Monday, June 25, 2012

I Suck At Picking Book Titles


By Beth Groundwater

Okay, I'm fessing up. I really suck at picking book titles. Thank goodness others have stepped in to suggest better titles for me. My first title boo-boo was for the book that is now titled A Real Basket Case. Since the protagonist is a gift basket designer in her menopausal late forties and she was suffering from the empty nest and mid-life marital malaise, I titled the manuscript Mid-life Crisis. Boring! I queried multiple literary agents and none were the slightest bit interested.

Then an astute critique partner suggested that I focus on the cozy craft series potential for the manuscript and give it a title related to the sleuth's occupation. So, title attempt number two was Basket Case. After making some other changes, the most important being moving chapter three forward to be chapter one, I hooked my first agent, who sold the book, and the series, to Five Star Publishing. Then I went looking for similar mystery titles on Amazon and found Carl Hiaason's Basket Case and Ralph McInerny's Basket Case. I wasn't going to try to compete with those two! So, after some brain-storming with my Five Star editor, we settled on the title of A Real Basket Case.

After a successful title pick with the second book in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, To Hell in a Handbasket, I was back in the dog house with another lame choice. This was for the first book in my now-titled RM Outdoor Adventures series, which my second agent sold to Midnight Ink (who then promptly picked up my Claire Hanover series, too). I thought alliteration would be interesting, so I titled the first book (released as Deadly Currents) as Wicked Whitewater and the second book as Evil Eddies.

Midnight Ink’s sales staff nixed those titles for a couple of reasons. First, they felt alliterative titles were more for cozy mystery series, not soft-boiled series. Second, with my proposed series name (the Whitewater River Ranger series), the blurb for the first book would have been, “Wicked Whitewater, the first book in the Whitewater River Ranger series written by Beth Groundwater.” There were just too many “waters” in that! After asking my editor three times if Beth Groundwater was my real name and if I was willing to use an alias (yes and no), they changed it to “Deadly Currents, the first book in the RM Outdoor Adventures series written by Beth Groundwater.”

Again, I managed to squeak out a winning title for the second book in the series. I kept the Wicked and the Eddies and tacked those two together to be the title of my May release, Wicked Eddies. But, I struck out again on my proposed title for the third book in the series. Since it is set in Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River in Utah, a well-known, challenging whitewater run, I suggested the title of Cataract Canyon. (I have trouble with alliteration, don't I?)

Of course, Midnight Ink voted that choice down. It didn't match the precedent set by the previous two titles of the first word being associated with death and murder and the second word being a whitewater rafting term. They came up with the title of Fatal Descent instead. I'm still getting used to that new title, but it's really growing on me. I can see the reasons for the change. The book is about a descent down the river and it also includes some climbing action as well as a murder, so the title has multiple layers of meaning. Very cool!

Titles are sooo important, because they give readers a quick glimpse into what the book is going to be about. The title is your first--and often only--chance to hook a reader into purchasing the book. It has to really rock! Not really suck--like many of my title choices do. I've almost gotten to the point of throwing up my hands and turning in book manuscripts untitled. I'm ready to let others who have a better eye for sales and marketing pin a label on my books. I'll focus on the characters and the story instead.

Do you have a book title story to share? I hope you will, in the comments!

14 comments:

Shannon Baker said...

I'm really bad at titles but had the perfect one for my first book with MI. They changed it, though, because it sounded like one of their metaphysical books. I'm trying to get used to the new title, which isn't bad. But it's like calling your son Michael until he was 12, then changing to Bill. Haven't titled the second book. Just calling it book 2.

Lois Winston said...

Beth, I suck at titles, too. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun was the first title I was able to keep. Both of my previously published books went through title changes. The working title of my second Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery was Mop Doll Murders. MI thought the cadence should match the first book in the series. So the title was changed to Death By Killer Mop Doll. I got with the program and came up with the third title in the series. It will be Revenge of the Crafty Corpse.

Steve Liskow said...

Beth, I agree that titles are hard, and I know people will pass on a title they don't like.

Most of my titles are songs or parodies of song titles because I was originally trying to sell a series with a former guitar player as a PI. Right now, I have a list of over 160 (mostly song) titles, some of which beg for oblivion. That's where the series is now, too.

My first pubbed novel, Who Wrote The Book of Death?, got 68 rejections before my wife convinced me to dump its earlier title, at which point it got picked up immediately. I was calling it Ghost Writers in the Sky.

Most people don't get my second title, The Whammer Jammers, until they actually read the book. It's a J. Geils song, but also the name of a fictitious roller derby team (Jammers are the only skaters who can score points).

One author who blurbed Cherry Bomb, my book about teen trafficking, told me she didn't think the title did the book justice, but I thought it conveyed the point and kept it.

My upcoming book, Run Straight Down, is still under debate. I like it, but a few people are luke-warm. My cover artist has a great graphic and image to work with it, though, so I'm keeping it.

So far, everyone seems to like my next two titles. Now all I have to do is write the books.

TheaH said...

I, too, suck at titles. Sometimes, they come to me, but mostly they just don't, or hang just outside of the reach of my conscious mind. Good for you, Beth, for having successful folks working with you!

Rob Kresge said...

I would have picked a bad title for my third Warbonnet mystery, "Blood and Ice." The front cover was all done before I remembered to check Amazon for similar titles. It turns out there have been two books with that title publsihed within 18 months and both dealt with (drumroll, please) vampires in Antartica! So now the book will come out in October entitled Death's Icy Hand.

Velda Brotherton said...

I bet ever writer has book title woes. One of my new titles for a back list book which I thought so clever, has so many problems. I didn't know there were games by the title Dream Walker, so you can guess the outcome. I'd love to change it. But alas, what to?

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for the comments and title stories, folks! I laughed, Rob, at your run-in with books about vampires in Antarctica! Velda, I hadn't thought of searching game titles for conflicts/similaries, but it makes sense. Steve, from your book description, Cherry Bomb, seems like an appropriate title. I don't get any idea from the title, though, what Run Straight Down is about.

I'd like to hear from readers, too. Any titles that particularly caught your eye and were appropriate for the story? Any that sucked? ;-)

Sally Carpenter said...

My publisher let me get away with the title "The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper," a cozy set at a Beatles fan convention. I love alliteration too. I wanted that title so that readers who searched for "Beatles" on Amazon would find the book. All the titles in the series will have alliteration and the word "caper" as the brand.

A good title is an important marketing tool. I liked your story of how your book titles were created.
Sally Carpenter

Sheila Lowe said...

I had what I considered to be the perfect title for the fourth book in my series, but got a new editor who said Unholy Writ sounded like a historical or religious mystery. I thought that was like saying the DaVinci Code sounds like an art book. Besides, it's about a religious cult. But she disagreed, so that's how it came to be Last Writes. Of course, I was unhappy with the cover, too...

Heidiwriter said...

Good one, Beth. My first book, Cowgirl Dreams, started out as "Memoirs of a Cowgirl." But I like the shorter one I ended up with much better!

Gloria Alden said...

I thought I needed to include murder in the title of my first book. However, when I went to Seascape last year, during a group discussion, Hallie Ephron suggested another title, and everyone in the group, including me, like it so I've gone with it.

Beth Groundwater said...

Good to hear from you, Sally, Sheila, Heidi and Gloria! You know, I think it's often good for someone who has a more distant perspective than the author but who has read the work (such as a critique partner, agent, or editor) to come up with a title that conveys what the book is really all about.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Sometimes the perfect title jumps into my head, but much more often I too suck at titles! Thank goodness some people are much more skilled at it.

Tressa Armstead said...

I'm laughing aloud at this discussion! It sounds like from all your experiences the titles are extremely important. My book is very personal, since it is based on the death of a very dear friend of mine, and I felt I could only call it "Marsha's Story" named after her. Now that I'm reading your discussion, I wish I could have run it by some other authors first! :)