Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Book titles

When writing, some people start with the main character, then go on to formulate the stories. Other's find it easy to start with the title of the story. For me, the hardest possible thing in the writing process is naming my story. I can come up with characters and names that just fit the characters. I can come up with intricate plots and scenes. But for the life of me I cannot find a suitable title for my books.

My debut publication morphed from, "Once upon a Wedding day" to "A Marriage of Convenience" with a whole list of abandoned titles in between. Two years ago I entered it into a first chapters competition hosted by It was an American Idol style competition where a book publication contract with a nice signing bonus was the prize. Of course hoping for anonymity where my friends and family were kept in the dark did not help my cause and needless to say, I didn't even make it to the second round.

One person reading my first chapter in that competition made this comment (and I am paraphrasing) "Interesting story, but the title lacks originality." I can tell you, I was more than a little upset. Two years and a publication later, as I did a search on for "A Marriage of Convenience" I understood what the reviewer was saying. There were so many other books and videos entitled "A Marriage of Convenience" that I had to use the author's name to search for it.

"From SKB with love" in the Holiday Brides Anthology was a little more original. But that went from "Love on the shores" to "A Caribbean Christmas" to "Sugar City love" before finally becoming "From SKB with Love" based on the title of a song mentioned in the book and the nickname for St. Kitts, where the story unfolds.

Right now I have a WIP and for the life of me I cannot think of a name for it. I wonder if it is good idea to have a naming competition. You know, post a synopsis on the web and have people email me the possible titles and then choose from there. The prize could be a signed copy of one of my published novels. It should certainly give a pre-publication, pre-acceptance, pre-submission publicity boost.

What do you think? Is that a good idea for selecting a title for a book or am I just being naive?


KeVin K. said...

The title, like the opening should probably wait until the end. BUT it should not be treated like an afterthought.

Sharon, my editor, named my first novel Wolf Hunters because I couldn't think of anything better. My working title, the title at the top of every page of the ms I submitted, was The Lycanthrope's Guide to the Galaxy. I had no intention of calling the final product that, but I couldn't come up with anything that was both accurate and evocative that I liked. My editor, ever pragmatic, named the novel what the central group of characters called themselves.

Conversely, the title for To Ride the Chimera, which I like much better, came to me early on. My assignment was to satisfactorily resolve converging story arcs from six previous novels while setting the stage for … Well, never mind. The point is, the title came to me as I was trying to organize the disparate elements and has, maybe, a bit more to do with me pulling off the project than anything that happens in the story.

Usually, unless a particular plot feature catches my imagination, my stories are named for either locations or characters in the story. This does not make for attention (and sales) generating cover copy.

Jewel Amethyst said...

KeVin, I wish I had that knack for a good original title like your editor, but long after I've completed the book I still cannot come up with a title. Is there some formula?

Farrah Rochon said...

Jewel, I have not come up with any of my own titles. Thank goodness for family and friends. :)

Phyllis Bourne said...

I obsess over the title and nothing. The moment I put it on the back burner one pops into my head.

My first book was called "The Midas Touch", until an editor called and gave me 24 hours to come up with a list of new titles that were sweets/dessert related. You can find me at Weight Watchers most Saturday mornings, so "A Moment on the Lips" was my first choice, and they liked it.

Liane Spicer said...

The title of my first novel (CAFE AU LAIT) came to me before I even did the story outline, and it stuck right through.

I've had to brainstorm some of the others but I usually come up with a title I'm satisfied with early in the process. Maybe it's because I so hate going back and renaming files again and again!