Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Name Game

By Joe Moore

Book titles are critical. It’s that first impression when a potential reader glances down at the new fiction table in the local bookstore. And even if you’ve got a great title, you hope the publisher’s art department doesn’t somehow screw it up with the cover art. I’ve seen books with good titles that were almost impossible to read from a distance. And others where the design was so busy, it gave me a headache.

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 the Latin for Body of Christ was 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 which has stuck in all the foreign translations except German.

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. So far, it has worked for the foreign publishers that have translated it, although we haven’t seen the German version yet.

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, the publisher stepped in and wisely renamed it THE HADES PROJECT which is exactly what the book is about. Clever.

BLACK NEEDLES was what we called number 4 which was the name we gave the deadly retrovirus that formed the threat of the book. Cool title, but it really didn’t tell the reader anything about the story. Could be a book about a knitting club for witches. So the publisher finally settled on THE 731 LEGACY. The book involves the Japanese WWII biological warfare division called Unit 731 and how its legacy propels the story. OK, we agree that was a wise decision and makes sense.

The working title to our next one is THE PHOENIX APOSTLES. We'll see if that makes it to print.

Sometimes it’s better to leave the titles to the marketing and sales department and just stick to writing the story.

So why are titles important? Paul McCartney’s working title of the Beatles classic “Yesterday” was “Scrambled Eggs.”

Have all your working titles made it to the cover of your book? If not, were you happy with the final version?

8 comments:

  1. I don't have a personal example (being pre-published and all) but the original title of the classic country song "Crazy" was "Stupid." As Willie Nelson said after he changed it, "That didn't sound too euphonious."

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  2. Hi Dana,
    Book titles are just one of many items writers quickly find out they have little or no control over. Thanks for commenting and good luck with your writing.
    Joe

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  3. My agent chose both my titles - all my 'working titles' sucked in a major way! I cannot for the life of me come up with a decent title!

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  4. Also pre-published here. I've read various resources and it seems that working titles are often changed, so your example validates that notion. I have a title for my first and second novels, but I'm not going to fall in love with those titles because they maybe gone upon publication.

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  5. Crimogenic, you're right not to fall in love with your working title. Writers become so close to their work that it's hard to step back and see the "big picture". That's why many times the best title comes from the people who specialize in marketing and selling books rather than writing them. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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  6. Never mind titles, I had to deal with a whole name change. I submitted about 20 names to my agent, at her request, and she chose #21, her own concoction.

    I must admit it's a lot easier to use when ordering pizza!

    Margaret Grace

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  7. I had my titles overruled a lot back when I wrote for YA fiction under a pseudonym. I always thought they were watered down, which might have been a good thing for the youngsters. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about titles. For me, it's like the opening sentence of the novel...sets the mood and the reader's expectations.

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  8. Camille, you probably would have been better off submitting one title. It's like having too many topping on that pizza. :-)

    Kathryn, you dead right, the title must say it all. It's hard to get the reader to look at that first sentence if the title doesn't grab them.

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

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