Pub Rants

Some Titles Should Never See The Light Of Day

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STATUS: Reading late tonight but I hope not to be burning the midnight oil.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? USE SOMEBODY by Kings of Leon

I have to say that tonight I can completely sympathize with all you writers out there who are struggling with a title for your work.

I find that in general, one of two things happens. Either you immediately know the title for your novel and it, in fact, happens often before you even begin writing or you can’t find a title to save your life.

For the last two weeks, a client and I have been brainstorming titles again. I know what you are thinking—not this again. But hey, it actually worked with Jamie Ford’s Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet (and I’ll be forever grateful that one discarded title idea, Burning Silk, never saw the light of day). Oops, should have kept that hidden under a rock…

For Private Arrangements, we actually have the Bantam team to thank for that one. Our original title was Schemes Of Love—which is not a bad title per se but Private Arrangements is definitely a stroke of genius. (Not my genius mind you….)

Once Upon Stilettos was a Marketing Director’s brilliant idea (I love creative people!). So there is hope for you if you end up selling your novel with its only so-so title.

Which is why when I read queries, I don’t rely too heavily on what a project is called. However, if it’s a rockin’ title, I’ll ask for sample pages even if the query letter isn’t as strong as it could be.

That’s one good reason for a strong brainstorming session before your submit. After all, the title Soulless was an instant winner in my book. Proof By Seduction immediately caught my attention by being clever and original.

Hands down, Ally Carter is the Queen of titles and let me tell you, all the genius is on her side. I’ve not been responsible for any of her wonderful titles.

Keep in mind that queries with good titles definitely stand out but nailing that title isn’t a deal breaker—especially when I’m going to spend the next hour playing with word combos for this manuscript we’ve been working on! Maybe I should put Ally on speed dial…

31 Responses

  1. Tina Lynn said:

    Awesome song choice. I’ve never had title trouble. In fact, sometimes the title comes first…then the actual story idea follows, but I’m no Ally Carter *grin*.

  2. Girl with One Eye said:

    Yes, it is painful. But I put that bad boy in the corner and will address him later.

    Use Somebody on the other hand is a fabulous title, it insinuates a negative tone but actually the lead singer was lonely when he wrote it.

  3. DebraLSchubert said:

    I love coming up with titles. It’s the rest of the book that gives me pause (*grin*).

    I also wanted to say to you and Sara that I LOVE your newsletter. It’s chock full of useful tips and articles. I plan to use the website designer Ally Carter used when I’m ready. Thanks for all you do to help us writers along our journeys. 😉

  4. r louis scott said:

    This is one reason why my chapters are numbered instead of titled. My critique partner somehow managed to give me “The Look” via email after seeing them.

  5. Cam Snow said:

    I personally love titles that are both Long and short (kind of like “Lamb – the life and times of christ as told by his best friend Biff” by Chris Moore).

    Maybe that’s just b/c my thesis title was 27 words long.

  6. Gordon Jerome said:

    Great. Not only are we going to change the ending, some of the characters, and suggest a different setting for your story, we (the publishing industry)will also determine what your title will be.

    And why? Because we know all you want is publication. You don’t really care what we do with your work, or how much we pay you, or what rights we take, so long as your name is on a cover–any cover–any book.

    I think the whole industry stinks. I think it all ought to become one big James Patterson Corporation with ghost writers, marketing consultants, and focus groups and be done with it.

    I think this is all a big joke. Where’s the art? Who gets to write the art that becomes the literature by which we are defined as human beings? The agents!

    As Tears for Fears sang in their song, Sowing the Seeds of Love I say the same thing: “Kick out the style. Bring back the jam.”

  7. Tracey S. Rosenberg said:

    I really liked the original title for my WiP. Then my friends all said, ‘yeah, it’s a great title! – assuming the novel includes a car chase and a hot tub scene.’ Which, since the protagonist is aged 12, it does not. (Okay, a tiny car chase scene, but definitely no hot tubs.)

    I’m happy with my current title but I’m not wedded to it, which I think is fine, as it means the Marketing Dept can change it to something better without me being upset. Not that my emotions are the main issue at that stage, of course.

  8. Anonymous said:

    My daughter’s name is Star. This only ever provokes two responses. People invariably say either “wow, your daughters name is Star,” or (with look of disgust) “you called your kid Star?”

    They approach my titles the same way. 50% love them, 50% hate them, but I love them, so tough. I don’t care how far out the box I am.

    I have a word count question. Wordprocessor says 70k words on my m/s. NY method says 100,000k words. Double spaced, I’ve written 398 A4 pages. It is finished, there’s no more to write, but I’m worried it’s too short.

    Is it?

  9. nkrell said:

    I have to agree with you, Ally Carter is a genius when it comes to titles. She is also very blessed when it comes to the cover art for her books. Heist Society is one of the best covers I’ve ever seen! (Of course, she also has the talent to back it all up!)

  10. Ryan Anderson said:

    So, given the possibility of changing titles, is it best for the author to acknowledge in a query that he/she is willing to be flexible or that the current title is tentative? Or is that just assumed?

  11. Lori said:

    I decided in a split second to purchase “Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet” and my decision was based SOLELY on the name. That’s it. I didn’t even have to read the blurb. It is such a great title — has whimsy and a crawl-up-on-the-couch appeal.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Gordon — count yourself lucky if you have a strong editor that cares enough about your book to demand excellence from you. And if caring about your book means pursuading you to get rid of a character that doesn’t belong, tweaking an ending to wow instead of yawn, or changing a title to one that might make someone take a second look, pick it off a shelf, and BUY it, then A freaking MEN to that.

    Please, God, give me such an editor so I stand a chance in this industry!

  13. AM said:

    I have a working title for my manuscript, but I have never loved it. So, it is a relief to know that the title isn’t a deal breaker. On the other hand, learning that a unique title may help get the manuscript in the door has convinced me to give the title much more thought.

    Thanks for the insight.

  14. Dara said:

    Titles are generally the bane of my existence. I normally bounce ideas off my my younger sister as she nearly always comes up with such stunning ones for her own WiPs and generally knows what sounds catchy or not.

    My current one though I’m proud to say I came up with it all by myself–and fairly early on too. I’m rather fond of it and I’ve gotten some good feedback from others, so hopefully it’ll be the title I stick with when I’m querying. If it changes in the course of publishing, so be it–but I’ll really miss it! 🙂

  15. Anonymous said:

    Gordon, writing is an art but publishing is a business. It’s always been that way. The literary greats of the past were edited too. I get that some writers want to have complete control over all aspects of their book and think the publishing industry stinks. That’s what self-publishing is for.

  16. Kristin Laughtin said:

    I love titles. I’ve probably got more titles in my head than I do stories right now (at least, fleshed out stories–I’ve got tons of glimmerings of story ideas). When I first began considering seeking publication someday, one of the first things I had to get over was the idea that, should I be published, someone might want to change my title. Even now, it’s a bitter pill to swallow with some of my titles I love. With others, it’s not as big a deal. I know how much an intriguing title can make me pick up a book, and if a new title will make my book equally intriguing, I’ll just have to swallow my title-creating pride and live with it. HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET is a great title, as is SOULLESS. Ally Carter’s books aren’t in the genres I read, but when I see her books on display, I smile because her titles really are quite clever. Obama’s book is popular because he’s popular, but it’s undeniable that THE AUDACITY OF HOPE is a brilliant title and that probably helped sell even more copies. In the past couple of years, I’ve read THE NAME OF THE WIND, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, and THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN because of the titles, and might have never picked up those titles otherwise. You can’t undersell the power of a good title.

  17. Donna Gambale said:

    I’ve always been hesitant about my title for my WIP, and I was so excited when an editor at a conference said she loved it and thought it was representative and a great hook. Though I try to imagine what else it could be. I agree with Tracey – I’m not wedded to it. And Cam made a great point – Christopher Moore has great titles.

  18. Douglas Hulick said:

    My editor and I are currently trying to come up with a title for my first book. Not easy work. I’ve made lists of relevant words, bugged friends who have read it, even fed the book into a word cloud generator to see which words appear most in the book (this was kind of fun, but still didn’t give me a title). Adding to the mix is that we want to come up with something that will be adaptable to a series, so I have to not only have this book in mind, but the next one as well. In short: I commiserate.

    I’m hoping lightning will strike one of us, but also realize it may just be a matter of having to settle for a good title, as opposed to a perfect one. Ironically, my stand-alone WiP had a title instantaneously, which is both cool and frustrating, considering it isn’t in the publication line (yet).

    I think I need a title genius on-call. 🙂

  19. Stephanie said:

    My Title, “A Bitch Named Karma” was not my original title. I had something else but in one of my query attempts I used “a bitch named Karma” in one of the lines and one of my writer’s group members said “Hey, I like that for a title!” The challenge now is coming up with a title for the sequel….

    Sometimes I title will pop in my head and the story comes later…sometimes the idea comes first. I had a hell of a time with my title for “Spellbound” and I’m still not real happy with it. We’ll see! Maybe if I ever find an agent or publisher for it, they can help me find a new title!!

  20. LLR said:

    Anonymous, you’re crediting editors and agents with a lot more involvement than most of them actually have. Early in my career, I worked with one excellent editor whose input taught me a lot and helped me improve my work. Mostly, though, I’ve worked with editors who were either so jaded, burned out, and mediocre that they weren’t capable of giving input (indeed, I worked with at least one editor who didn’t even READ my MSs before sending them through to production), and others who have simply been too busy to edit, since the economics of publishing for the past decade or so means that editors have very, very little time to actually edit.

    I’ve released at least six books that no one’s edited at all (which yet another reason why an author needs to deliver a really crisp, tight, well-written book straight out of the gate, rather than assuming that agents and editors will assist her in her work), and at least another ten where the notes were so light they were just given to me over the phone.

    Meanwhile, none the agents I’ve worked with even read my work, and this is more common than people realize.

    And the last time I worked with anyone who gave me any input AT ALL on titles was, oh, at least 15 years ago. Mostly, my contracts get signed as “[series name] #4” or “[author name] #2” or something like that, and I get asked what the title is when the publisher starts advance promo work, if I haven’t already turned in the MS.

    This is indeed business–and in my experience, business is what editors and agents focus on (with varying degrees of competence). Making the book good (and making the title effective) had been left strictly up to me since very early in my career.

  21. Anonymous said:

    LLR — That’s why I said “count yourself lucky” to have such an editor, I do realize that the ones that really, really push your book to a higher level ARE few and far between.

    So, my point to Gordon was, hell, most of us would be grateful for that kind of feedback, instead of thinking our “Art” should be shoved out in the world without a second thought.

  22. Jill Edmondson said:

    I find it easy to come up with titles… often a clever title will inspire me to come up with something new…. I will get an idea from a title that pops into my head.

    Also, I like plays on words in titles. My firsts book is called “Blood and Groom” and the next will be called “Dead Light District”.

    I think shorter is better in most cases.

    Cheers, Jill

  23. Brittany said:

    For my last project, the title was just there. And for my current novel, I haven’t seriously brainstormed title ideas yet. It depends on the story.

    I love Ally Carter’s titles. 🙂

  24. Frisky said:

    Gordon, I worry about you. Maybe reading these agent blogs is not good for your blood pressure.

  25. Anonymous said:

    Dear Gordon,

    We’re sorry our relationship, or to be more clear, the lack there of, has made you bitter.

    And we realize you have put hard work into your writing. Unfortunately we found your manuscript “I’m God’s Gift to Ya’ll,” egotistical, self-centered, and rigid. Also the title sucks.

    We suggest before forcing anyone else to endure your tome, you take some time for self reflection. We keep rejecting you be it’s not as good as you think. We’re particularly offended by the creative grammar and spelling. And for Oxford’s sake please get a dictionary.

    If after self reflection you decide nothing needs to be changed, please understand, we won’t ever publish your work. Its not personal we promise.

    I know how much your mother and all of your friends loved it. Consider American Idol for a moment. There are hundreds of singers with a list about who loves their signing just like your list of fans. And despite their fans, they can’t carry a tune. Frankly, people who love you lie to you.

    We don’t love you so we don’t feel compelled to lie. Unless you’re willing to make significant alterations and remove the stick from your ass stop sending your manuscript to us.


    All Agents and Publishers Globaly.

  26. Anonymous said:

    The title is like the most important part of the book. It tells you a little bit about the book and makes you want to buy it, even if the book itself isn’t good your title could make people get interested. It’s one of the most important and the most difficult. It’s hard!-