Entitled to Change a Title

“We were thinking about the titles of your trilogy. The second book is absolutely fine, but are you sure about the third title…?”

Eek! The email from my editor stopped me in my tracks. (Well, it would have done if I hadn’t already been sat down at my desk but you get the picture.) I knew that many writers had their titles changed by their publishers but, as there’d been no indication of changing any of mine, I thought I was “safe”. Until the email.

The Moon on a Stick‘Searching for Steven’ – the title for book 1 – materialised at the same time as the idea and I’ve lived with it for eleven years. It absolutely works and, thankfully, my publishers agree. I’d have struggled so much if somebody had asked me to change it.

‘Getting Over Gary’ – the title for book 2 – came to me a couple of years later. I knew I wanted the title to include alliteration and a man’s name so that the trilogy felt connected and this title suddenly popped into my head. The character Gary was called something different at the time but I had no qualms about changing his name and it’s clearly been the right move because I can’t remember what I called him originally! Thankfully, my publishers like that title too.

Book 3 remained nameless for a while. The story was less developed and I wasn’t as sure about the characters but, as the plot progressed, ‘Discovering David’ came to mind. It still had a man’s name in. It still had alliteration. But it was missing the middle word. I hmmm’d and haaa’d about it for ages but ‘Discovering ABOUT David’ didn’t sound right and, by then, I absolutely loved the word “discovering”. I don’t want to give any spoilers away about the book but “discovering” absolutely fits with what the book is all about.

A Cottage by the SeaThere are options. I’m not massively precious about David being called David and there are other characters who could be the focus of the title instead but I keep coming back to the “discovering” part being right. No decisions need to be made just yet so we’ll see how that one goes.

I should actually rejoice in the fact that my publishers love the first two titles and not focus on the fact they don’t (yet) love the third because title changes are so commonplace. I was the fourth Write Romantic to be offered a publishing deal and the previous three have all had their titles changed. Helen Phifer had her debut novel changed from “Deadly Obsession” to “The Ghost House” but she admits that she absolutely loves the new title (and so do I). The next published WR, Rachael Thomas, entered the “So You Think You Can Write” competition using the title, “Behind the Scandalous Façade.” She got a publishing deal with Harlequin M&B on the back of this but the title was changed to “A Deal Before the Altar”. Jay Bartlett’s debut novel “Among a Thousand Stars” (out in June 2015) had two different titles before agreeing on the final version with her publisher. So I really shouldn’t be surprised that the subject of titles has arisen. I’m delighted to say that Helen, Rachael and Jay all love their new titles but all would admit it was hard to hear initially that the title they’d been living with for so long wasn’t going to be the final one. A lot of writers refer to their novel (particularly their debut one) as their “baby” so I suppose this could be likened to naming your child then having them start primary school only to be told that their child now needs to be known as a completely different name.

The Memory GardenI’m curious as to which path book 3’s title will take. One thing that I feel very fortunate about is that I have a wonderful publisher who sees this as a shared journey and will work towards finding a title that works for both of us; not one that they impose on me. I know many writers aren’t that lucky.

Which got me onto thinking about titles for books. How important are they? I did a quick survey amongst the Write Romantics to ask them three questions:

  1. Have you ever bought a book simply because you loved the title? (If so, what was it and why did the title speak to you?)
  2. Have you ever not read a book because of the title?
  3. What’s your favourite title for a book and why?

I’ll take each in turn …

Buying a book because of the title:

P1050743The general consensus was that they were more likely to be drawn to reading the blurb on the book because of a title rather than purchasing a book because of the title. Having said that, certain words drew the WRs. Helen R loves books with the word “secret” in the title because she loves to know things and curiosity gets the better of her. Harriet is drawn to titles with the homely feel of the words “cottage”, “house”, “street” or “road” in them or any reference to Cornwall as she adores Rosamund Pilcher’s books. Lynne is drawn towards ones that feature “sun” or “old houses.”

Helen P bought Stephen King’s “It” purely on the title and it’s turned into her all-time favourite. Sharon bought Carole Matthews’s “A Cottage by the Sea” based purely on title although she had enjoyed other books by her. She wasn’t familiar with Valerie-Anne Baglietto’s books but bought both “Once Upon a Winter” and “The Moon on a Stick” on titles alone and was very pleased that she did.

I personally bought “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” because the title massively intrigued me. I knew nothing about the book or the author at the time but I just loved that title!

Avoiding a book because of the title:

P1050742Jay admits that she was once recommended a book called “The Billionaire’s Virgin” on her newsfeed which was an absolute no-no for her. Any book titles including the words “desire” or “virgin” are inclined to put her off. Helen R avoids the words “sexy” in titles. I’m with both of them on this.

Lynne was put off reading “Hideous Kinky” for years, simply because of the title although she loved it when she finally settled down to read it.

On the whole, the WRs were of the feeling that certain titles fit with certain genres and, if that’s not the genre for them, they’d probably be avoiding that book anyway.

Favourite Book Titles:

There are some crackers out there but we’ve all agreed that our memories are like sieves and we’ve struggled to come up with them all. We’re bound to think of loads after this post comes out!

Some great examples are:

  • Harriet loves “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn as it’s a short, snappy title
  • Sharon loves “Honeycote” by Veronica Henry because it sounds so lovely and “The Memory Garden” by Rachel Hore
  • Jay is drawn towards our very own Helen R’s “The Friendship Tree” (out next year) and “The Divorce Domino” by friend of the blog Kerry Fisher (out soon)
  • Helen R loves Hazel Gayor’s new title: “Memory of Violets”. She says it’s “such a gorgeous title and sounds cosy”

P1050744Browsing along my bookshelves, some of my personal favourites are:

  • “The Truth About Melody Browne” by Lisa Jewell. I love her books anyway but I found this title particularly intriguing. I think I’m very similar to Helen R in that I’m also drawn to the word “secret” in a title
  • “A Quiet Belief in Angels” by R J Ellory. I was in a writing group once and one of the members was raving about this book. It stuck in my mind because of the title … although I confess that it’s been on my TBR pile for years so title adoration doesn’t always turn into the actual art of reading!
  • “The Book of Tomorrow” by Cecelia Ahern. Also on my TBR pile although I’ve read several of hers. It’s my favourite title of hers closely followed by “A Place Called Here” which I have read

There are two other fairly recent books whose titles intrigue me. I don’t own them but I keep meaning to download them – “We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver and “The Last Time We Saw Marion” by Tracey Scott-Townsend. Even though I love romantic comedies and that’s the genre I write, I do have a penchant for mystery and intrigue and the titles of both of these draw me in. We’re back to that secrets thing again.

What about you? What titles do you love? Have you ever bought a book purely on the title? I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks to The Write Romantics for their contributions to this post 🙂 x

Jessica xx

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16 thoughts on “Entitled to Change a Title

  1. What an interesting post!! Usually I have no trouble with titles but for my recent one, the first novel that I sold, I could not, no matter how hard I tried, think of a title. I made up one I wasn’t entirely happy with and submitted it with the words ‘working title’ next to it. I’m not going to say what my title was, I really didn’t like it, but I can’t wait to see what my publishers say!!!

  2. Oo, thanks for mentioning two of my books! Very surprised and delighted. I’m very passionate about titles too. I’ve been lucky enough to have picked all of mine, although my debut all those years ago didn’t start life as “The Wrong Sort of Girl”. My agent asked me to come up with something different before we submitted to publishers. Recently I bought a book, by an Indie author I didn’t know, purely on title alone – “The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris”. Am enjoying it so far. It’s fun, romantic and atmospheric. As yummy as it sounds. So, yes, a good title is ESSENTIAL, I think.

    • You’re very welcome and thank you for stopping by. Sharon has me intrigued by your titles too so I may need to do a little download ready for my holidays over half term! Loving the sound of your current read. I think “mystery” or “mysterious” is another draw word like “secrets”. I want to know the answer!
      Jessica

    • And thank you for mentioning my book! What a lovely surprise to see my book mentioned beside all of these great reads, and I’m delighted you’re enjoying it 🙂 This is a very interesting post because I think a lot of authors have their titles picked even before they start writing the book, so it can be difficult to detach yourself from that first idea. I agree that a good title is essential, as it is your first opportunity to create a ‘mood’ for the reader, so they can easily imagine what they are going to get when they start reading. Best of luck with it – look forward to seeing what you choose 😉

  3. Very interesting post, Jessica. I thought The Curious Incident was intriguing, too. I think I bought many children’s books based on title alone when I was little. Such fabulous titles – like Stig of the Dump, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Cat That Walked A Week…brilliant. By the way, do read Marion when you have time. Very unusual and interesting novel!

    • Thanks Sharon. Loving The Cat That Walked A Week. Not heard of that one before. I do think that children’s books, especially picture books, have some truly wonderful titles. I thought it was you who’d mentioned Marion. Think I’m going to download that one for my hols. It sounds more like my thing than the Kevin one as I read a sample of that and think it may be a little high-brow for me!!! xx

    • Children’s books have such evocative titles, I agree! When I was a girl I fell for Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Windy Willows, What Katy Did, The Little White Horse… etc. The list just goes on and on.
      Fab post. Got me reminiscing… Happy Days 🙂

  4. Great post! And like Kerry, it’s especially timely for me, as my publishers have just re-christened my upcoming novel too. Luckily, I really like what they’ve suggested, but I was quite nervous beforehand!

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