Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Book by Any Other Name

Titles can be a real source of angst for a lot of writers. Sometimes I think my clients spend as much time trying to come up with the perfect title as they did writing their masterpiece! It’s true that titles can be important, but I’m not sure that all writers get just HOW it’s important.

To be honest, it’s much more important to avoid the wrong title than it is to have the right one. What I mean is that you shouldn't agonize over it too much. At least 50% of the time (and I’m sure it’s actually much more often) the publisher is going to change the title anyway. They’ll ask for your input, but most often the final decision rests on their shoulders. So if you get too married to your title, you may find yourself disappointed.

What editors and agents tend to notice more (and not in a good way) is a bad title. If I get a submission with a title that’s boring, way too over-the-top or overly familiar, I’m probably not going to drop everything to read it. And when I start to read the book, the author’s really going to have to work hard to regain my attention. But if I pick something up that sounds intriguing, mysterious, and catchy, I may decide to kick up my feet with the manuscript and abandon my e-mail for a while. Honestly, I’m not going to care if the title sums up the entire story to me. Don’t kill yourself trying to come up with the PERFECT title—especially if you’re writing fiction. Just endeavor to find an eye-catching one.

On that note, the three of us have compiled a list of the titles we’re tired of seeing:
  • #1 by a landslide—SECOND CHANCES
  • Anything with “DESTINY”
  • Anything with “CODE”
  • THE LONG WAY (“ROAD” is interchangeable here) HOME
What are some titles that you’re sick of seeing on bookshelves? Better yet . . . what are some overdone blog titles? Go ahead . . . we can take it!



Stacia said...

I have a ms called "The Second-Chance Destiny Code"...interested? :-)

Beverley Kendall said...

The Greek's Mistress such and such,
The Italian's Secret sucha and such, the Sheik's...etc. For some reason Harlequin loves these kind of titles. :)

Anonymous said...

Baby Makes Two, Baby Makes Three, Baby Makes Eighteen (God help this poor couple). Harlequin seems to have a soft spot for these.

Grace Draven

May said...

Any title with the word Dark in it.

Enough already!

Kimber Li said...

Besides the overused titles, I dislike the ones made up to play on other titles, phrases, or cliches.

I thought about changing the title to the novel I have in Queryland right now. I feared the use of 'Star' in it was way overdone. But, my critique partners wouldn't let me! This is another issue to get a second, third, and thirteenth opinion on.

Stacia said...

For a while in the 90's we got a lot of "The ____ and the ____" titles. The Flower and the Sword, the Rake and the Rebel, the Cowboy and the Schoolmarm, etc. It got a little tiring (although I actually think now it might be fun to have them come back, if only because I have a good one in mind. Hehe.)

Anonymous said...

In non-fiction (self-help or prescriptive) titles, I'm immediately turned off by any title that addresses me as "you" and points it's finger at me, telling me what I should be doing.


Anonymous said...

I'm tired of all the Daughters: The Alchemist's Daughter, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, The Hummingbird's Daughter, The Mistress's Daughter....This trend is getting as tiresome as pictures of headless women!


Katie Alender said...

I'm really not a fan of vague titles constructed of soft words: "A Whisper of Secrets", "The Passionate Pain", etc.

I am living title hell as we speak. Bah!

Liz Wolfe said...

I understand the title angst. I usually *need* to find that perfect (for me) title early on in the project.
I've been very fortunate that my publisher hasn't changed the titles on my first three books. But the fourth one might be a problem. The title is perfect for that book, but it's been used before.
But I've got a good year and a half to come up with something different for it.
I dislike titles that are misleading. Say, a title that sounds like it would be a cozy mystery but the book is a thriller.

loralee said...

I usually have a title before I have a story. Not exactly the right way to start, but it gives me a focus. I know from experience that it will be changed eventually by the publisher.
I like a title that gives me a clue about the book, especially if I'm not familiar with the author.
Cowboy titles are popular sellers and I like them, but I know they can be too repetitive, just like Babies and Sheiks, etc. It's interesting to read everyone's likes and dislikes.

Anonymous said...

I'm better at identifying titles I love... "The Kept Woman" by Susan Donovan and "Causing Havoc" come to mind.

I rarely buy a book based on the title, but a good cover can drag me in! But... my last book purchase was actually based on the title - I didn't even read the back cover blurb. It's titled "A Hard Man is Good to Find." I mean... come on! That's a book I want to read! :-)

Lisa Hunter said...

The [Fill-in-the-blank's] Daughter/Wife.

Anonymous said...

I had a manuscript called THE LONG WAY HOME once. Actually, it's my GH finalist manu...retitled! I think the poor thing has been through 4 title changes by now.


Anonymous said...

If I get a submission with a title that’s boring, way too over-the-top or overly familiar, I’m probably not going to drop everything to read it. And when I start to read the book, the author’s really going to have to work hard to regain my attention.

I know how a good title can help, having gone through the query process last year. I had several agents, and recently an editor, comment on my "cute" or "clever" title. But I had no idea that a not-so-hot title could hurt a writer's chances. Even if the premise sounds really cool?

Anonymous said...

Good question Anonymous:

It's not often that we get a really bad title with a really great pitch line. I think that if you have a really great blurb (stemming from a great premise) then you're likely to understand that you need to market your work, not just stick your pretty cool book in the mail. So you've probably chosen a marketable title as well.

If, however, you have a really cool premise, but you didn't do such a great job of pitching it AND you gave it a boring title, then yes, I think it could hurt you. But that's a discussion for another day...

Unknown said...

For fantasy, I'm really tired of seeing any title involving Shadows. For historicals, anything involving the titled hero: Duke, Lord, etc. I actually think YA titles are more inventive than most. :)

Jennifer McKenzie said...

I'm naming no names to protect the innocent, but I usually have a writer friend who comes up with titles for me (I STINK at titles).
The irony?
The last one she came up with for me was "Still Waters".
Back to the drawing board. LOL.
Of course, the original was INFINITELY worse, so at least it's overused, not HORRID.

Anonymous said...

My husband hates my title "Moon Madness" and asks me, pretty much everytime I bring the book up, to change it. But I tell him I'm fine with it because a publisher will probably change it anyway, so better to not be attached.

There are a few title's I'm attached to. Corpse Blood, Blood-Glazed and Blood and Mortar are three titles in the series I'm beginning. I really like all of them, and it tied in with the main character's psychic power. But honestly, I hate that there's a theme. I can't imagine the series stretching out to five or six books and me trying to come up with Blood Something for each one. Hmm... Blood Something.... ;)

Anonymous said...

I just heard a title and I had to post it. Saint's Behaving Badly.