Often it is something said as a polite fiction, but Cat Sparks really does need no introduction. One of the brightest lights of Australian spec fic, she has done it all from editing award winning anthologies to writing award winning fiction. As the Editor of Australia’s only pro sci fi short fiction market and as a writer of exquisite short stories sharp enough to cut you if you are careless, there is no one more qualified to talk about the craft of writing. Here, Cat tells us about the importance of finding the right title.
On the importance of titles and why you should put some effort into ensuring yours don’t suck by Cat Sparks
If fiction is a delicious slice of cake, the title is the icing. Titles should be enticing: lush but not too rich. The perfect accompaniment to the dense slab of literary calories beneath. But enough talk of cake, it’s making me peckish. Titles are important for several reasons, yet many writers don’t give them so much as a cursory effort.
To me, it’s a bit like this: when you attend an important event, such as a wedding or dinner party, you dress accordingly and mostly that means smart clothes. To turn up in tracky pants and a dirty t-shirt is lazy, amongst other things. Boring titles are lazy. Writing is hard work. Why top off your efforts with something slack and half arsed?
Your title is an advertisement for your prose. Stylish and intriguing versus dull and descriptive. It’s a story you’ve written, damnit, not a catalogue entry.
Your title should reflect, echo, enhance or qualify your story’s theme. If your story doesn’t have a theme, no need to bother — I’m probably not going to be all that interested in reading it anyway.
A title can be important to the understanding of the work. Your title should be meaningful, memorable or evocative. Your title should resonate.
A title is often the hardest part of the story to write.
Stylish titles speak to professionalism and hint at the possibility of stylish prose to follow.
If a slushpile story title is intriguing, I am automatically predisposed to want to like the story that comes with it. Maybe I won’t end up liking it after all, but isn’t positive anticipation an excellent place to start?
A stylish title tells me that you’ve put some thought into it. It suggests you might be an artist — or at the very least, an artisan.
Some titles are so powerful or beautiful that they scream out for stories to accompany them.
I keep a lookout for potential titles for my own stories long before I have the stirrings of ideas. All the Love in the World and The Sleeping and the Dead are two examples. Both made me think long and deep about what such sets of words might encompass. Eventually the right stories made themselves apparent and I endeavoured to bring them into being. The Alchemy of Light is the title of a story I’ve been trying to get right for years. Still failing miserably, unfortunately — but isn’t the title a stunner!
I’ve never rejected a story from Cosmos or Agog! because it had a crappy title, nor have I selected a crappy story because it had a brilliant title. Most stories we buy for Cosmos end up having their titles changed. The reasons vary. Sometimes they’re too long for the page layout, sometimes too short can look odd when married with the illustrator’s work. Mostly a much cleverer option seems obvious.
Give yourself — and your story — the best chance possible of being chosen. Dress your story in its Sunday best, make sure its shoes are shiny and its nose is clean. Sometimes in life — and publishing — it’s the little things that matter.
Check out this interesting article on titles:
Titles That Didn’t Smell as Sweet
Cat Sparks is fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine. She managed Agog! Press, an Australian independent press that produced ten anthologies of new speculative fiction from 2002-2008. She’s known for her award-winning editing, writing, graphic design and photography.
Cat was born in Sydney and has traveled through Europe, the Middle East, Indonesia, the South Pacific, Mexico and North America. Her adventures so far have included winning a trip to Paris in a Bulletin Magazine photography competition; being appointed official photographer for two NSW Premiers and working as dig photographer on three archaeological expeditions to Jordan.
A graduate of the inaugural Clarion South Writers’ Workshop, she was a Writers of the Future prize winner in 2004. She has edited five anthologies of speculative fiction and more than fifty of her short stories have been published since the turn of the millennium.
Cat has received a total of seventeen Aurealis and Ditmar awards for writing, editing and art including the Peter McNamara Conveners Award 2004, for services to Australia’s speculative fiction industry. She was the convenor of the Aurealis Awards horror division in 2006 and a judge in the anthologies and collected work category in 2009.
An active member of Science Fiction Writers of America, her fiction is represented by Jill Grinberg Literary Management, New York.
She is currently working on a biopunk trilogy and a suite of post-apocalypse tales set on the New South Wales south coast.
Her story ‘All the Love in the World’ is reprinted in Hartwell and Kramer’s Years Best Science Fiction, Volume 16.
In January 2012 she was one of 12 students chosen to participate in Margaret Atwood’s The Time Machine Doorway workshop as part of the Key West Literary Seminar Yet Another World: literature of the future. Her participation was funded by an Australia Council emerging writers grant.
In March she will be embarking upon provisional candidature for a Doctorate of Philosophy – Media, Culture and Creative Arts through Curtin University.