Monday, July 17, 2006

Deed and Title Tittle

Published writers tell us "Don't get attached to your title. Chances are your publishers will change it."

Fine. Noted. Understood.

Probably many publishers keep a running assessment of the sorts of key words that excite a reader's interest and impel them to pick up a book and at least flip through it.

If they don't, they should.

Some writers therefore take this advice to the extreme and submit a manuscript with a vague, bland, no-name title on the basis that it doesn't matter what the mother is called - because it will be changed anyway by some nameless minion.

Excuse me?

Agents and editors somehow lack the capacity for curiousity? Are incapable of being interested by an intriguing title?
Agents and editors are your first marketplace readers.

Though a tiny,tiny, even subliminal factor, the title its little self is your first flick of the Bic.
Of course, the query has to measure up to the initial interest.
Of course, the subesquent manuscript has to sustain the preliminary promise.
Of course, flinty-eyed agents and editors have probably seen every title variation known to Amazon.
And of course, they may well change it to accord with market trends.

Nevertheless, don't discount the value and subtle intercession of an appropriate and intriguing title.
The title is the first spark that might burn that morgage.


kmfrontain said...

Titles are a bitch to choose sometimes. And then the short blurb is a bigger bitch. I swear blurb writing is the original flash fiction.

For that matter, titles are the original uber flash fiction. How to get it all in a few words?

kmfrontain said...

I'm going on vacation! Comment in a week, Bernita! :D

MissWrite said...

While you really should not get attached to your titles so much that it would just kill you to have the publisher change it, I don't think it happens quite as often as it may seem.

In the short time I've been an editor, the decision from the managing editor where I'm at requested that two of the authors I had at the time change their title. One was just minor, one required a completely different title. (That last one isn't out yet).

So out of nine (ll if you want to include my own two) only two titles were changes. That certainly proves that it does happen, but it also shows that it isn't going to necessarily happen.

It's STILL important to title your own work, and put a lot of effort into it. You're very right, Bernita, it's a first point of sale. Two of the most important selling tools in the final product of the book are the title, and the cover art. Those are what will hook the browser first, then they read the blurb, and then if they buy it, the story. That is, of course, unless you're a big name, then you can title your book 'The Diary of Horse Shit' and people will buy it. :)

Agents, and publishers can say what they want about not paying any attention to the title when making decisions. It's partly true. When it comes to the actual decision of whether they want to represent it, or buy it, it's the story that counts. BUT... I can only speak for myself here, however, I would assume it is true for others as well, what I chose to read from the slush is often what catches my eye by the title.

It only makes sense to put the same effort into your title that you put into the rest of your presentation any way. What if you just slap any old words onto the title and they DON'T ask you to change it? As a new author you might find yourself feeling silly, or afraid to suggest a name change in the after purchase stages. After all, they bought it, right?

My very first novel, which I DID think I'd named well enough when I did it, I WISH the publisher would have suggested changing titles. Although at the time it probably would have bothered me. It's still okay, but just 'okay'.

MissWrite said...

Oh KM-I agree wholeheartedly. I hate writing blurbs. It's a toss up between blurbs and synopsis as to which I hate more. I even hate reading synopsis' as an editor. I personally think those are a necessary evil which should be sent as quickly as possible to where all evil things go.

Ric said...

The newspaper I wrote for would put the doggondest titles on my columns. Some weeks I wondered if they had even read past the first three lines.
The majority, however, were good and I quickly discovered I had no control or input.
Sometimes the column was placed across the top of the page so they had 6 columns to fill up at 18 pt - all very strange.

That said - I agree with Bernita that you still need to have a catchy title name to further ensure the initial readers will be enticed to read those first three lines.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Too right, Bernita! Lots of writers feel there are other area of their work that require more effort than the title, but if you think about it the title is (or should be) the very first thing an agent or editor is going to see in regards to your work.

Imagine you're an agent. Now read a query that starts with: "I am seeking representation for my 80,000-word literary novel, A Guy Who Does Some Stuff."

Okay, now maybe I, being strange, would be interested in a book titled A Guy Who Does Some Stuff. Bad example. But laziness or lack of creativity in a title makes eyes glaze over...

White Flowers
Blue Ocean
George Smith

Give almost as much thought to your title as you would to naming a child. It does matter!

Erik Ivan James said...

I am very comfortable with the titles that I've selected for my couple of current WIP's. I've put a lot of thought into their selection and they are actually relevant to the overall stories.

If an editor, agent or publisher wants to change them, it will be a significant discussion point between us, and I will certainly request their rationale. Obviously, I'll push the issue only so far, but I'd be inclined to push it to some reasonable point.

Scott said...

An aptly named title is also an indicator of your incisiveness and imagination. I loved the flick of the Bic line!

Bernita said...

That's clever and perceptive, Karen, and quite true.
Have a good time and a good rest. An uber achiever like you needs one!

Thank you, Tami.
Horse's mouth, people.
Listen when an editor speaks.

Thank you, Ric. I often read or dismiss a column on the basis of its headline.
"first three lines..." Enticement. Exactly.

I do consider a good title a toe in the door.
I could murder all sorts of platitudes about this. Wait I already have.
The same-care-in-naming-a-child analogy is a good one, Sonia, to drive the point home.

Flood said...

I agree with Scott that the title is another representation of one's creativity. Just like clothes shouldn't really matter, we all know that we should present ourselves nicely during a pitch or meeting.

The devil is in the details, and they amass to give an overall picture of the work and the author.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I work hard on titles. They have to grab the reader, pull theirs hands toward the pages. Down the road, the marketing department may have a different idea than I do, but I still have to give it my best shot now.

Bernita said...

If they are still relevant to the stories after the stories are complete, Erik, I would imagine they have a good chance of being retained.

Thank you, Scott. That's a good extrapolation about titles.

Sela Carsen said...

I usually go through a few titles before I settle on one that I like. And even then, I realize it probably won't stick.

Not Quite Dead was originally titled, Dude, You're Dead! The title was a joke that meant every time I opened my ms to work on it, I already had a smile on my face.

On the other hand, The Regency That Wouldn't Die made for an unpleasant working environment.

If I can't think of one immediately, I'll still call it by the character's names until something clicks.

MissWrite said...

Erik, it really is okay to argue your case with your editor. Honest. We don't take offense unless the author is downright nasty about it, or not open to reasonable consideration. In the end, however, please go into it with the knowledge that it really is the publisher that has the final say on many points, titles included.

Bernita said...

Sorry I mis-spelled your name, Sonya. Me Erp-idiot.

Nice example why, Flood.
Any old thing from the rag bag will not do.

We can see that you do, Jason. Enticement is the ticket.

Bernita said...

Me too, Sela.
I like "Not Quite Dead."
Seems to fulfill the requisites for anticipation/intrigue. Intrigues me, anyway.

Figure the one I'm on now "Trio of Dragons" is way too generic even though it fits the triple plot. "The Conyers Falchion" was jettisoned because it was a bit obscure.We shall see.

Dennie McDonald said...

I love my titles - I don't want them changed - they are to me as important as the characters names - so far w/ Samhain I have kept my - yippee...

In Romance novels you can get some doozies... one of the gals in my romance chapter often brings up Maggie Osborn's Prairie Moon A story in which there is no prairie nor a moon... go figure...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I've heard that the publishers will change titles.

Frankly Scarlett...I don't give a damn!

Just publish me!!!! LOL!!

Bernita said...

That one is a bit eccentric, Dennie!

Just so long as they are better than mine, Bonnie, I'm easy.

December Quinn said...

I actually don't hate coming up with titles. Some are harder to name than others, but by the time the book is done a decent title usually presents itself.

I do what Sela doesn, though, and call it by the characters's names until then. Or a jokey title.

James Goodman said...

You should still thrive to catch attention. That's why I name all of my novels (just for the purpose of submission) The Grisly Death of the Last Agent Who Rejected My Work

It seems to get more reads than my other titles...

Rick said...

In one respect, a title is just like any phrase in the text - it may get changed by an editor, or it may not. I can't see not giving due attention to the title just because it might get changed - after all, it is the first hint about the book that an agent will see, and eventually the first thing a reader will see.

Although I didn't plan it this way, my title for the first book, Catherine of Lyonesse, amounts to a bit of a subtle cheat - "Lyonesse" has an Arthurian connotation, even though the book is set a thousand years later, with Arthur only a remote historical figure.

Bernita said...

Ve haf our little veys, December. Some books are hard, some titles lurch out at you.

James, I can just imagine someone actually trying that.

Think it's a wonderful title, Rick.
Don't think it's in anyway a cheat either.
The name Lyonesse is myth-shrouded and evocative.

Faith said...

This is a great post. One of the first things that draws me to buy a book is the title.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Faith, and thank you for taking the time to drop by.
Faith is a very busy editor and has seen hundreds and hundreds of titles from the market POV.

Shesawriter said...

I accept that my titles always suck. I have no particular talent for writing them, so I don't stress over it.

For The Trees said...

I keep finding that putting a title on my blog posts is an exercise in short fiction, that either explains the post, leads into the post (the most often case), or refers to something down in the post. I don't seem to manage a post title that covers the whole thing, because I change subjects so often. Part of my scrambled thought processes.

I titled my first five stories by intuition. I can see that one could be changed, and probably will when I rewrite it. Another I most likely won't mess with, the third's dead-on and I wouldn't touch it for anything, and the last one is so intriguing I can't imagine anyone not loving it.

So, it's a toss-up. When I find an editor who wants to buy my books, then they can have as much fun with the title as they like. After all, if the check's in my name, call it "Doo-Doo LaRue" for all I care. As long as it sells, it's not important. I'm easy. EASY, I tell ya. Just let that check clear.

Candice Gilmer said...

For book titles, I think I'm in a major minority, because the titles just come to me, and usually before the book is even written. This isn't always the case, of course, but it does seem to happen to me a lot. Also, they keep me focused on what the story's about, because, let's face it, I write by the seat of my pants, and frankly, I can get lost sometimes in the vastness of those pants... :)

Bernita said...

But do your titles get changed, Tanya?
If not, they don't really suck.

A good point about blog post titles, Forrest. Think any of the operations are sufficient. Not every novel or post can be capsuled, just needs an interesting and obvious relationship.

Hee, Candice!
I agree that a good title at the initial stage is an excellent focus for us wot wears the pants.

Southern Writer said...

I used to write a column for a couple newspapers, and the owner of the papers titled it. I absolutely hated the title, but damn, he was printing my words everyday, so I lived with it.

I'm not crazy about the title of my novel, but just haven't been able to come up with anything else. It does, at least, have something to do with the story - unlike say ... Deep End of the Ocean which had nothing to do with the ocean. Or A Map of the World. I ran a contest on my blog once asking for help renaming it - to no avail.

M.E Ellis said...

Good post!


Bernita said...

Thank you, M.E.

Sympathize, Southern, sometimes it's hard, sometimes it's easy.
Usually people's ideas - even if off-base - will trigger an epiphany or a useful train of thought..

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