Shakespeare once said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Not so in the publishing world. You could give a great novel a bad name—or even a boring name—and it could be doomed—or at least lose its sparkle.
I was reminded of this earlier this week as Nina Bruhns, the Editorial Director for Dead Sexy at Entangled Publishing, LLC, changed one of our titles for our launch in May. Cynthia Cooke, one of our authors, had a fine title for her book, but when I saw the new title, Deadly Secrets, Loving Lies, I knew the title tweaking had hit pay dirt. The new title connotes the suspense and the romance in the novel—exactly what the new line is all about.
Even some of the classic novels we revere have started out with less than stellar titles. Imagine Gone with the Wind being entitled Tomorrow Is Another Day, which was the original title. Not only does the original title sound like something one unlucky fisherman might say to another unlucky fisherman, it has a sense of hope that all will work out—tomorrow. The Gone with the Wind title connotes no such hope. It alludes to the probability that all is lost, and readers want to read on to see if the characters will escape their demise. One of the many working titles for F. Scot Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby was Trimalchio on West Egg—a title that few would probably choose to read. Tolstoy’s masterpiece, War and Peace, was originally All’s Well that Ends Well—finger down throat.
Though writers may understand the necessity for a great title, they may not be the best or most objective at creating one. So, how does one go about creating a good title? First, do a little research in the genre. Find out what sells well and look at those titles for length, form and content. How do they convey what the book is about?
The second thing one should do is to brainstorm. Write down absolutely everything that comes to mind that may be appropriate for titles. Look inside the book again, and perhaps even informally name the chapters to make connections to the novel titles you are considering.
Take the title for a test run. Write a one-paragraph synopsis for the book and then prepare a list of your brainstorming ideas. Ask friends, family and colleagues to help you to choose an appropriate title for the novel. This can even be fun. Print them and have people circle their favorites.
No matter the means by which you determine your title, do not grow attached to it. They change and that is a very good thing. Publishers, editors and agents are the experts at marketing, and titles sell the books. So, try your hand at titles to move your manuscript toward publication, but don’t fall in love with your working title no matter what.
Just breathe through the title process. Though the moniker may be descriptive, who wants to call a rose a blood blossom? Yes, William, that rose may smell as sweet, but what if no one bothered to inhale the fragrance? And what if no one was interested enough to pick up an ill-named novel?