Friday, September 18, 2009

Choosing a Title

It’s never easy, is it? You spend months and months writing and then months more revising. You finally get the book finished, feel good about it and are now sitting down to write your query, and of course your next book, and that’s when you realize that, yes, your title is important too and slapping on just any title, including the working title, might not work anymore. Well, choosing a title is one thing agents can relate very closely to. We spend a lot of time with authors brainstorming ideas for titles before a book goes out on submission, and later when the editor calls to ask us for a list of ideas. Titles aren’t easy and they are important. In a sense, a title is the first words any reader will read when it comes to your book.

While I will tell you not to get too attached to your title because most of the time your title will be changed once the publisher gets her hands on the book, I will also tell you that it’s still important that the title you choose is strong because there’s always the chance the publisher decides to keep your title. More important, though, the title can grab an agent’s or editor’s attention before she even reads the cover letter and it can excite her or it can bore her. Second Chances, for example, is a title Kim and I mention frequently because it’s a title we see all the time. I don’t think a month goes by when I don’t get a query for Second Chances. I’m bored before I even get to the book. The title is not original; I don’t even think it sounds original to those of you reading the blog (there have been many published books with that title), and it says to me that maybe your book isn’t much more original.

To some extent, and in some genres, you can’t be as off-the-wall as you can with others; for example, paranormal romance, cozy mysteries, YA and chick lit lend themselves to creative, really fun and eye-catching titles while suspense, thrillers, and science fiction have a more staid formula. That doesn’t mean that you can’t still try to think a little outside of the box, just make sure the title you choose fits the genre. For example, Tale of the Big Green Frog is probably not the best title for suspense.

What if you find the title that works for you, Google it, and suddenly realize that it’s also the title of one or two other books out there? Since titles can’t be copyrighted (at least in the U.S.) I wouldn’t worry about it. That is, I wouldn’t worry about it unless you’ve chosen a title that’s already easily identified with something else. Twilight is out, so is The Stand, The Da Vinci Code and Pride and Prejudice. These are titles that even those who don’t read a lot recognize, and they will likely make an editor or agent wonder if you also ripped off material for your book.

It’s almost impossible to find a title that’s entirely different and unique from everything else, so the goal is to find one that fits your book, that represents the atmosphere or genre you are trying to sell and that is as strong as you can make it. As for the rest, you can worry about that once the sale is made.