Monday, March 26, 2012


Cooking with Pooh

by Alan

What’s in a name?

Plenty, if that name is the title of a book. A book’s title is one of the things that attracts a potential reader’s attention (in addition to the cover, the author name, the blurbs, the reviews, and a crisp twenty-dollar bill sticking out from between the pages).

In other words, you want your titles to POP!

You want your titles to be evocative. Memorable. Dazzling. Mysterious. Inspiring. Enticing. Anything but ho-ho-hum.

Sometimes, authors try too hard or get too cute trying to come up with a good title. I understand Margaret Mitchell wanted to call her book GONE WITH THE ZEPHYR until some sane editor stepped in and gave it a tweak.

I seem to be hit-and-miss with the titles I choose, but it’s not for lack of effort. With each manuscript, I’ll come up with a very long list of possible titles. Then I show that list to my wife and agent, and suddenly that list shrinks to “try again.”

HIDDEN FACETS was the title I used to pitch the book that became DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD. My title makes sense after you’ve read the book, but Midnight Ink came up a title that is catchy, evocative, memorable—you know, all the things a good title should be (thanks, MI!).

Usually, about halfway through a first draft I change the title of my work-in-progress to STEAMING PILE O’ PROSE. While this might not be a good title for a book, this kind of thing seems to work surprisingly well as the title of a blog post.

My working title for the first book of the comedy club series was THE LAST LAFF, until MI decided to ramp it up to KILLER ROUTINE, A LAST LAFF MYSTERY (thanks again, MI!). And while I worked on the sequel, I called it simply KR2, knowing that MI would come through again with a good title. DEADLY CAMPAIGN qualifies in that regard.

Writing as Zak Allen, I’ve e-pubbed two books. And, without a publishing house, I had to title the books myself. The first one, a horror novel, is called THE TASTE, and I have to say, it’s a perfect title (I won’t go into any details here—some people might be eating their breakfast while reading this). The second book, a suspense novel about a radio talk show, is called FIRST TIME KILLER, which is from a line in the book, “long time listener, first time killer.”

I like both titles, but judging from the sales of the e-books, I might be the only one in the English-speaking world who does. I’m seriously considering change their titles to ANOTHER BOOK BY JAMES PATTERSON and STILL ANOTHER BOOK BY JAMES PATTERSON.

Coming up with a good title has always been difficult for me. The very first (and very awful) manuscript I wrote, which I titled FATHERS & SONS until I realized some old Russian had already used that name, now sits in a lead-lined box underneath my bed where it poses no threat to society. In fact, I’ve changed the title of it to NO THREAT TO SOCIETY.

And come to think of it, I’m sure Dave Barry would agree with me when I say that NO THREAT TO SOCIETY would make a great name for a rock band.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I think your ebook titles are great!

I like "Steaming Pile of Prose," too. :) Might have to steal that one for my current WIP. Ha! Good thing that first drafts can be fixed.

Vicki Doudera said...

Yes, titles are tough! I do the same thing you do, Alan -- run my ingenious ideas by my husband and agent, who can give me an objective thumbs down or up.

Robin Allen said...

Fun post, Alan. MI liked the titles of my first and second Poppy Markham books, so I guess I have a way with titles. However, I don't think they're going to like the title of the third one: Book#3.

Debbie Macomber--the female James Patterson as far as volume--has named some of her books after the street address of the characters: 1022 Evergreen Place, 92 Pacific Boulevard, etc. I wonder if she starts with the title or it comes out in the writing. :-)

Keith Raffel said...

Alan, everything you write is a big steaming pile of GOLDEN prose!

Alan Orloff said...

Elizabeth - Thanks! You're welcome to use Steaming Pile. I haven't trademarked it yet :)

Vicki - Titles are tough. Maybe I'd have better luck if I ran my titles by your husband and agent.

Robin - Maybe you should try all caps: BOOK NUMBER THREE.

Keith - If your current gig tanks, you have a bright future as a spin doctor! Have fun at LCC!

Anonymous said...

Alan - Right you are that a title really matters. I'm actually fortunate that I have good and honest beta readers who help me come up with solid working titles. It isn't easy, though...

Kathleen Ernst said...

Sometimes the perfect (at least to me) title pops into my head before I even begin writing. Much more often I'm left staring at a blank screen when an editor asks for title suggestions. And I well identify with the Steaming Pile o' Prose, too.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Sometimes the perfect (at least to me) title pops into my head before I even begin writing. Much more often I'm left staring at a blank screen when an editor asks for title suggestions. And I well identify with the Steaming Pile o' Prose, too.

Beth Groundwater said...

I, too, have trouble with titles, Alan. I had called DEADLY CURRENTS Wicked Whitewater originally, and named the series "the whitewater river ranger series." Midnight Ink marketing took one look at:
"Wicked Whitewater, the first in the whitewater river ranger series by Beth Groundwater" and said there were waaaay too many waters in that. After asking Terri B. THREE times if Groundwater was my real name and if I was willing to change it (yes the first and no to the second), they changed both the book title and the series name, which is now the RM Outdoor Adventures series.

Shannon Baker said...

I am as bad at book titles as I am with pet names. (And names of pets)

Alan Orloff said...

Margot - I've never even thought to ask my beta readers for title suggestions. Hmm...

Kathleen - And the more those pesky editors ask, the blanker the screen seems to get.

Beth - That is a lot of "waters."

Shannon - Pet names are easy. "Dog" "Cat" "Moose"