Here are a few more stories about how books got their titles. I find the genesis of book titles totally fascinating -hopefully you do too!
Thanks to all my author friends who shared their stories!
“The Good Braider
was always The Good Braider
and my editor and editorial staff all thought of it that way.
A novel coming out in a few months was always Rabbit in the Moon to me. I was terribly committed to it, having found myths and symbolism around rabbits and the image of the rabbit in the moon in Cambodian culture. But now it’s called Either the Beginning or the End of the World, taken from a Carolyn Forche poem.” -Terry Farish
“With my debut, the title began as The Family Furnival. And then, fairly late in the game my editor told me that “some people” thought Furnival sounded like “funeral” and they couldn’t get beyond it. I polled literally dozens and dozens of people and no one else heard “funeral.” I got “carnival” “festival” “fun” and even (my favorite) “fur carnival” but no one (other than my editor’s “some people”) heard funeral. However, it was not a battle worth fighting, so I embarked on a name hunt. I wanted alliteration with family, but Fletcher actually has another secret meaning. My aunt is children’s book author Elizabeth Levy, and her first book series, back in the 1970s and 80s, were a series of picture books called Something Queer is Going On, and they featured a basset hound named Fletcher. So my book’s title -The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher – was ultimately a little inside joke with her!” -Dana Alison Levy*
*Another gorgeous author website!!
“My original title was Sing To The Wind. The editorial staff was concerned it sounded too young, so my editor pulled all sorts of phrases from the manuscript and No Place To Fall
is what we kept coming back to. Now I can’t imagine any other title.” -Jaye Robin Brown
“Typically when I come up with my titles, I think of the simplest elements that represent my story, and I try to give it a more poetic meaning. My story is about a lesbian girl in a small town in the rural south. Since rainbows are the symbol for gay pride I wanted a title that represented rainbows without using the word. After playing around with some words I came up with SOUTH OF SUNSHINE. Rainbows are south of the sun, it’s set in the south and I named my fictitious small town Sunshine, Tennessee. I think it accomplishes what I was going for very well.” -Dana Elmendorf
“Secrets of Truth & Beauty was Just Like Mama Cass (changed because marketing didn’t think teens would know who Mama Cass was.)
The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill was The Remarkable Adventures of the Girl Detective, the Boy Genius, and the Spy
The Friendship Riddle was Letter Bee
Very in Pieces was Bottle Cap.
“I named my book 5 TO 1 because it’s about a world with 5 boys for every 1 girl and I honestly couldn’t think of anything better. I kinda assumed they’d change it but they didn’t. In retrospect, I wish I’d spelled it out as search engines don’t handle numbers very well.”
“My first Real Mermaids book was always ‘Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings’ from submission to publication but the other three titles in the series went through some debate, especially my third book (as did the cover art!). Here’s a comparison of the first title ‘Real Mermaids Don’t Have Two Left Feet’ (which the sales team thought young readers wouldn’t ‘get’) and the second ‘Real Mermaids Don’t Need High Heels’ (which is what went to print).” -Helene Boudreau
As promised -a follow up to last week’s post about the new title for my 2016 release:
WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE
I asked a few writer friends to weigh in on their own process in arriving at a title. Here’s what they said:
“My original working title was Legacy which I knew would never make it to print–too generic, too dull, etc. I just could never come up with anything that seemed quite right. When it came time to submit, Lauren (agent) came up with Poor Little Dead Girls as a catchier option, and it stuck. I love that it’s memorable, and it fits the tone of the book, but I do get some weird looks when I casually bring it up in conversation.” – Lizzie Carlson Friend
“THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY was ILLEGAL the whole time I was writing it, pitching it and imagining it on a shelf. About two months after I sold it, my editor casually said, “Oh, you know we can’t call it ILLEGAL, right? There’s already a novel out with that title.” I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened. But now I love my title so much I couldn’t imagine it being anything else.” –Maria Andreu*
*Side note: Maria has one of the best author websites around! Check it out!!
“My working title of SEX & VIOLENCE was the more benign and enigmatic THE CUPCAKE LADY OF TACOMA.This was not a title my editor could live with and I couldn’t think of anything better so when he took the book to acquisitions, he used the eye-catching title SEX & VIOLENCE. I wasn’t thrilled with this title; I thought it too blunt and also too in your face for my nice little book about lake cabin summer adventures. Even as we worked on it, I couldn’t think of anything better and after a bit, it just grew on me. Then the Meghan Cox Gurdon article happened in the WSJ and I said to my editor, what the hell, let’s just call it SEX & VIOLENCE, bc that’s what we’re being accused of writing about anyway. It still is a strange title to stand behind, though. I always feel a bit sheepish.
I should be making up better working titles for future books, but all the rest of them had no title as we were working on them. It’s kind of the worst part about the process, in some ways. I wonder if not really knowing what your story is about until you edit it and revise it several times plays into this weirdness, because that has been the case with me in all subsequent books, including the 4th one I just handed in.” – Carrie Mesrobian
was always Frenzy. Editorial agreed it was a perfect fit for my first book.
The Murk, which came out a couple weeks ago, was originally titled Mergo, a Latin word meaning I drown, I bury, I overwhelm. It’s also the name of the mysterious creature/antagonist of the book. I still prefer it to The Murk
, but the editorial team thought Mergo was too vague for an MG book, and they were probably right. The Murk was my suggestion too, so I’m happy that I was able to have some say in the end.” —Robert Lettrick
I had so many great responses to my question I needed to divide them into two posts. The next installment coming next week…
My new book -due out in the Spring of 2016 has a title! Woot woot! And yes you’re going to have to read this whole thing to find out what it is -or work your scroll finger.
Titles and covers are two things that authors get asked a lot about and coincidentally often have very little control over. As a seasoned second time author I knew to expect some haggle and finagling over my title. I actually wasn’t strongly attached to my working title of Wireman which was simply my main character’s last name. I knew it wasn’t super catchy but I liked that it was also a play on the fact that my main character is hearing impaired and wears hearing aids that make him feel like a cyborg.
My new editor at Carolrhoda Lab, Alix Reid, made a good suggestion that I was willing to go with, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up the search. I went back to the same process I used when trying to rename Go West into The Other Way Around. I did a thorough rereading of the manuscript (that’s such a funny word -it makes me think of quill pens and ruffled collar shirts) hunting for words and phrases that might have deeper meaning and also sound cool and somewhat catchy. It’s not easy. And it’s really hard to stay out of cliche territory.
I made a long list of everything that sounded remotely good –which meant some of it was very bad. Then I narrowed that list down to about 20 options which I shared first with my agent, Lauren, and a few trusted friends. These vetting processes are important -such as the time I thought Veg-jerky would be a great name for a dehydrated tofu product until a good friend pointed out that it sounded a lot like Vag(ina)-jerky. I don’t know what that would be but I don’t think it would sell well.
The list I sent to my editor included fewer than 10 potential titles with the ones Lauren and I liked best highlighted. From that Alix was able to eliminate the more theatrical and too commonplace ideas and pick a winner……..
So without further ado the new book is called….
WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE
It’s weird and quirky without being too sci-fi (which would be fine except the book is not science fiction) and it includes the word freak –which is important to the story in a number of ways. I’m quite pleased by the collaborative nature of this whole process. I think publishing is at its best when the people who care about the book the most are able to listen to one another and build off each other’s ideas.
In honor of this new title I asked a few writer friends to tell tales about the titling of their books. Stay tuned that post is coming next week.