When I tell people that coming up with a title for my book rates just above a drilling session at the dentist they look at me like I’m crazy. “Really?” they say. “The title?” I hear what they’re thinking. Creating a title is harder than writing an 85,000 word novel?
Yes, damn it. It is. And here’s why.
Your agent, your editor, the marketing and publicity departments, reviewers, readers, and bookstore owners, pay a lot of attention to the title. All have strong opinions.
When I tell people I’m a writer they ask what I write and then, “So, what’s the title?” So yes, titles matter.
And I am not the best at dreaming them up. I tend to be clever when it comes to titles. And clever isn’t always fitting. My books often just have a character’s name as a placeholder for a year. And then I’ll invent a title. A good title. A fitting title. My agent will sell the book. And the book will get to my editor at the publishing house and eventually he or she will say, “Soooo, about your title.” That’s never the start to a sentence that ends happily.
My first novel was titled The World v. Natalie Goldberg. My character, Natalie, was a lawyer. The title implied the world was against her. Clever, yes. Beloved by the marketing department? No.
The trouble was there were lots of deadlines to be managed and the new title needed to be chosen, soon. And I’d just thrown my back out. So daily, while on awesome painkillers, I would receive suggestions from the marketing department and my editor. And I hated most of them. Everyone I read them to disliked them. It wasn’t just me. One of the suggestions was Autumn Joy. It sounded like a candy porn title. When I asked why they’d chosen it they said, “Oh, it’s the name of the flower in a garden she visits.” And I thought, if I can’t recall that detail and I wrote the damn thing I don’t think it’s going to click with a reader. Next!
The marketing department suggested I write out the word “versus” rather than have the “v.” because it would be less confusing. I stomped around in my room (careful of my back) like a 15-year-old because the “v.” mattered to the title, it implied legal themes, and I felt so misunderstood.
So I did what I do when I freak out about things, and need help. I called Mom. And because she’s the best person in the world she suggested, “How about Summer of Southern Discomfort” and I said, “You’re a genius.” And I sent that title along with a bunch of others inspired by fear and pain meds. Luckily, my editor chose my Mom’s title and just added the word “my” so it became My Summer of Southern Discomfort.
And the takeaway lesson was never, ever have only one title prepared for your book because when you need to change it you’ll need a backup prepared.
I told lots of other writers this story, warned them, and yet did I heed my own advice?
Reader, I did not. Because I’m an idiot.
Next month: Part Two in Titling Adventures.