Thursday, March 6, 2008

Naming the Baby

By Sue Ann Jaffarian

Coming up with book titles is fun. At least I enjoy it. I consider it almost entertainment, like a good brain teaser game. Sometimes you nail the title on the first try and sometimes it takes several practice swings. And sometimes you need to bring in reinforcements.

My first two Odelia Grey novels were home runs on the first pitch. There was never any doubt in my mind (or my publisher’s) that Too Big To Miss or The Curse of the Holy Pail weren’t winners. Then came the third novel. The recently released Thugs and Kisses started life as Remedial Murder, then morphed into Mother Mayhem. Neither my publisher or I could come up with anything better. Then one evening, while playing a game of online backgammon, I took note of the screen name of my opponent: Thugsnkisses. A light went on in my head and the next morning I sent an e-mail to my editor: Was it too late to change the title???? It wasn’t, but just barely. And Thugs and Kisses became a winner by a landslide.

At the beginning of the year, I submitted the 4th Odelia Grey novel to Midnight Ink. From the start its title has been Epitaph Envy, but when I received suggestions back from the editorial committee on the manuscript, it seemed that folks didn’t get the title. Oh oh. Although nothing had been officially bantered about, someone at Midnight Ink suggested the title of Booby Trap. It took me all of 3-1/2 seconds to fall in love with Booby Trap and I’m hopeful that it will receive the official blessing by the publisher powers that be.

Now I’m working on the 5th Odelia Grey book and am kicking around some possible new titles even before I have 3 chapters written. Its working title is Fifty Can Be Fatal. A good and fitting title, but is it the best for the book? Will it stop book shoppers in their tracks? Will it boost sales? Inspired by Booby Trap, I spun the book’s plot around in my head and came up with a new title: Corpse on the Cob. Tasty, huh? (Note: the plot involves a maze set in a corn field.)

Often when I sit on panels I’m asked about book titles. Do authors get to choose their own? How do you come up with them? What makes a good title? A great title?

Janet Evanovich runs contests for her book titles. My friend and fellow Midnight Ink author, Keith Raffel, recently posted suggestions for book’s titles on his blog and asked folks to comment on them. It took two posts for him to come up with something blog readers were happy with, but he’ll still need to get that title past his publisher.

Although the author gets to name the baby manuscript, the author may have little or no say in what title it wears when it grows up and leaves the nest. So far, I’ve been fortunate in that my publisher and I have seen eye-to-eye on titles. I’ve loved their suggestions as much as they’ve loved mine.

What creative ways have you used to come up with titles for books?
What titles have you had and loved that didn’t make it to your book’s final cover?
What titles have you disliked?
What is your favorite book title of all time? (The first one that came to my mind was A Confederacy of Dunces.)


Keith Raffel said...

It's fun to find titles in a quote, don't you think? Like Confederacy of Dunces which is drawn from Jonathan Swift: "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."

Joe Moore said...

When Lynn Sholes and I decided to collaborate on our first book, we used CORPUS CHRISTI for the working title during the three years it took to write. Since it was a thriller about cloning Christ, we thought using Latin for Body of Christ was so cleaver. But when we sent it off to our agent, she pointed out the error of our ways. Could be a travel guide to a city in Texas. Could be a novelization of a Broadway play running at the same time. So we changed it to THE ENOCHIAN PROPHECY, a brilliant title that no one could pronounce or spell. Our publisher wisely changed it to THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY.

Book 2 had the working title of THE THIRD SECRET. Steve Berry released a thriller by the same name so our agent changed the title to THE LAST SECRET. We liked that one.

Book 3 had a working title of INDIGO RUBY for the year it took to write. The title had a great deal of meaning for at least two people: Lynn and myself. Again, our publisher stepped in and wisely renamed it THE HADES PROJECT which is exactly what the book is about. Clever.

Our working title for book 4 in the series was BLACK NEEDLES until our editor commented that it didn’t really tell what the book was about. It went to the publisher's launch committee and once again they made a wise decision to change it to something a bit more commercial, THE 731 LEGACY.

So we’re 0 for 4, but who’s counting?

Felicia Donovan said...

What a great topic, Sue Ann!

A detective friend gave me THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY. It was perfect. The entire concept of four women working together to help others evolved from our conversation.

Since the second is about a conspiracy against an author, SPUN TALES seemed a natural fit. The publisher agreed.

The next one has a working title of FRAGILE WEBS. And so it goes...

Mark Combes said...

The original title for my current book was "Fishing the Serengeti." Hell, I don't even understand what that means....

Nina Wright said...

One of my fave titles:
In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead

It's an excellent mystery, too.

I'm drafting a teen novel with the working title How To Be A Nobody. The protagonist is the overlooked older sister of a child movie star.