Thinking about Titles

I have a new book coming out shortly and had a a great deal of trouble deciding on a title. I thought I had planned everything – my first book was Bright Sword and the Byrhtnoth Chronicles continued in that vein – Bright (insert weapon of choice). It made it easy to design the covers and created a uniform “look”.

This was fine until I changed genres – not very far, the next book continues the same time line, includes the same characters, but is more of a historical detective story. More about that later (or read my original post here). Today I want to take a look at the Byrhtnoth Chronicles and the reasons for the choice of name. You didn’t think they were just random, did you?

The Bright part comes from my protagonist’s name. Byrhtnoth consists of two Old English words beorht (bright) and noð (courage). By choosing this famous character from history, I had stumbled across the perfect name for my hero. The basic story is a boy’s search for a sword, therefore “Bright Sword”. Simple. This was to cause problems when it came to the cover design. Foolishly I had given a detailed description in the book of the sword. What would happen if I couldn’t find the right image for the cover? I couldn’t, but the final version is composed of elements of several different swords – can you spot the joins?

When it came to the second book, Byrhtnoth had lost the sword. Trapped in a burning hall, he escapes with the help of an old axe. This is not the only reason for giving this volume the name “Bright Axe”. In his travels, Byrhtnoth meets Eric Haraldsson, also known as Bloodaxe, former King of Norway, but at this time attempting to become King of York. I think I describe Eric’s axe, but this didn’t influence the cover image. I could pick any image I liked.

Eric Bloodaxe also appears in the third book, but I had already used an axe. I had also become wise to the need for usable images. At a Reenactors Market, I bought a Seax. Now I could take as many photographs as I wanted and use them for the cover without worrying about copyright. This weapon, somewhere between a large knife and a small sword with a single edged blade, is what gives the Saxons their name. The name comes from a Germanic word, meaning “to cut” – also the origin of the words “saw” and “scissors”.

Very appropriate for a book set in Anglo-Saxon times, but not really suitable for a book title – “Bright Seax” might attract the wrong sort of reader! It so happened that a character called Egbert plays rather an important part in this book. Egbert is the main antagonist of the series. He was there right from the first chapters of book one, but, as such people tend to do, he lurked in the background before developing into the evil presence he was to become.

Like most Anglo-Saxon names, Egbert, also spelled Ecgberht, is composed of two elements: “beorht”, the same word as used in Byrhtnoth, and meaning bright, and “ecg”, meaning edge (of a sword) or blade. As a name for a man who is not just Byrhtnoth’s enemy, but his complete opposite, or shadow, it is satisfyingly appropriate. I wish I could claim that I had this in mind when I first gave him the name, but unfortunately, it was just a case of grabbing the first Saxon sounding name that came to mind. So that is how book three became “Bright Blade”

Bright Helm was much more straightforward. Byrhthelm, meaning bright helmet or protection, was the name of Byrhtnoth’s father. Since the series had developed from a boy’s search for a sword to a search for the previous owner of that sword, his father, it was time to solve the mystery and discover what had caused his father to disappear long ago. There could be no other title.

It also gave me an excuse to buy a a proper Anglo-Saxon helmet. During another visit to the reenactors market, I found one, handmade by Viking Crafts It is too large for me, so I don’t wear it. But it’s not my helmet, it belongs to Byrhtnoth. So it sits on a shelf and watches over me. Since I had become much more organised, I was able to describe the helmet in the book, and even invent a history for it.

Byrhtnoth likes a good read. For details of the Rugby Cafe Writers Anthology see here

From this, you might think that the Byrhtnoth Chronicles have ended. It did worry me for a while, and that was why I started a new series. Fortunately, in writing that, I have come up with more ideas. Byrhtnoth will be back.

But what the title will be, I don’t yet know.

Next time I discuss the problems in find in the right title for the new series.

Titles, Covers and an Announcement!

The other day, I was wandering aimlessly around Amazon, when I made a search for Byrhtnoth – just checking out the competition. It was a great shock to find my own book there – my publisher must have omitted to tell me! Even more exciting was to find that it was available to Pre-order. It’s published on 28th January 2018, so there’s plenty of time, but just so you don’t forget (or if I forget to mention it again!) Why not pop along and order it here.

I had been thinking about doing a big Cover Reveal, but it’s a bit late for that now, so today I will tell the story about how I came up with the title, and the cover.

When I started writing, nearly five years ago, it was just “The Book”. It became “Byrhtnoth” and then, when I realised that it was the start of a series “Byrhtnoth 1”. I soon discovered that some people found Byrhtnoth difficult to pronounce. It is Britnoth, although I think to his contemporaries it would be something different. There is no point in writing a fantastic book if people can’t go into a shop and ask for it.

Byrhtnoth means something like bright courage – wonderful name for a hero, don’t you think? So perhaps the title could be Bright xxx. Since the book is about the search for a sword, what about Bright Sword? Like “Sharpe”, Bright has possibilities for an endless series of books. The book formerly known as Byrhtnoth II will be Bright Axe, because there is an axe in it, and a brief appearance by Eric Bloodaxe. I’m not sure what Byrhtnoth III will be – I haven’t (quite) started writing it. Is it wrong to think of a title and write the book to fit?

Have you noticed the banner at the top of this blog? That came next. I started this blog two years ago, together with a presence on Twitter and Facebook. I was starting to think about my “brand”. At the time Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics had a special offer on banners (3 for 2? – I can’t remember now) so I approached her and after some discussion we ended up with the above.

I like sunsets (or sunrises) and the sun fits the bright theme. The view is sufficiently anonymous, but in fact is the Somerset levels, where part of the book takes place. We had a lot of problems finding a sword. I was very particular – it had to be the right era, so I couldn’t use something from the Staffordshire Hoard or Sutton Hoo with all the garnets, and there was a distinct lack of stock images of 10th century swords available. I also give a description of the sword in the book. The one you see was not the one I had imagined, but it was the best we could find. Perhaps we would find something better for the book cover. The background and font were ideal for that.

Obviously, I went back to Cathy when I needed a cover. Knowing it would be difficult to find a sword, we tried other things. A picture of Byrhtnoth? But what did he look like? Against the light a silhouette might be better. One figure – standing or fighting? Two figures fighting? Once again the choice was restricted to what was available and there was nothing I really liked. Have you noticed that you keep seeing the same figure (and sword) on different book covers?

So, it was back to the sword. Gradually we got something close to what I wanted. Four different swords went into that final image! After a while it became “my” sword. The wording was soon sorted – I had added “The Byrhtnoth Chronicles Book I” by then.

The final cover – or was it?

I sat back. That was one thing settled. People who I showed it to, thought it worked. I also made sure that I have not described the axe in Book 2 – the cover will get whatever looks best!

I was expecting to self-publish, one of the advantages of that is you can choose your own cover. When a publisher came along, I told them I already had a cover – told them several time actually. Finally they said they would do their own cover. I was devastated – that was what my book looked like. Eventually I forced designer and publisher together and they came up with something different. I took a deep breath before I looked at it. It was the same cover. I had to study the two versions carefully to spot the difference.

Second version of cover.

There are three differences (I think) but why were they made?

The first is the typeface of the writing at the top. In the second version it now matches my name at the bottom. Lesson: limit the number of different fonts, or it looks messy.

Next is that the sword passes through the letter O. This now ties the images together. Lesson: Don’t have images floating randomly in space.

Finally, the main title has been lifted off the horizon. It took me some to work out this change. Eventually, I noticed that, when viewed from a distance, the title stands out more. Lesson: Designers may know how to design, but publishers know what sells.

I only hope the contents are as good as the cover.

One final thing. Have a look at that banner again. Isn’t that sword nestling in fur? Is it a wolf skin? Did it belong to Byrhtnoth? Where did it come from? At the time I was looking for inspiration for Book 2.  It now has wolves!

Eric Bloodaxe and wolves – it’s looking good! But that will be another book.