your dream into reality.

That’s our touchstone, by the way: turning the dream of writing into the reality of publishing your writing.

And our motto is Dream It. Believe It. Do It.

For now, we need to Start our next series which is “What’s In a Name?”.

A Name is a tool. Whether your writing name, a book title or a series title, or a character, all of these are tools.

That name is one key element to connect with an audience.

As a writer, your name will become your Author Brand. A book title can intrigue the reader and hint at the genre and offer a promise of your writing craft. A series title keeps everything hooked in to your brand and each book title. And your character names personalize those mannequins walking stiffly through your stories, hopefully relaxing those stiff limbs and joints to enliven them.

So, how do we pick a name?

Here’s our first tip: names—of podcasts, books, series and more—must connect with our audience. The name should have a key word that leads to the focus. We’re creating audience expectation here. Our names should draw in our intended audience.

Tip 2: Names should be easy to remember. That means they have to be catchy. They need to spark interest.

Metaphors are rich ways to develop titles. Contrasts / contradictions work very well with titles. Alliteration helps. Strong images are actually more powerful than alliteration.

Tip 3: Try to have a unique name. Be aware, though, that nothing (except us … and fingerprints) nothing is unique. A unique title is not possible. You may start unique, but that won’t last.Your name won’t be unique.

If you want to trademark your name or your series brand, you will have to create a certain uniqueness to the words. Apple Computers is a brand because computers have nothing to do with the apple fruit. Trademarks can be generated by combining words with images, but a unique characteristic is required. And trademark law requires an attorney, which I am not.

The search to name this podcast offers an excellent example of the process of choosing a name, whether that’s your author name or a character’s name or the title for a book or a series.

So, Tip 1, remember, is to connect with the audience. This podcast is purely nonfiction, grounded in fact. The title should reflect the nonfiction focus. Tip 2 is to make the name easy to remember. Tip 3 is to have as unique a name as possible.

So, when I first contemplated this podcast, I started the NAME SEARCH with Think like a Pro Writer. That’s the name of my series of How-To books for writers. Think like a Pro Writer is a good description, but it’s not immediately interesting. We have bare nano-seconds to capture a listener (or a reader, when we’re selling books), so Think like a Pro Writer isn’t going to HOOK anyone searching for a new podcast.

Think like a Pro Writer is also five words. The podcast title will be on a thumbnail image, among other thumbnail podcast images. Color will help the image standout. The words on the colored background need to be few. No more than 3, and that’s including THE as a word. So, Think like a Pro Writer is fine for a series title, but not for a podcast title.

Catchy titles often use metaphors. After tilting my head a little bit, I landed on Write with Wings. That’s a great name. It offers a graphic, the image of wings, maybe with a pen or laptop flying off. It’s three words, short and catchy. It has alliteration with those W’s. I loved it.

Tip 3 is to start unique. I turned to research on the internet to see if Write with Wings was in use. The first search page was FILLED with several different websites using that name. Immediately, I backed away from that title.

Why? That title has a lot of potential.

Here’s the reason. I’m struggling with the name problem with my dominant pen name, M.A. Lee.

When I started my own epic writing journey, back in 2013, with M.A. Lee as my pen name, I searched the internet for M.A. Lee and books or novels or writing. I searched on Amazon, the biggest distributor of ebooks. No one had that name. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I published in October of 2015. Within that very year, another writer was using that name.

The other writer is contemporary romance—with steamy covers. My books are historical mysteries and suspense with nothing steaming except the corpse in the cold English air. Different cover styles, different genres, different steam level. But … still.

So—as much as I loved the metaphor and the graphic potential of Write with Wings, it’s a Nope.

Onto more brainstorming.

Writing Ink. Write Force. Write Power.

Obviously, WRITE needed to be in the podcast’s name. That is the draw, the focus for the listener.

That’s the primary reason you chose this podcast, isn’t it?

So, Write Power. Write Energy. Write Lightning. WRITE LIGHTNING! I totally loved that.

The first search turned up two names in use. Should I pick it?

WRITE can be easily confused with WHITE. White lightning is moonshine. Write Lightning could be a pun on that illegally distilled liquor that hasn’t aged in barrels.

Maybe the tagline could be Write Lightning: Jolts of Energy for Your Writing.

Moonshine whiskey burns all the way down and gives you a “fire in your belly.” To devote yourself to writing, to the publication of your writing, you need a metaphorical “fire in your belly”.

I could describe the podcast like this:

Write Lightning will spark your creative energies and jolt you out of the humdrum. OR it’s a lightning bolt that will energize your writing.

However ~ the word play MIGHT bring people looking for the true water of life, White Lightning moonshine. I’m not opposed to moonshine, but people might leave nasty comments when the podcast isn’t what they expected.

WRITE LIGHTNING has been used twice as a website, but the phrase shows on other search pages. That creates the same problem as Write with Wings.

Do I want the confusion issue? Will I encounter more Write Lightning in other locations?

I’m back to Square One. Seriously, I headed all the way back to Think Pro Writer. Still not catchy.

Inspiration 4 Writers is also claimed, even more so than Write Lightning although not as many as Write with Wings.

You’ll encounter this naming problem as you start your writing business.

Your pen name or book title or series title may launch into the world as unique, totally unclaimed in the marketplace, but it will quickly spring up other places, like guppies or rabbits.

It’s as if our very searching sends the words into the universal ether. Once it is there, swirling around, others find it and start using it. Ouch!

Several, several years ago, two books in the same genre with the exact same title and very similar covers were published in the same month. From different publishers, at least, but still—.

The naming problem will occur.

So I head back to brainstorming to lessen my future difficulties.

I like mazes – writing mazes. Nope. Amazing World of Writing – Nope.

Writing Journey—nope. It’s taken and the audience may expect travel writing.

Epic Writing—nope.

Discover Your Writing. Now---hmmm. That comes up in blog posts but not as a website. It’s closer to titles of how-to-write books. I have a bundled ebook Discovering Your Writing already associated with M.A. Lee.

Maybe--? It’s not sexy, but—it is rich for metaphors! What could be the graphic? A map? Searching through a forest? Looking through weeds? Needle in a haystack? Whoa, those are busy graphics. Too busy for a podcast thumbnail.

A telescope? Whatever I pick, I need to claim it quick before the universal ether throws it out to everyone. So, a telescope. The focus window in a camera lens. Nope, looks too much like a sniper targeting.

I can use a maze graphic. With a pen at the heart. A question mark at the start. An exclamation point at the end. Nope. The graphic’s getting busy again.

Telescope. Focused Lens. The Write Lens. The Write Eye. Yuck. The Writing Camera. Oh, the Write Focus. That’s a good name. It’s not a great name. Not like Write Lightning! Or Write with Wings!

But we have a metaphor. We have a clear three-word title. The name and image both point straight to writing.

Remember our Tips?

Tip 1: Names create audience expectation. That’s a first connection with podcast listeneers. The very first connection is the image. I think a strong clear color and a bold pen graphic.

Tip 2: Names have to be catchy and easy to remember. Easy to remember means Easy to Find. We have to avoid confusion with other people and things our there on the World Wide Web.

Tip 3: A unique name and title are not possible. You can start unique, but that won’t last. Start with a standout, individuating name.

Goodness, we’ve covered a lot, haven’t we? Just by exploring the process of coming up with the name for this podcast.

Next time, we’ll look at claiming your writing self in the world wide web. That’s right, we looking at Pen Names.

Remember to check the show notes for links and this episode’s transcript at thewritefocus.blogspot.com.

See how the name became even more important? Something easy to remember so you can find us on the internet!

If you find this podcast helpful, please drop a comment at winkbooks@aol.com That’s supposed to be an easy to remember email address as well. WINK as an abbreviation for Writers Ink Books, the business under which The Write Focus, M.A. Lee and my other pen names operate.

That’s at www.writersinkbooks.com.

Thank you for joining in The Write Focus. Write on.!

Edit / Proof / Publish ~ the final Stages to get your book to readers.

 What happens after the story is written? Do I immediately publish? How do I promote my story?

Is all the writing advice driving you insane?

Maybe this episode can help.

Welcome to the Write Focus, a podcast for writers at all levels who want to improve their skills. Headed up by M.A. Lee with the assistance of Remi Black and Edie Roones, all from Writers Ink Books. We focus on process, productivity, craft, and tools.

A transcript of this and other episodes can be found on thewritefocus.blogspot.com. Write to us at winkbooks@aol.com.

This episode—in fact, the whole Write Focus blog and podcast—developed after an email conversation with a newbie writer asking questions. Find our blog at thewritefocus.blogspot.com.

From start to finish, from the seed of the idea to the published story in a reader’s hands—we have six basic steps.

Sketched ideas. Rough draft. Revised Draft. Those are the first three steps, briefly covered in our third episode. Now we’re looking at editing, publishing, and marketing.

Editing is the 4th stage. (1:15)

Editing is often confused with Revision.  The purpose of both processes is to improve the manuscript. Editing, though, works at the word and sentence levels. Finding stronger words, vivid verbs, better ways to phrase sentences. Working in metaphors and avoiding passive voice, that’s all editing. Adding emotional conflict, that’s revision. Tweaking the pacing of events, that’s also revision. Revision works at the plot and character levels. Editing comes after Revision ends.

Some of editing is sentence craft. Metaphors. Climatic ordering of sentences. Juxtaposition to present contrasts. That’s a whole series of lessons. Check the show notes for a great resource.

Then we enter the Proofreading ROUNDS. 

Read the first time for plot holes and character discrepancies. Keep the MasterBook close to the manuscript. Correct those. Proof a second time for content. Correct again. Proof backwards; Correct a third time. Let the MS sit, a week or more. Proof forwards, page 1 to the end. Correct again.

We’re not finished with Proofreading. Now we enlist other eyes. New eyes are necessary. We’ve been working with this thing from its first seed. Before the first seed ever formed, really. We need someone to read like a reader, not read like a writer.

By the way, no one is 100% perfect. Mistakes will slip through. The purpose of all of these Proofreading Rounds, however, is to avoid as many mistakes as possible. Even traditionally published books, especially in the last 15 years or so, have quite a number of grammos and typos. Publishing companies in their first rounds of job cuts fired their copy editors first.

Once we have the manuscript back from the other eyes, correct one last time.

Now we reach Stage 6, Publishing. 

Publishing includes formatting the manuscript, getting a cover, writing the book description or blurb, and creating a marketing plan. This last stage is the writer’s BIZ stage that everyone moans over.

You may want an ISBN, an international standard book number. As soon as the novel is in final form, it’s copyrighted. However, I advise that writers apply for an official copyright. To prosecute plagiarists or take down book pirates, we need a registered copyright.

To publish, we must format. When I started my epic writing journey, I thought formatting would be hard to learn. Nope. If you understand a word processing software, then formatting will be simple. Follow the basic MS guidelines for setting up your MS. First, distinguish between main titles, chapter sections, and normal / body text.

Stick with common fonts. You need to follow the paragraph box rules, especially no Widows and Orphans, paragraph indent, and spacing of lines and paragraphs. These matter. Don’t give the reader a jerky reading experience.

Add page numbers to help when you print out the MS for editing. You will need to remove the page numbers before publishing in the ebook format.

Then you also need to determine how to break between scenes in a single chapter.

Write your front and back matter. Model it based on actual paperbacks on your bookshelves. Yes, even electronic documents need those opening and closing elements. The front matter includes your copyright notification and disclaimers, a list of your titles, and any acknowledgements. I usually put my Table of Contents at the beginning. Back Matter thanks the reader, asks politely for a review, lists titles along with a brief description, including any Notes to Readers about the research, and much more, such as a teaser for the next book.

Most online distributors, like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords and Draft2Digital will have templates that offer suggestions for layout and design, including margin sizes and more. Pay attention to these to bring your MS into alignment with their guidelines. These online distributors will take your standard font and convert it to their standard ones.

Cover Design is a sticky subject. Good cover design has multiple layers. The book’s genre is actually the first consideration followed by the series brand and then the author’s personal brand.

Licensed digital images including releases for cover models are required even when you create your own cover. The world of graphic design has a whole series of considerations beyond the BIZ aspect of licensing.

  •       Proportion and Contrast
  •         Foreground vs. background
  •         Thumbnail considerations
  •         Chiaroscuro, which is the interplay of light with dark
  •         Appropriate fonts for genres along with font sizing for title / author / subtitle / taglines

And much much more. Research the competition in your genre. Can you do that well? Or will your cover standout as amateurish—thus, affecting the buyer’s view of your book’s contents?

As writers, we have NANO seconds to capture that 1st look. The 1st look is the cover. We want the browsing reader to pause and read our book descriptions. A good cover will do that. While you’re getting a handle on the writing side of the business, a pro cover designer can help with this publishing side.

After the cover design comes the book description.

Start with a tagline: a catchy one-liner for the book. Then a couple of sentences to describe the protagonist. Write 2 or 3 more about the conflict in the first chapter. Then a couple of questions. Don’t go deeper than 20 pages into the book.

Readers buy based on surprise and curiosity. Keep that in mind for book descriptions. That’s one of my Newbie Writer Mistakes, which I covered in the first episode.

If you want more help with book description, check the show notes for a link to a great course by Dean Wesley Smith.

The last step of Publishing is Marketing.

Market consistently.

When you only have one manuscript on the market, don’t spend a lot of money on ads. Advertising only prospers those writers who have a strong back list. Spend the first money on a great cover design. As you start selling and publish your second book, you can spend a little money on launching. Gradually increase the budget with each published novel.

The best advertising for your first book is the second book.

Build that backlist.

Marketing includes having a social media presence as a writer, creating simple posts for launch day or book birthdays, having a launch plan, creating ads and video trailers, and more.

A launch plan will have a cover reveal, book description reveal, first chapter teaser, and meet the characters teaser.

People will talk about social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. They will say that you need a website.

We can do promotional posts very inexpensively. Free sites like Blogspots offer a starting website that you can learn. Facebook pages and a Twitter account are free – the money comes with buying ads. You don’t need ads yet. Remember, the best advertising for the 1st book is the 2nd, and for the 2nd book is the 3rd one. Learn the platforms. When you’ve a backlist, then go for ads.

Don’t spam the airwaves. When you post, have more than your book to talk about. Draw back the curtain just a little bit on your personal life. Leave the curtain in place, well lined, not as sheer fabric. Don’t reveal too much. Why? Well, see the previous episode covering Horror Stories for writers. When we reveal too much, the problems that arise can be devastating. Lost readers are not the greatest problems. Writers do have stalkers.

Some people want all the social media set up before publishing the first book. That can be overwhelming and interfere with your writing time. Find 1 account on which you can easily respond to readers and leave the other sites alone until you have a backlist. Gradually build the other accounts as you write more books.

Carefully monitor your writing expenses. Don’t bankrupt yourself expecting a huge payout from one book. I would wish that success for everyone; however, luck is the primary denominator ofsuccess.

That’s all.

We’ve completed this series of episodes. Coming UP: Well, What’s In a Name? That’s next Wednesday on  The Write Focus.

Remember to check the show notes for links and this episode’s transcript at thewritefocus.blogspot.com.

If you find this podcast helpful, please drop a comment at winkbooks@aol.com.

Thank you for joining in The Write Focus. Write on.



Dean Wesley Smith’s WMG courses on Teachable https://wmg-publishing-workshops-and-lectures.teachable.com/courses

Discovering Sentence Craft covers figurative and interpretive concepts as well as the structural elements that build meaning, emphasis, and memory.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZQXKY87

Concepts >> I: Figurative / II: Interpretive

Structures >> III: Inversion / IV: Repetition / V: Opposition / VI: Sequencing


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