May

11

2011

titles

Filed under: The Summer of Living Dangerously, writing

You would think that coming up with a title for your book would be an easy thing for an author. After all, the author is the one who’s lived with the story for a year or so, who knows every word and every character. I write down the themes and journey and key bits of symbolism/imagery for each of my books, so I know that, too.

How hard can it be?

Well, actually it can be pretty damn hard. Turns out I’m not all that much a whiz at titles. Let’s see…I’ve sold 14 books now, and I’ve kept my own titles with five of them.

When I was writing for Mills & Boon, that wasn’t surprising. Nobody, or hardly anybody, chooses their own titles for M&B novels. The titles have a style and keywords of their own and that style and those keywords are seemingly set in stone by the marketing people—at least until they change their mind. This is one reason why, as a reader, you shouldn’t be put off by these titles like The Billionaire Sheikh Cowboy’s Secret Baby Marriage of Convenience of Revenge, because underneath that horror of a title there is most likely a really good, exciting, touching story with hardly any sheikhs or revenge in it, and which was probably originally titled Ouch! Get Away From Me With That Thing!

Or similar.

Anyway, as I said, I’m not so good with titles really. The provisional title for one of my M&Bs was Remarkably Penetrative Sperm, and I persisted in calling another book Who’s Your Daddy? until my agent renamed it One Night Stand. The title that is widely agreed to be my best one to date, Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom, was mine but it was originally a joke, a working title that I would not have believed I would be allowed to keep in a million years.

Now that I’m writing for a mainstream imprint, the title selection process for the past two books has gone something like this.

1. I come up with a working title. The working title for my next paperback was, at first, THE WATERLOO SUMMER, which I liked and my agent also liked but we both agreed that it wasn’t much of a title for this type of book, especially when I changed the date of much of the imaginary action to 1814, when the battle of Waterloo hadn’t even happened yet. So I changed the working title to THE REBIRTH OF MISS ALICE WOODSTOCK, which was a line from the novel.

2. I submit the novel and my agent and my editor both tell me the title is bad. The novel then becomes called UNTITLED. (My novels spend a lot of time being called UNTITLED.)

3. All of us—me, agent, and editor and also assorted helpful people at my publishers—start brainstorming new titles. These titles need to fit the book, sound snappy and appealing to the target audience, and not have been used very recently by anyone else. It has to look good on a book cover, too. We come up with lists and lists. Lots of them are rubbish (you can guess who usually comes up with the rubbish ones) and some of them are actually quite good. When we get a good one, we share it with each other and if someone doesn’t like it, we scrap it and start again. It turns out, it’s actually quite difficult to please three people with the same title. This can be frustrating, but the thing is, that my agent and my editor really know their stuff, unlike me, so I trust them implicitly and know that eventually, it’ll happen. This process can take months.

4. At some magic moment, someone (ie a person who is not me) will come up with a title that makes all of us cry, “That’s it!”

5. This happy time immediately becomes a nail-biting time whilst you wait to find out if the shiny new title will be approved by the editorial team, and then by the sales and marketing team. If not, you’re back to the drawing board.

6. If everyone likes it, then you have a title! Hooray!!

Having been through this entire process, I can now very happily confirm that the title of my next novel will be THE SUMMER OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY.

Nice, isn’t it?


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  1. A very interesting and funny ‘peep backstage’ Julie. I haven’t had a short story title turned down yet (Xcite Books) but I have to run each one past a friend in my writing group. I don’t trust my own judgement…hmm..

    Reply

    • I don’t trust my judgement either Sandra. It’s great that you have people to help you. I tremble to ask for help, as I have to please 3 people as it is…

      Reply

  2. I, too, am rubbish at titles. They usually end up being titled with the hero and heroine’s names, because you have to have something to distinguish all those working drafts from each other.

    ‘Save the Cat’ by Blake Snyder has a great section on titles that really helped me think differently about them. Still can’t come up with many good ones, but I feel as if I’m half a step closer to doing it one day.

    Reply

    • Maybe we should just call all of our books “Save the Cat”. It’s a good title. We should all reap the benefits.

      Reply

  3. I also hate titles. Hopeless at them. I recently submitted my first 3,000 words to the Crime Writers Association debut dagger competition and it needed a title. It didn’t yet have one. What did I do? Stuck the first thing I could think of on it and sent it off. I just hope they don’t judge me on the first-thing-that-popped-into-my-head-title.

    I love your explanation of the title procedure. And I love your new title :)

    Reply

    • And yet, sometimes, the first thing that pops into your head is the best title imaginable. The titles I’ve kept have all been the first thing that has popped into my head.

      Good luck with the competition, Rebecca!

      Reply

  4. I need a title to write a book and many times it’s the actual start of the book – the seed (Seeing August Rock on the boating chart and thinking it sounded like a book title months before I wrote it, The Summer of The Black Hare- my NaNo book last year, was uttered after an evening visitation of a black hare and wow did it inspire me). With my first book I guess coming out next summer the title will be so close mine A Cornish House) and it will The Cornish House. The book bubbling is Enemy which is not very original but it works with the ideas at the mo.

    Good luck with this one, Julie.
    lx

    Reply

    • Interesting that you get the seed from the title. I don’t work that way—it’s always the character—and I can see how that would create a different focus. The Summer of the Black Hare really intrigues me. And I think that proves, Liz, that you have strong ideas for your stories from the start, and a good idea of what will resonate with your audience.

      Reply

  5. Gorgeous title, Julie. (And I confess to title envy…)

    Reply

    • Thank you Kate. You may borrow my Remarkably Penetrative Sperm title any time you like. :-)

      And I choose to read your books regardless of the title.

      Reply

  6. Having just been through this process myself, I can confirm that titles are a nightmare until the perfect one lights a flare in the brain. Love yours. (I love your rubbish ones, too, but understand why publishers don’t!)

    Reply

    • Liz, I SO dare you to write a book entitled Remarkably Penetrative Sperm (as above). Hope your title came good, but like Kate’s, I’d read your book no matter what the title.

      Reply

  7. LOL! Dunno why they didn’t keep Remarkably Penetrative Sperm…

    THE SUMMER OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY is a fantastic title. Congrats!

    Reply

  8. Oops. That last anonymous comment was from me =)

    Reply

    • Thanks Lacey. I was hoping for a whole new set of marketing keywords based on my working title. THE VIRGIN MISTRESS’S BILLIONAIRE COWBOY’S REMARKABLY PENETRATIVE SPERM OF REVENGE!

      Reply

  9. Julie, I’m so glad you wrote this post. We don’t have a title for my book either. And it is making me CRAZY. I thought I was the only person in the world this happened to. I’m hoping now there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Great title btw!

    Reply

    • Don’t worry, there definitely will be light at the end of the tunnel, and you’ll get a great title eventually. But it does take some time, sometimes. I agree, it makes me crazy too.

      Can’t wait to hear what yours is!

      Reply

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