Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Titles

Question of the day: Where do titles come from? I feel like I'm asking "Where do babies come from?"! ;-) Seriously, though, how do you come up with the titles of your book?

Well, for starters, I actually didn't come up with the title The Department of Lost and Found. My agent's boss did. Yes, really. I'd originally title the book, Round Trip, as in, the book is divided into chemo rounds, and I also thought it spoke somewhat metaphorically about Natalie's journey. But my agent, before shopping around, deemed it not marketable enough, and thus her whole firm brainstormed potential titles. (I chimed in as well.) We batted some things around, and TDLF was finally anointed the winner.

I think the key is to come up with a title that isn't so, so esoteric, isn't too generic, and at the same time is catchy enough to stick in readers' heads. Oh, and it needs to also represent the larger themes of the book. Yikes. No small feat.

So when I came time to name TOML, I knew that I wanted something that really captured the ethereal feel of the book but at the same time had a certain zing...like, if I tell someone the title, he or she won't have a hard time remembering it. (For example, I know that one of my all-time favorite books, Then We Came to The End, got some flack because critics thought the title was hard to remember...I dunno, I thought it was fine, but maybe that's an example of something that's a little too out-there to really stick in readers' brains? Not that the book had any problems: it was a huge smash seller, but I'm trying to think of an example to represent what I'm talking about. Conversely, another one of my favorite books, Good Grief, as what I deem a perfect title: catchy, sticky and the complete embodiment of what the book's overall themes are.) So, anyway, back to TOML: because I'm so inspired by music and listen to it 24/7 when I'm not writing, I actually started searching song titles for inspiration. (Actually this is after I'd thrown out several clunkers to my agent and editor...we gave it a title after we sold the book with the first 100 pages written.) I think I probably found 7 or so that could have worked well...some played off song titles, and some, like what we ended up with, is obviously an actual song title. (Pre-David Cook!) I fired off an email to the two of them, and we all just had that light bulb moment that you hope to have: yes! This is the perfect title for the pages inside.

With HAPPIEST DAYS, I did something similar - scoured song titles and went with something that I thought would sum up the book best. But this time, it was a little trickier because I hadn't (and haven't) written the entire book. Still though, knowing what I intend to write, I think I'll be fine.

One thing to keep in mind, when naming your book, is that once you sell it, the marketing dept may well change it. There's a lot of emphasis on finding just the right title to embody all of the things I mentioned above, so if you feel like yours isn't quite on the mark, don't worry, someone will let you know. :)

Writers out there - how do you choose your titles, and published authors, have you ever had your title changed? I'm curious to hear.


bob said...

Hi Allison, I love this topic. Titles can make or break a reason to pick up a book for me.

On a wip of mine Obit was its working title but after more drafts it turned into The Perfect Obit. With women's fiction today there are some really great titles out there that make me smile like Flirting With Forty or Sleeping With Ward Cleaver. Too funny.

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Amie Stuart said...

Good Grief is one of my all time fave titles too!

I've had to change a couple of titles. I'm lucky that my editor has asked for suggestions and actually used them!
Some I named; some friends named *g*

Screwed got changed to Hittin' It because the buyers at a big chain didn't like it.

Anonymous said...

This post is so on topic for me - we sold my novel, titled Way Beyond Compare, to Atria a few months ago, and now we're searching for a new title. My editor is worried, and I agree, that Way Beyond Compare might be too difficult for people to remember. And I've been searching song lyrics as well! I think one of the greatest titles ever is Good In Bed. How could you not pick up that book?