Friday, November 20, 2009

Title (or what am I going to call today’s post?)

We’ve all heard the saying, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Whoever coined that phrase must have been a romance reader. Let’s face it, some of the old-school covers were pretty worthy of being ripped on (no pun intended) and even now, there are some covers that can be pretty cringe-worthy.

But what about titles? To most authors coming up with the perfect title is almost as important (and in some cases, like with me, as difficult) as writing the story in the first place. Most publishers ultimately change the author’s title when they decide to publish but initially it’s the big attention getter for an authors work from contests to query letters. A title has to convey a sense of time, place and what kind of book it is not to mention conveying a brand (Harlequin Presents anyone?). That’s a lot of pressure for an average of 3 or so words.

I’ve been a reader of romance long enough to know that the old adage of judging a book by the cover is true. So as I’m skimming the shelves it’s usually a title that will catch my attention first (especially now that most books are put on shelves with the spines, rather than the cover, facing out). If the title sounds interesting, I’ll usually read the back cover before I even look at the front cover.

Coming up with titles for my own work is often such an exercise in frustration that I avoid dealing with it until I have to. For example, the title of my historical western novella that I’m submitting to Harlequin’s Undone line, has changed several times since I started writing it. I am not 100% in love with the current title that I’m using and chances are it’s going to change before I submit it. I know that if Harlequin buys it chances are really good that they’ll change the title. But it still, along with everything else, is going to have to catch the attention of an editor.

The other day something happened that has never happened to me before – a title just came to me. What’s stranger is that it wasn’t for anything I was currently working on. But the title (which sorry, not ready to share), was so just perfect that I now plan on doing a project around it. It was a kind of refreshing change to the usual frustration that comes with coming up with titles.

What do you think of titles? Do you use them to determine what books you may or may not buy? What about with your own work, do you struggle to come up with them? Do you have to have one before you begin a project or do you wait until you’ve finished?


Andrea said...

Oh man, I was just going to ask what the title was too. :)

I had a long comment planned but then I realized it would be a perfect follow-up post to yours, so I will work on that (I know I missed my turn on Monday but am planning to post on Sunday AND Monday).

Sheila said...

I always try to come up with clever titles, and I almost always fail. I think the best I ever came up with was "Rule of Thumb" for a very-long-neglected WIP about a planet-hopping (and, it turns out, timeline-hopping) news reporter who gets an assignment from her editor to investigate a planet where the inhabitants have taken "back to nature" to the extreme. They've decided that the only thing keeping the galaxy's intelligent races from living in harmony with nature and within their resources is the opposable thumb, so they've all had theirs surgically removed, and have an embargo against any trade goods from any thumbed species. Of course, our intrepid heroine figures out too late that by taking the assignment, she has to consent to the removal of her own thumbs...

I really oughta finish that one some day.

But I think that's the best title I've ever come up with. My current WIP is "The Daughters of August Winterbourne," which is an interesting enough title, I suppose, but would that entice anyone to pick up the book? I dunno.