Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What Is a Good Title for a Blog about Titles?

I’ve been thinking a lot about titles, and specifically how and why a title changes over the course of the book’s evolution. Of the books I am representing that are publishing this year, only two came in to me with the same title it is being published as. (That is The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagan, Dutton, 2011) and Breaking Up With God: A Love Story by Sarah Sentilles (HarperOne) Both great titles!

So, do agents and editors improve titles? I asked my authors to email me their title stories and I wanted to share them with you here. Curious what you all think:

Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows (Henry Holt) fiction
Mothers and Daughters was originally Mercy Train. At the time, the novel opened and closed with Violet (orphan train) but editor (Helen)/publisher wanted to make it broader in appeal, hence starting with the modern day story of Sam, and changing the title to Mothers and Daughters. Although I didn't love the title change, I didn't hate it, and I was game for anything to give the book a wider audience. I still don't love the title, but they were right and I'm glad it was changed.—Rae Meadows

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry (Gallery) debut fiction
“First, the book was called SIMMER. We shopped it around as SIMMER, and that was okay, although one editor did mention that she thought SIMMER "sounded too much like erotica." Along the way, we considered other titles -- A WATCHED POT was one memorable misfire -- and when Gallery Books bought it, it was still SIMMER, with the knowledge that it was probably going to have to change.

When my editor finally said, Look, we are really going to need a new title for this, I brainstormed about 30, and gave them the list. The list covered everything from HONEY FROM AN ONION (still one of my personal favorites, which no one else liked) to THE NORMAL BOOK (which is an important part of the story, but a little generic for the book itself.) And the Gallery folks had a meeting, and the one they liked best was THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER. I like it because it gives you a sense of what to expect -- it's about a woman and her relationship with her parents, and the kitchen is an important part of her story. SIMMER didn't do that.—Jael McHenry

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio (Plume 2011)
 The Violets of March was first The Waters of March, but the sales team at Plume felt that it was a little too somber for booksellers to get excited about. So, we began our search for a new title. It was hard for me to part with “Waters,” but I soon got excited about a new idea. I suggested “Violets” after being inspired by these gorgeous little wood violets that cropped up in my garden unannounced (a guy I’d hired to do some weeding for me pointed them out) and I immediately began to imagine them symbolizing redemption and reconciliation in the novel. The next day, on an afternoon jog, I spotted some more wood violets growing along the roadside and had a gut feeling that the title had to be The Violets of March. I shared with you and Denise, and it stuck!—Sarah Jio

The Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky (Poppy/Little Brown) Young Adult
Before The Time-Traveling Fashionista, which now seems like the PERFECT title, I believe we were going to call it Louise Lambert's Vintage Fashionistery.. Which in retrospect seems like a tongue twister to say the least. Thank God I was open to change!
--Bianca Turetsky

The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore (Regan Arthur Books, 2011) debut fiction
Mine was WHAT YOU'RE MISSING. (Lame.) I think Leslie (outside reader) suggested we think about something different and we started brainstorming around the idea of a full house, crowded house, full nest, etc. My husband claims that he came up with THE ARRIVALS but I'm really not convinced of that...  :>-  We submitted it to publishers as The Arrivals --Meg Mitchell Moore

The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch (Putnam) fiction
Mine was The Memory of Us. (Blech.) It changed because while everyone really liked it, I secretly really didn’t. I’d tacked it onto my proposal because, well, I needed to include a title, and that was what I came up with in the five minute period of thinking about it and pressing “send.” But I very much was in love with another title that I thought would be quickly mocked and discarded, so I kept mum. Only after a glass of wine with you and Marysue (editor) did I blurt out my fantasy title. Turned out she loved it too. If I had never said anything, I’m guessing The Memory of Us would have stuck. It would have been fine, but generic, I suppose.—Allison Winn Scotch

The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer (Delacorte) Young Adult Fiction
The Lonely Ones became The Only Ones.  Not that different on first examination, but the editors (Michelle and Rebecca) really didn't want The Lonely Ones because they thought it sounded too quiet and sad, and preteens and young teens (the main audience) don't care much for quiet and sad. I loved The Lonely Ones so I tried to stick to my guns and turned down any number of title suggestions (The Day, The Ones They Left Behind, Place of Fear, and a ton of others that didn't grab me.)

Finally, they said, "how about The Only Ones?" The more I thought about it, the more I saw that it worked, perhaps even better than the original. They pointed out that it sounded more hopeful and made the characters sound more special (rather than sad) and I had to agree. Took me a while to get used to it, but I love it now.—Aaron Starmer

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It by Valerie Young (Crown Business)

My self-published book is “How to Feel as Bright as Everyone Thinks You Are" which was how we submitted it to publishers. With Crown we went originally with the Confidence Project which I agreed to but proved problematic for me b/c suddenly the expectation was that I take a body of work that was never intended to be a project and turn it into one – here an example of a title driving the content vs. the other way around.—Valerie Young

Did the titles get better? Have any good title stories to share?


  1. Oh another good share - thanks Elisabeth!

    I think all the title changes were for the better except for the last one.

    I think "The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It" by Valerie Young (Crown Business) is just waaaaaaaay too long. I was kind of partial to “How to Feel as Bright as Everyone Thinks You Are" ... personally.

    The ms I have been working on under one title recently was changed for similar reason as Rae Meadow's "Mothers and Daughters" formally "Mercy Train." I needed to broaden the appeal and the consensus on the original title was that it was too specific. I'm still getting use to the new title but I'm glad I changed it.

  2. I love Sarah's title - love it. Am so glad her book is coming out this year!

  3. Thanks for the great post. I've been trying to come up with a new name for my novel and this was very enlightening/inspiring.

  4. Very helpful post. Sends me back to the drawing board to devise my--what?--eighth working title for my novel? I know the publishers choose the title, but I love the idea of coming up with one they think will sell the book.

  5. Interesting post. I've changed the name of my novel only three times. I'm kind of married to the present name, but if a publisher is willing to publish and wants to change it, I'll be thrilled to consider the new name.