Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Do Titles Really Matter?

Maven Jacqueline BarbourIf you've been over to my blog any time during the last week, you'll know that I've been running a contest to retitle my first book before I start querying the bejesus out of it. The contest has, however, sparked a running debate amongst the Mavens as to whether the title of your book really makes a difference. After all, the argument goes, it's a rare book that makes it all the way to publication with the title the author originally chose. (Several of Lisa Kleypas's wallflower books were retitled prior to publication, so even NYT bestselling authors aren't immune to this phenomenon.)

Given this fact, why do I think it matters whether my books is titled Living in Sin (the original tile), A Scandalous Liaison (the current title), or something as yet to be determined (though there is a pretty clear front-runner)? It's not like what I pick is likely to stick, right?

Well, in a nutshell, the reason I decided it's important is because Leah Hultenshmidt (of Dorchester) and Elaine Spencer (of the knight Agency) convinced me. When you pitch your book to someone who's sitting right in front of you and her face falls a little bit when you say the title, you know it's probably not going to have a better effect on someone who's reading your query letter. When you're pitching your book to someone and you don't have the advantage of your own excited, pleading little face to help you, you definitely need a title (as well as a premise and hook) that make the agent/editor sit up and take notice. You need a title that says, "Read me! You must know more about me because I am special. I am unique!"

You also want a title that gives some the person reading your letter some idea of your book's genre (i.e., contemporary, paranormal, historical) and its tone (funny, sexy, dark). The more elements of your story you can hit on in those 1 to perhaps 8 words, the better.

So, what makes a title that does that? Well, if I knew the answer to that question with absolute certainty, I'd already have found the right title for my book a long time ago. But I will say that there do seem to be a few trends in titling right now that you can use to your advantage:

  1. Titles that play on familiar phrases are very popular right now. In the workshop I attended, Leah mentioned Bethany True's Remember the Alimony and Stephanie Rowe's He Loves Me, He Loves Me Hot as two great examples of this. (I immediately thought of several great titles for books I'll never write including Cash and Marry, Death and Hexes, and Don't Mess with Hexes. Anyone out there who has a great idea to go with any of those, feel free to steal 'em.)
  2. Conversely, you should avoid using a familiar phrase (e.g., a cliche) without twisting it in some clever way. A cliched title is a red light to the agent/editor that the story and writing may be ridden with cliches as well. If you write a fabulous hook/premise that shows how the cliched title is twisted in your story, then you may get away with it.
  3. Longish titles and the name of the protagonist appearing in the title are currently in vogue. Think Julia Quinn's The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever (2007 RITA winner!) or Samantha James's The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell or (ahem) any of the Harry Potter books. So don't be afraid to use a longer title and/or a name if it works for your story. (Lacey is hitting the market at exactly the right time with If You Asked the Devil to Dance. It's on the long side and is also unique. That gets attention.)
  4. One word titles are also seem to be popular. Rachel Vincent's Stray and Megan Hart's Dirty are a couple of recent examples of this phenomenon. If you can capture your story's essence in a single word, don't be afraid to do so.
  5. Above all, dare to be different! Not so different that no one reading your title would have the slightest idea what your story is about (Erica suggested Sex, Lies, and Algonquian Ecostructure as an alternative title for Trevor and the Tooth Fairy, but somehow, I doubt that'll happen :->), but different enought to stand out from the pack.

YOUR TURN: Do you feel that the title(s) you've chosen your book(s) are the right ones? Is there a book title you particularly love or particularly hate? Do you think I'm all wet when I say it matters? Tell all! (Oh, and go vote for your favorite title for my book on my blog if you feel like registering your opinion.)


B.E. Sanderson said...

I like the titles I've come up with so far for my books, but whether I like them or not doesn't mean beans if they don't snag the attention of the reader (or the agent, editor, etc.). So I'm going to be taking my one-word titles and changing them into something else. My book Spectacle is looking like it will become Fear Itself, and Caldera is morphing into Nature of Destruction (I think). I don't know if it matters or not, but I'm willing to try it if there's a chance it'll help.

Erica Ridley said...

I happen to love the title Trevor & the Tooth Fairy. Go me for coming up with something cute.

My first book started out as Love in Disguise. When I pitched it to Jenny Bent, I got as far as the title when she started shaking her head. No, she said, that's not a good title. It doesn't sound Regency. How about Unmasked? Sure, I said. And henceforth it was Unmasked.

My second book was called Witness, which fit the book (RomSus) but was a boring title.

My third book was Touched after my CP Kel wisely informed me that the original title (A Touch of Trouble) was stupid. Touched is much better on many levels anyway, since it can mean physically touched, or it can mean emotionally touched, or it can mean crazy.

I tend to like shorter titles better than longer titles, but then again, Trevor & the Tooth Fairy is longish and I like that, so clearly I don't know what I like. (Harrumph. Women. *g)

I admit to being suckered into books with hooks for titles. (ie, including words like "Mistress", "Highwayman", "Viscount", "Sasquatch", etc.)

(Okay, not sasquatch. I made that up.)

Kelly Krysten said...

I've sorta trained myself to ignore titles. After a while all the 'passion', 'sin', pleasure','Duke', etc, begin to run together for me.lol. The back blurb and the first line decide me on a new author's book more than anything else. Although I will admit that the fact that Lord Sin by Kalen Huges was like four bucks decided me on that purchase-the fact that it was really good was merely icing on the cake.
I think one word titles are always,and will always, be the best ones. My best friend and I were discussing this recently.
Oh and Erica, I adore that title Trevor and the Tooth Fairy. It's so cute!

lacey kaye said...

Thanks, J. I admit, I get a lot of attention for that title. (But it also took a lot of thinking up, too -- no instant genius here!)

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