How to Name a Book

Have you ever wondered how novels get their names? The process usually goes something like this:

I give my book-in-progress a working title. Lots of writers don’t get hung up on whether this working title is a good one, but I’m completely obsessed with names, so I can’t start writing the story with any seriousness until I know what its name is. My current work in progress had a working title of These Three Words.

I love Stevie Wonder. I love words. I love the song of the same name. I love that title. Alas, I knew it would probably be changed. And it was.

After turning in the complete manuscript of a book, my editor usually asks for a list of title suggestions. I say usually, because there are occasions when my title so obviously belongs on the book, there’s no question of changing it. These Three Words, lovely as it sounds, isn’t the most marketable of titles, so I came up with a list of alternatives. This list is used in an editorial meeting during which a title is chosen–sometimes the editors like something on the list, and sometimes they don’t and pick something of their own or ask for another list of suggestions.

The story formerly known as These Three Words is a SuperRomance that takes place during the Christmas season, so I knew we probably needed a Christmas-y title. I also knew I should focus on the elements in the story that tend to sell books. Namely, a pregnant heroine, an impending baby, and a military hero.

The title my editor ultimately chose was Baby Under the Mistletoe. It works because it gives the reader an idea of what the story might be about–babies and Christmas. It’s sweet, happy, hopeful, and warm.

Not every book has been so easy to come up with a name for. In one memorable instance, two other authors and I spent several weeks brainstorming several long lists of titles for a 3-book series we were doing together, and even with all that effort, none of the titles we came up with were satisfactory.

I’m strongly drawn to a well-titled book, though some of my favorite authors have titles I don’t love–often, when an author becomes a franchise, or the publisher is trying to market them as such, the titles are more a part of the franchise packaging than they are an indicator of the content of the story. Those titles drive me batty, because I have trouble remembering them when trying to recommend a book to a friend.

Do titles matter to you as a reader? If so, what are some of your favorites or least-favorites?

30 comments

  1. LOL, Jamie. Titles matter to me even less than the cover does. I look for books based on the author, or recommendations from other readers, or the voice after a page or two. And the titling process makes it hard to remember, too. I loved Sarah Mayberry’s current Blaze – the one with the tattoo artist and the motorcycle shop owner – but I have to stop and think about the title every single time I write or talk about it. She’s got It Bad. It took me a minute, give or take, to come up with it. The same goes for Nancy Warren’s last two…oh, hell, any of them. I just don’t remember titles. Books I love, though, the titles will stick with me. The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, or The Time Traveler’s Wife, by…and her name’s gone.

    Maybe I’m just getting ooooollllllllld.

    Anne

  2. Great title, Jamie. I’m like you, I need a title to get the story going. Even if I change the title later of my own accord, I need one to start. I’ve been lucky, though, I guess because I publish with e-presses and my pen name publishes with a small publisher–I haven’t had a title rejected yet. Of course, I’ve only sold 5 projects. But that’s still great odds in the title-changing game.

    Baby Under the Mistletoe is very catchy. Hoping it sells like hotcakes.

  3. Thanks for the responses, Anne and Cindy!

    I have a hard time remember titles too, Anne. I realized, thinking back on books I’ve read, that the only titles I’ve found it easy to remember were fairly iconic ones (Gone with the Wind, for instance), or titles that are strongly evocative and connected to the story well.

    My fixation on titles for my own books is mostly a creative issue. For whatever reason, the title is part of the foundation of the story for me–even if it changes later.

    Cindy, you have indeed been lucky with the lack of title changes! I don’t think I’ve ever had a must-keep title changed, but my memory is pretty shoddy. 🙂

    • Yes, strongly evocative – that’s it! The Time Traveler’s Wife, for example, tells it all in the title, and that book was just unforgettable anyway. But others…not so much. It’s embarrassing to end up in a conversation saying “You know…she wrote….that one with the cop and the waitress and…oh, give me a minute.” Yup – I make my living with WORDS. 😉

      I don’t need a title to start a story…I just call it by the H/h’s names, or make up something and go. I usually find the title in the story later, as the characters evolve. The short I just sold to Spice Briefs became The Color of Clarity when I learned the heroine was a stained glass artist…and why she was in the hotel room in the first place, LOL.

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  7. julia judge

    i’m currently writing a story, its mainly about a 18 year old girl who is learning a million new things about herself. it is completely fantasy fiction and i couldn’t think on anything much better for a tital than “behind sea green eyes”

    • When I’m stuck trying to figure out the perfect title, I keep a working file where I try to fill at least a page with title ideas. I add new ones as I think of them, and sooner or later one jumps out as The One. Good luck!

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