How can you ensure your book will catch the eye of a reader? With a terrific cover and a clever title! The publisher takes care of the cover design but I asked the Novelistas how they came up with that elusive perfect title ...
When I spotted that a mega-bestselling author was using for her new novel the title of my own bestselling novel of a couple of years back, Twelve Days of Christmas, I felt strangely miffed....I mean, I know there is no copyright in titles, but it felt like mine! I carefully check my titles to see if there has been a bestseller of the same name - but then, rarely does my own title end up as the one the publishers choose.
Anyway, once I'd remembered that I'd totally ripped off one of Shakespeare's titles, A Winter's Tale, I realised I didn't have a leg to stand on...
My second book, published by Hodder & Stoughton, was originally titled Tom, Dick or Harry, and yes, the heroine was caught between three very different men, the eponymous Tom, Dick and... you get the idea. My publishers approved, but as it was hitting the final stages a book came out called Tom Dick and Debbie Harry, and as the titles were too similar, they advised me to change mine. I was blank. Stumped. Frustrated. My story had been Tom, Dick or Harry from the very start. It was written in my contract. I couldn't imagine it as anything else. But that's the publishing world for you; I had to swallow my disappointment and get on with it. My debut novel had been The Wrong Sort of Girl, so playing around for a fresh title for the new book I came up with The Wrong Mr Right. It actually fitted with the plot really well, my editor was enthusiastic, and before long I grew to love it. But a theme was developing. Everyone joked my next book would have to be The Wrong something or other, too, but I ran out of ideas. Probably just as well. Anyway, one day I received a lovely email from a reader who told me it was only as she neared the end of The Wrong Mr Right that she twigged the three 'heroes' were called Tom, Dick and Harry. She loved the fact she hadn't realised immediately. So in the end, in spite of all the faff and frustration, I think it worked out for the best.
I meet many people who think of the title for a book before they have written a word of it. It was the opposite for me, certainly in the early days, as I seemed to be able to write a 120,000 word novel with ‘relative’ ease, but I would generally have no idea for few words needed for a title.
My new book, which was due to be out now, was called The Winter Waif. However, I had begun to have trouble with my eyes and my vision deteriorated as I struggled to write the book. This meant I could not deliver the book in time and we were looking at the end of January instead. Suddenly The Winter Waif wasn’t suitable and so I decided on Forget-Me-Not Child instead.
So some titles do fly unbidden into my head. If this doesn’t happen I will still discuss this with my agent or editor, but the final decision of the title to take to the marketing team is always mine.
I very rarely have any input into my titles. They get chosen by my publisher’s marketing team. Only once, recently, did they ask me if I had any ideas for a title and I was so surprised my mind went totally blank. I then emailed my fellow Harlequin Historical writers, some of whom are absolutely brilliant at titles, and gave them a brief outline of the story. A couple of them suggested In Bed With the Duke. By that time, what with all the panic and then the to-ing and fro-ing of emails, the marketing team had got back to me suggesting the very same title. So that is what it became.
Strangely, I’d never had trouble thinking of a title until I wrote Her Forget-Me-Not Ex. Usually a phrase or a key element would come up during the months it takes to write a book and I’d know it was right for that story. Not so for this novel, which had the very dull working title Florist throughout. It was only after I’d finished it that I sat down to have a brainstorming session and came up with a ‘flowery’ title to suit the heroine Natasha and her flower shop.
But the best advice I’ve heard for choosing a title was in a writing workshop given by author Julie Cohen and she told us a good title will encapsulate the novel’s theme. Wise words.
I was standing on the shore of the Menai Strait and saw a rainbow arching across Anglesey, the distant field where it came to earth clearly visible. I thought of my hero, about to join the gold rush to Australia. Would he find a pot of gold at journey’s end, or come home penniless?
That novel was called Rainbow’s End, from early plotting to eventual publication. The only time I’ve found a title so easily.
When I write I usually have a working title. My characters frequently wait to be properly named, too. I often use Fred as a generic name for my hero until I find a name, which conveys his personality, but does not already belong to a friend or relative. Naming fictional villages would hold my writing up for weeks if I didn’t temporarily call them all Llan.
As I reach the final chapter all the characters will have been properly named and the place names settled on, but the title might still elude me. This is when I go for a brainstorming walk with a friend, dismissing our increasingly bizarre suggestions, until I finally settle on the perfect title. Only to discover it’s been used already. Time to think again!
For my latest series of sagas I chose song titles of the fifties and very early sixties when the books where set.
I always know the title of my books will be changed, so I tend to use the location while I’m writing them. Eden’s Garden started its life as Blodeuwedd’s Garden. While the ancient Welsh myth of the woman made out of flowers to be a perfect wife, and was punished when she developed a mind of her own is central to the mystery, it’s quite a mouthful if you aren’t familiar with Welsh. So as it is Plas Eden’s garden, Eden’s Garden it became.
We That are Left was really tricky, trying to convey the woman finding herself through her work to protect her community and her family during the Great War. It was Hiram Hall for most of its life, which I quite agreed with my publishers was just plain boring and didn’t give a flavour of the book at all!
The only one of my books that has always had the same title is The White Camellia. It was really difficult to come up with a title that didn’t give the intricate details of the central mystery of the crumbling old house on a Cornish cliff away – so the ladies’ tearooms which links all the characters in unexpected ways was the only choice! The next book has a cracking title, if I say so myself, and it does have a location in it. But that would be telling…
Titles are just one more difficult thing in the progress of a novel. My titles can change a couple of times. And if it is published, doesn't the publishing house change it anyway?
Depending on the location and what the core story is about, I try and incorporate a little of both. I trawl through lists trying to pick out words I like and combine two or three words mostly until it drives me mad and I just put something down and change it when inspiration strikes. My current WIP is called Lemongrass; originally Lemongrass Foods but I decided it sounded too much like a book of recipes. When I read book titles, I admire the author's ability to choose catchy titles that I'd wished I'd thought of.
I am terrible at choosing my titles, or naming my works. My Word documents are generally named after the content of the story, e.g. Vampires; the main character, Mr E; or their first line, He is where I left him. When I do come around to naming my stories, I will generally pick a mysterious and vague, yet somehow relevant working title, for example, Tuesday. This title will usually stick until completion. Perhaps what my arbitrary titles tells you about my writing is that I’m too caught up in the fictional world and my characters’ lives to step outside of their world and just give it a name.
I've always had trouble thinking up titles, which is why most of mine are songs. This isn't such a great idea, because if you think a particular song makes a great book title, you can bet a dozen other writers have had exactly the same idea! For a change, I chose Nemesis for one of my crime novels, but since it came out there are now over twenty books on Amazon also called Nemesis, or with Nemesis as part of the title. So I would suggest checking there are no other books with your title before it's published! The funniest confusion between my book and another author's was with my romantic mystery, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. I only noticed because I was starting to get some very odd reviews on Goodreads. It turned out the other Smoke Gets in Your Eyes was a memoir - about working in a crematorium!