Friday, May 17, 2013

Do You Agonize Over Choosing A Title? by Roz Denny Fox



After characters show up in my head and badger me until an idea germinates with a story where I might put them, I start kicking around possible book titles. It has always seemed important to me to have a working title I think will grab a reader’s attention and will in some way exemplify my story.
My first title thoughts are always too wordy. A wise author once told me to keep a title simple.  Yes you want the title to fit the tone, the general theme and of course your sub-genre, but short is better. Two words fit well on a cover. I was told to use descriptive nouns and short words with punch. I think it’s true because consider successful movie and song titles. Many are one or two words.
I do review current song titles when I’m looking to title a book. I like the Country-Western titles because many of my stories are contemporary cowboy or ranch stories. I check out the “somebody done me wrong” titles, but find many too long and too funny to make use of.
The authors I know want something original. Given the number of songs, movies and books out there, cobbling together a totally new title seems pretty impossible.
I spend way too much time gnashing my teeth over titling my story. But I’m a list maker so I start a list of possible choices. It gives me an excuse to go to the bookstore. I see what current titles are on the shelf and which ones “speak” to me. I like to go through books of poetry and see if any words that evoke emotion stand out. (Okay—so I dink around with this when I should be writing the book.)
And the more books I write, the more difficult this process is. I sometimes sketch my rough idea to writer friends and ask them for title possibilities which I always think are better than mine. I add those to my growing list.
The truth is, after all this work and angst I try not to get too attached to what I settle on as a working title. My editor may hate it. Or maybe they’re going to publish a book with a similar title that I know nothing about. Early in my career I had good luck picking titles that ended up on my books. Now—not so much. In fact I sometimes end up sending in nearly all of the titles on my list and still need to go back and search for more.
I have one writer friend who thinks I’m silly to waste time I could be writing on titling my work in progress. She lists hers and Work 1, Work 2, etc. When her book is finished she brainstorms titles with friends, relatives and her editor. And I must say her titles are crisp, concise and compelling. But my OCD tendencies want an honest-to-goodness possible title at the top of every page I write.
You probably already know that titles of songs, movies and books can’t be copyrighted. So it’s okay to filch partial or whole titles that you like. Also remember to look to the pages you’ve written for words that resonate. Is your story about forgiveness, revenge, heartbreak, honor or justice? Do you have a bit of introspection or dialogue that’s smart, snappy, and perfect for your title?
Do any of you care to share what you do to arrive at a book title? Also, do you think titles matter to readers?

16 comments:

  1. I think out of twenty-three books, only five titles are mine. My friend Stacy Connelly, who writes for Special Edition, once titled her book Untitled. She was making a point. But, she was also writing about a knight searching to regain his title. Hmmmmm.

    And, yes, I title them right away.

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  2. Wow! I really needed your helpful advice on this topic, Roz. Thanks :) I'm not very good at choosing titles- but I love your ideas of checking out words in poems or looking at song titles. I agree that shorter is better and powerful nouns matter. I try to reflect the theme or essence of the book - what lies at it 's heart. If I had to sum it up in 2-3 word, what would they be... That sort of thing. But I'm understanding of the reasons why it 's sometimes not possible for our editors to let us keep our title, so I try not to get too attached. Great post as always, Roz :)

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  3. Roz, for what we write, titles make a difference. Our Ella Clah mysteries always have a title that's fitting like say, GHOST MEDICINE (Nov.) or our July Intrigue FALCON'S RUN.(To the Navajos, Falcon is a messenger that reminds everyone to pay attention to what's around them.) The only time we deviated from that formula was with A TIME OF CHANGE, (out now) because it was romantic suspense, but from the same hardcover publisher as our Ella Clahs and we wanted to let readers know it was NOT an Ella. HOMESPUN CHRISTMAS (Dec. Heartwarming)is about a group of women who get together to save their town from ruin and use their crafts to get everyone back on their feet. That title seemed perfect since the Navajo element was more in the background, though still there.

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  4. I think titles are definitely something that draws my attention to a book. I've been lucky so far to keep my own titles, but then so far all I've written were Christmas-themed books and they all have the word Mistletoe in them lol:) It's just such a nice word!

    xo
    Jen

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  5. Unless I have a great title idea instantly, my working title is the names of hero and heroine. Right now I'm working on HUNTER AND SANDY. When the editor wants a title, I go through the Thesaurus for strong words that mean what I want to say. And I love alliteration, so I look for that. Like you, Roz, I did well with titles years ago. Today, I guess Marketing has buzzwords, or there are so many titles out there, it's hard to be brilliant. And yet, sometimes, someone is. I love UNTITLED.

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  6. Sorry I'm late in checking in. Seems I had a hard time getting into gear this morning. Love all of the comments. Like Aimee said, I guess a title is the first opportunity to entice a reader to take a look at our work. I think titles reflecting the book's theme make a lot of sense. Have a good weekend everyone.

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  7. I've never written a book that doesn't have a title. I think it's just the place where I have to start--kind of like getting that first line in. In rare instances, the title may change, but usually because my publisher wants something different (not me). I love titles that are literal and metaphorical at the same time. Those are the best!

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  8. Ah a great title. Many titles I think up turn out to be currently in use. But I think going with untitled or work 1 might be a good use of time.

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  9. Thanks for the ideas on where to look for titles. I do need a title for a book while I'm writing it because it helps to keep me focused....ok no one ever said I do things the normal way. I like to toss around ideas with my critique partner, whose brains works totally opposite of mine, but between the two of us we are always able to come up with something that works.

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  10. I'm always SO impressed by authors who come up with great titles -- after striking out time after time after time, I was bowled over at finally getting one accepted. It made me cynical, figuring "the editor can do it better anyway," but that's not a very good attitude for learning new skills!

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  11. Hi Roz! I've had good luck with titles that just jump me and I know right away they'll fit. Other times it is difficult. :) I've had both situations.

    Denise A. Agnew
    www.deniseagnew.com

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  12. Thanks everyone for weighing in on a subject that isn't easy to get a handle on. It would be nice to come up with a blockbusting title. Not sure if that's possible. Although I was intrigued enough by "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" to buy the book.

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  13. Hi, Roz. Love the post. Titles sometimes come to me right away, and I know what book I'm writing. Other times, the book has a number (especially in series) until I find a title for it. I agonized over ASHES FOR THE ELEPHANT GOD. It's a little long, but it worked. It made the book unique and people remember it because it's set in India. Often I use the name of the hero or heroine with another word, like for: SEDUCING SIGEFROI or AKIRA'S CHOICE (coming in September). Titles are difficult to come by, but they are worth the trouble. A good title can sell a book, and a mediocre one can make it disappear. Some even sold a book on a title, like Jennifer Ashley with THE CARE AND FEEDING OF PIRATES, which started as a joke, then the editor heard it and wanted her to write it.

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  14. Great blog post Roz. Titles are tricky to write, but you always seem to find ones that peak my interest.

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  15. Great subject, Roz. The short stories I sold usually had their titles changed by the editor, even though I spent a great deal of time trying to make the title perfect for the story. Then when I couldn't come up with anything and chose something as simple as "The Gazebo," they used that. I never found the correct solution.
    Marion

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  16. I struggle with titles a whole lot. But now I've got ideas to help me in the future. Thanks, Roz!

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