Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Title is Still a Rose...???

I have often wondered just how much weight a title carries in a novel's success or failure, for that matter?

Should the title be a window into the soul of the plot? Or have that "wow" factor that can compel a reader and potential buyer to take notice of the book? Perhaps both, I suspect.

On the other hand, might the author's name and reputation carry far more weight into a novel's success than any title one could come up with? Or more likely, the plot itself, carefully promoted, trumps the title every day of the week in determining whether or not the novel will have legs?

Lastly, it is routine for publishers to change an author's title for another deemed better or more appropriate to the line or market. Unfortunately, this can never be proven or disproven, especially as it relates to sales since there is only the one title in play, along with other variables in determining the novel's success or failure. As such, might an author's self title for a novel actually prove to be no worse or necessarily better than a publisher or editor generated title in terms of the book's ability to be a success, if not bestseller?

About half of my novels carry my own original titles and the other half, titles preferred by the publisher. Of course, like all authors, I love my own book titles and carefully chose them to fit the theme and characters and standout at local and online bookstores and in promotional materials. In this respect, I have always fought to keep my titles that were put on the chopping block. Most of these times I lost the battle, but still won the war as I got used to the new titles and even found myself loving most of them as they became a part of the history of the novels, readers identified with them, and I happily took credit for at the end of the day. But still, I do wonder every now and then what if my own original titles had been on those covers. Might that have been the icing on every cake with my novel inside?

As for my published novels with my created titles, they have all been successful enough that I can presume that the titles did their job in the scheme of things, making me believe the same may well have been true had the original titles stood in my other novels with publisher generated titles. But again, I have no way or knowing that for certain, one way or the other. Moreover, for all I know, had these novels been given new titles by editors, the results in terms of brand, sales, and success may well have been exactly the same, or better.

In the final analysis, I have come to accept that a great novel by any title can still be a great novel with great sales if the main plot has strong promotion, there is author recognition, a loyal fan base, and other intangibles work in favor of the author. The differences from one title to the next may be negligible when all is said and done. Of course, the pride in seeing your own created title across the front and side covers of a novel is a different story altogether...

What are your thoughts on the relative value of a novel's title? How many of your titles are your own and how many did the publisher create? Did you give in easily or offer some resistance to parting with your original title?

What process do you undertake in deciding what title to give your novel?

How important is the title of a book when you are in search of one to purchase?


Charles Gramlich said...

I think titles are very important. They certainly are to me. I spend a lot of time thinking of titles and I 'have' bought books primarily on the strength of a great title, even though I don't do that for covers.

Bluestocking Mum said...

What a good blog Devon and very thought provoking for me as an unpublished writer.

I have only four novels in my 'portfolio' and my decision on their titles came from a fairly random thought process - plucking at ideas from the theme or a significant sentence or turning point in the novel. I'll give an example - 'Three Pips' is from a wartime romance. Three Pips was what the two lead characters said to each other whenever they were in company - a sort of secret code between each other that they both knew meant 'I LOVE YOU.' I'm sure, if I get a publisher they will change it. However, I just cannot see any other title that would be appropriate!

warm wishes

Devon Vaughn Archer said...

For most of my novels a title has come to mind that seemed the perfect fit in terms of being apropos and catchy at same time. As an example, for my latest novel, THE SECRETS OF PARADISE BAY, I wanted the title (which is my own) to convey a sense of place as well as the mysteries surrounding it.

I admit that as a reader, I have purchased some novels on the basis of the title, which gave me a good sense of what the story was about.

For nonfiction books, however, I always read the synopsis before I buy to make certain the book will interest me, whatever the title.

Jewel Amethyst said...

In my short publishing life, my work have kept the original titles. But I have such a hard time coming up with titles for my story that I will welcome any publisher's changes.

As for the way I buy books, it's usually by author recognition.

Jax said...

Have you ever tried to title a book and then go back and retitle as you are working on it? It is about as easy as changing the hero's name mid way through. They argue back and give you a fit and usually it doesn't work!!

Good piece!! I liked it!!

Jacqui Jacoby

Jax said...

Have you ever tried to title a book and then go back and retitle as you are working on it? It is about as easy as changing the hero's name mid way through. They argue back and give you a fit and usually it doesn't work!!

Good piece!! I liked it!!

Jacqui Jacoby

Devon Vaughn Archer said...

The best titles can usually stick with you long after reading the book--especially if a great read. I can name many memorable titles from childhood till now, even if some plots may be sketchy after a while.

In reality, I suppose that multiple titles can still have the precise same effect as far as gripping the reader and giving some perspective on plot. Of course, most writers still prefer their original titles, if possible.

Carol Ann said...

I've been fortunate enough that my titles have remained with the published work. I usually put a lot of thought into the titles, and sometimes the book remains unnamed until "the end." I believe shorter titles work the best. I'm drawn to the title and cover of a book. If a title doesn't speak to me, I'm apt to not even pick it up. : P

Devon Vaughn Archer said...

I agree, Carol Ann, that if the title doesn't reel you in, the book may never even get off the real or virtual shelf. :>))

Lynn Emery said...

I always struggle with titles, coming up with a good one I mean. I think they're very important to convey the mood, voice, style and even provide a glimpse into the story itself. I still work on creating good ones though. I just go blank sometimes when trying out a new title to fit a book just right :)

Liane Spicer said...

A great title might catch my attention, but I rarely buy a book based on that alone. I think once the author's name becomes recognizable the titles don't matter that much.

I never mentioned my first novel by name before it was released because I thought the publishers might change it. They didn't even try, and I'm hoping this trend continues. I work hard at creating my titles and I'm quite attached to them.

Stefanie Worth said...

I spend a lot of time creating my titles and I've been lucky enough that they've each made it into print in their original form. I prefer conceptual titles that allude to a story's theme over a concrete action-identifying title. I tend to select books the same way. That could be due my genre preferences though, which are paranormal and fantasy.