I’m madly trying to finish my first young adult historical fantasy, so today I’ll attempt to do something that we Wenches have talked about on our private loop, but seldom manage to do in practice: Talk short. <g>
I’m not sure I’ll be successful, but I’ll try, using a topic suggested by Wench regular Maggie Robinson, who asked this:
“I have a question about book titles. How successful are you in naming your own books, or must you submit to editors' titles? Is it a group consensus thing? Have you ever had a title assigned to you that you absolutely hated? And since you Wenches are so prolific, can you remember all your titles? *g*"
By chance, as I was drafting this blog another question about titles came in from Joan Woods:
“I would like to know who has the final say about the title of a book. The Author or Publisher?”
So I’ll address all the questions, and Maggie and Joan have both earned a a free book from me.
On to the topic: Get a group of romance writers together, especially historical authors, and the topic of cover art will come up pretty fast, often accompanied by howls of misery. There have been multiple WW blogs on the subject, including superb deconstructions of paintings by our art history experts.
But titles? I don’t recall that we’ve ever discussed the subject, yet like cover art, titles are a potent aspect of marketing a book successfully. At the very least, a title needs to define what genre a book is in. Hence, mysteries frequently have Death or Murder in the title, or some other crime-ish word. (A Is for Alibi, Murder on a Girl's Night Out, et al.)
Likewise, romance novel titles often have words like love and passion, and symbols like fire and flowers. But a really good title goes beyond that to become memorable, and better yet, sounds like a particular author. Diana Gabaldon does great, distinctive titles: Dragonfly in Amber, The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, etc.
For mass market, it can be handy to have a short title so the letters can be large and easy to read on a smallish cover. Nora Roberts’ early single title contemporaries had great, punchy titles based on contradictions: Hot Ice, Honest Illusions, and others.)
"Dark" these days often means intense paranormal romance with sexy monster heroes, while Dixie Cash is branded as comic country contemporary with titles like Since Yo'u're Leaving Anyway, Take out the Trash. .
The current trend in historical romance is toward fairly wordy titles, which at least allows more possibilities. My next book had a working title that was reasonably good and accurate: Always a Lady. But it didn’t have a huge amount of zip, so I suggested Never Less Than a Lady, which means the same thing but is maybe punchier (and which doesn’t seem to have been used before.)
So you can see how complicated it is to come up with a bare handful of words that defines genre, tone, author—and will look good on a cover Ideally, title and cover art work together to make a total package that will leap into the hands of potential readers. And if all this makes the process of finding a title nightmarish—that is exactly right!
Maggie: “I have a question about book titles. How successful are you in naming your own books, or must you submit to editors' titles? Is it a group consensus thing?”
Joan: “I would like to know who has the final say about the title of a book. The Author or Publisher?”
In most cases, finding a title is a collaborative process. Some editors will accept an author’s working title pretty easily, while others will torture authors endlessly to find a better title. This necessitates a Great Title Hunt, where the author e-mails her best buds and says, “Help! I need a title!” Brainstorming and lists ensue, the author goes back to the editor with new choices—and one may or may not be accepted. A few rounds of this and the author will be shrieking, “I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU CALL THE !#$%&! BOOK, JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!”
Some authors have a real knack for titles. Others—not so much. Sometimes a great title that everyone loves will be accepted from the beginning, other times half the publisher's employees and all the author’s friends are enlisted without success.
Authors can become very attached to titles that aren’t very good. Other times, the author, editor, and agent might agree on a title they love—and the publisher’s sales department nixes it, saying something snappier is needed.
I want to be clear that when editors or sales departments reject a title, it’s because they genuinely believe a different title will work better for the author in the marketplace. And often they’re right. Telling a great story doesn't automatically mean one can come up with great titles.
So in general, finding a title is a group process. Sometimes contracts specify that titles must be mutually agreed upon. But basically, it is the publishers who have the ultimate say because they're in charge of production. Very few authors have the clout (or the contractual power) to say “No WAY will my book be titled Lust's Flaming Fling!"
Luckily, it’s much more common to have a title that everyone is okay with, even if not everyone loves it.
Maggie: “Have you ever had a title assigned to you that you absolutely hated? And since you Wenches are so prolific, can you remember all your titles?”
For my part, I’ve had some titles I didn’t love, but none that I really hated. Sometimes it takes a while for the official name to sink into my mind, especially if there have been several working titles before reaching a final choice, but eventually the official title is how I remember the book. And yes, I do recall all my titles, though I can’t say whether that’s true of all the Wenches. <G>
So that’s the behind the scenes story of finding titles. Are there particular titles or series of titles that you’ve loved? That you’ve hated? Titles that have made you want to pick up a book, or titles that have made you refuse want to pick one up? I’m looking forward to what you come up with!