A Book By Any Other Name
Since Susie talked about character names a few days back, and Wendy talked about covers, I thought I’d talk about one more crucial element in a book:
How about book titles?
Back when I was a pre-published novelist, oh, how I agonized over titles! I am not someone who comes up with titles easily or gracefully. I spend a lot of time with my face contorted in anguish as I try to work out book or story titles. I usually can’t come up with anything reasonable until I’ve finished the second or third draft.
Finally, finally, though, back in 2006, I had one of those lovely, serendipitous, almost mystical experiences that other, more title-talented authors had told me about: from the end of Chapter One of my new book, I KNEW exactly what the title should be! It was so perfect. It made me smile. Kat by Moonlight!
What a wonderful title, I thought. Whew! Good to have that taken care of.
Well, then I sold the novel. I sold it as the first book in a trilogy, with two further books outlined in my proposal – Kat by Starlight and Kat by Ghostlight.
“Lovely!” said everyone involved. “What great titles! How evocative!
“…Now, what should we really call them?”
I think I came up with approximately 3,004 possible titles for that first book, the one that was formerly-known-as-Kat-by-Moonlight. At least, that’s what it seems to me in hindsight. There was a lot of hair-tearing. There was a lot of moaning. There was a lot of begging friends and family for help. After every new set of possible titles I sent her, my editor in the US would say, “Those are all lovely…but not quite right. Try again?”
Finally, I came up with: A Most Improper Magick. There! WHEW. My editor loved it. I loved it. My agent and his co-agent re-sold the books in the UK, and my UK editor loved it too! Settled! Right?
…er, not quite. It turned out that the sales force in the US didn’t love it. So, while the book was happily published in the UK as A Most Improper Magick, my US publisher settled on: Kat, Incorrigible, a title I also love. I didn’t come up with it myself – by that point in the process, my brain was an empty, echoing wasteland of creative title ideas – but I was very happy when the US sales team came up with it, and the book came out over there eight months after its UK publication.
(You’d never guess it was the same book, would you?)
We repeated almost exactly the same agonizing title-selection process (complete with zillions of failed ideas along the way), on both sides of the Atlantic, for Book 2, as Kat by Starlight turned into A Tangle of Magicks in the UK and Renegade Magic in the US. Book 3 was the easiest, because by then at least there was a pattern: it was pretty easy to settle on A Reckless Magick in the UK and Stolen Magic in the US.
But I still get emails from people who are confused – are the books the same on both sides of the Atlantic? (Yes! – well, barring spelling issues and a few minor line edits.) Did I choose to have different titles just to confuse readers or trick them into buying multiple copies of my books? (Bwahahaha! – but NO. Really, really not. Honest! I’m so sorry about any confusion.)
Now I’m working on a new, unrelated book, and of course, being a writer (i.e. neurotic), I’m angsting over a zillion different things…but the one, single thing that hasn’t caused me any concern? The title. Oh, I did have about half a second when I looked at my working title (Antonia O’Toole Takes the Low Road to Hollywood) and I thought, Uh-oh, maybe that’s a bit too long…
…but then I snapped myself out of it. Honestly, for all that it really matters, I might as well just call it “Frank”! Why not? I already know that smarter people than I – people who have made a career out of book marketing – will come up with a much snappier title if it sells. And in so many ways, it’s a big relief to finally figure that out and stop worrying about it – because it’s one aspect of writing which even a control-freak like me doesn’t have to try to control, anymore.
What about you guys? What are your favourite book titles?