As writers, we usually choose titles for our works in progress that we aim to come back to once our baby has become polished perfection. We then imagine it will be re-christened with a name that will see it charge straight into the arms of publishers and following that into the readers’ hands. But as much as we tell ourselves that our little title will need to change eventually, we get used to that title. We bandy about the name until it feels like it fits. By the time we finish scrubbing up our manuscript, readying it for the big bad world, the name we once made do with suddenly seems like it can’t become anything else, even when it’s completely incompatible with our story. And it is often incompatible with our story as our books are usually different animals from our original concept by the time we’ve grown them up.
It can be very common for publishers to want a change in title so why is it so important to get the name of our baby right before the gods of publishing officially christen it? I recently came up against this, where my adventure/mystery middle grade novel was assumed to be sci-fi because of the title I had chosen. I’ve worked so hard on the ‘packaging’ of this novel. Working and reworking the opening chapters, creating an accurate but enticing synopsis and yet it never occurred to me that my title would discount all that. But it did. It miss-sold my novel, worked against all that effort. The title was good but not for this novel.
Increasingly we have to become wise to market, to some degree. I don’t mean write to market but we need to be able to connect with literary agents at the very least. Your novel’s title is possibly the first opportunity to do this. Give agents something that they recognise as saleable, that might echo a train of thought, that makes them see exactly where your book will sit on shelves. This is not sacrificing your originality, simply sharpening your pitch. I looked at how books were titled for a similar genre and similar age group to my novel. I looked at the rhythm of the words, the length of the title and I considered what words I could use that would give a sense of my story without giving it away completely. Not easy.
How do you come up with the title for your work?
On Twitter: @LivKiernan