Friday, October 19, 2007

What's In a Title?

I spent some time yesterday offering title options to a friend. Actually, I know several different fellow authors who profess to suck at titles. I on the other hand find it difficult to write a book without first settling on the title. Strange, that.

Most authors I know start with the story and decide on a title as they go along--or even when they're finished. For me the title defines the action in the book (at least in my mind) so I need the title first. I won't say that I've never changed a title. Cherished Destinies was a title that I settled on halfway through that book as I saw that the book was changing shape mid-stream.

Recently a friend of mine was pilloried in a blog because of the title of her book. It was a cutesy/frank take off on a popular phrase and quite appropriate for the target audience. What amazed me was the sheer intolerance of the comments. Why are we still not past that point? And why are we still dealing with the title/cover/content police?

How much can you really tell from a title? I like titles that tell me something about the story or at least allude to something in the story. And since I'm a straight-arrow kind of person, I would prefer not to have to puzzle it out because it's an obscure reference to a dead poet. If you're gonna use a poet reference at least put that reference on the dedication page so I know what we're talking about.

One of my friends believes that my books Chrysanthemum, Honeysuckle, and Daffodil would sell better if they were named something like Tie Me Down, Two Men for Honey, and Spanking Daffodil. Maybe. But I was thinking this is a trilogy about three sisters named Chrysanthemum, Honeysuckle and Daffodil. So that's what I named the books. After all when Melville wrote his whale book, he didn't call it Killing a Whale--he called it Moby Dick. I was going for classy--Oliver Twist, Jude the Obscure (believe me, he was), and Tom Sawyer. Sigh.

Maybe classy was too much to expect. Maybe the titles just weren't up front enough. Maybe. I'm still kicking around a title for Bishop's book. I think it's going to be something like Finally, Love or something like that. I haven't quite found the right words, but when I do, then that will settle the book for me. That's how I work.

A title should intrigue the reader, capture their interest and make them want to find out what the book is about. If it makes a promise--My Dragon Lover--by golly, there better be a dragon in the book and he better be the main hero. I once read a book about a the entire book, waiting for the dragon to appear...only to discover that the title was one of those weird dead poet references. There was no dragon! The manager at the bookstore tried to argue with me when I asked for my money back, but seven bucks for a story with no dragon in it--nope, I wasn't going for it. Eventually, she reluctantly forked over my money. I probably would have kept the book, crummy though it was, if the author had at least conjured up one measly dragon to cover the title.

I think I read somewhere that some publishers don't let the author choose the title. I don't think I could do that. Covers I can deal with the publisher deciding on. But a title? No, I think I would have a difficult time coping with that. A title is kind of personal. It says something about the person that wrote the book. While doing research, I once worked with a set of books titled "The History of the Descendents of Edward Bosworth who came to America in 1632". Well. At least you know what that book is about. And I can hazard a guess or two about the author. Can't you?


Drop by Amarinda's blog to check out the latest on the Blogga Saga at and then pop over to Kelly's blog at for her latest entry.


  1. Yeah, I aways come up with the titles right at the start. I have a title for current one and for the next two. I think titles have to grab you, followed by the covers. Yes, I know don't judge a book by its cover but people always will. It's that pesky human being thing.

    As for petty comments about book titles - they are made by petty people and therefore are of no significance. These people are but wankers we have to deal with in life. Being petty gives them something to do

  2. I had little trouble with the titles in my Arbor U series. And generally, I have no problem titling anything. But this work that I finished recently has me completely stumped! I wish the muse would come back and tell me what she wants it called...

  3. I also prefer to come up with a title first. Even if I end up changing it, the title gives me a jumping off point. It is like a 2 or 3 word summary for my brain to remember what I am supposed to be writing about. I have a dry erase board with a dozen titles written on it. I look at it every day and sigh at all the work ahead of me.

    Oh, and I agree with Amarinda, Petty is as Petty does.

    Oh, and I would totally demand my money back on a "dragon" book without a "dragon" too. And the fact that the manager had the gall to argue with you just serves to prove that some people do not belong in bookstores.


  4. I still wish Helen had okayed "Inn Her" or "Inn and Out" Tells you all you need to know, huh? I won't go any further on that theme.

    I happened to love the title you were referring to. I loved the story, the writer, and thought the title made it feel like I'd been let in on a joke.

  5. Gee Anny, I'm feeling like an odd duck here...again. Sometimes I start with a title, sometimes it comes as I'm writing and sometimes the characters are still arguing over it even after the whole story's on paper.

  6. So you're an extremely adaptable duck--that's all. Everyone is different...thank goodness. If we were all the same we'd be BORING!

  7. I think this latest one for me is the first time I've been stumped. Yes, AJ, there was that other one, but I would have had one before long....your's was just better.

    The Marriage books came on their own. never mind, those aren't original title either. Whatev.

  8. When I don't have an official title my default is the hero's name, always said with a sigh for some reason.

  9. I'm one who starts with a character and then he tells me a story. I just wish he'd give me a list of titles too. I struggle with them and once I find one it is agony for me to have to rename it. I've had two books now that my editor has asked me to rename. Thank goodness for Anny. She renamed the last one for me, Lovers' Stone.