Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Book Titles

Dear Ms Rejector

Do you have any insights on book titles, and if they affect the way you respond to a query?

The answer to your second question is no, they do not affect the way we respond to a query. We'll probably only notice the title if it's especially cool. Most of times it's just a regular title or an especially bad one, but that doesn't bother us. The title can be changed throughout most of the book-publication process. I'm not particularly sure if the right title has to go on the contract or if it can be changed later, but I think it can be changed as late as final editorial.

Titles are also deceptively hard to come up with unless you're writing a thriller. We don't expect you to nail it the first time.


Michael said...

I always wondered how much titles matter. I've never bought a book based on title alone. Titles just don't have enough room to express what genre a book is in, let alone what subset you're getting.

On the flip side, I have bought a book on cover art alone. Even if the artwork that goes with the book has nothing to do about the story inside, normally it does a good job of capturing the feel of the book. Which is enough to go on for me more often than not.

I don't know, maybe its just that no one has written a title that really reaches out and grabs me.

Anonymous said...

Okay, supppose a title is meant to be eye-catching and funny, but also suggests (incorrectly) that the subject of the book is a subject that's been done to death and that agents are sick of seeing in a query as in: "Not another . . . ."?

Can it be included with a "No, it's not about that" caveat, especially if it is near the end of the query. Or am I just shooting myself in the foot?

Marissa Doyle said...

I once, many years ago, bought an SF book based on title alone: THE PLATYPUS OF DOOM. I think there was more to the title, but honestly, that was enough for 13 year old me.

It was a very strange book.

Alice said...

In my contracts, the titles are just provisional. I don't know if it helps to have a really eye-catching title when looking for a publisher / agent for the first time - once an author is with a publisher, I don't think it matters that much (it didn't matter in my case). They were more interested in the story :-)

Anyhow: There is a special conference called "title conference", where the publishing company decides on the final title, and there are so many factors involved that an author might not even see (for example marketing and sales points, based on a lot of studies, surveys and evaluations)

In my case, I can make suggestions before the conference and give my opinion to the chosen title.

But I reckon, it depends on the publisher (and I don't really know how it works in the States as I publish in Germany)

Deb said...

Anon 8:24, if your title makes you wanna say, "it's not about that," I submit that your title doesn't actually work. Go back & scratch head, drink a few whatevers, and come up with a title that'll make you say, "yes, it is about that."

I never put excuses or caveats in queries of any kind. I feel as though they communicate that I haven't done all of my job.

My take.

Anonymous said...

"Steal This Book," by Abby Hoffman comes to mind, as well as "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need," which spawned a host of imitators. There are also series that sell partly on brand identity related to title, e.g., the Dummy books.

I have a very cool title for my book, which had only a slight change by my editor. When I was querying, and when my agent was submitting, I'd receive favorable references to my title even as the book itself was being rejected.

Kidlitjunkie said...

The title can (and often does) change long after the contract is signed. I've worked on books where the title changed really, really late in the process, because we were still mulling and trying to find the title that was just right.

The title-changing-after-the-contract-is-signed thing can get really annoying when you're trying to find an old contract for something that you never knew once had a different title. :D

But as far as needing an eye-catching title, while it certainly doesn't hurt, it's really not a necessity. It's pretty much all about the writing--if that's solid, then we want it. The title can always be played with.

Anonymous said...

Whew. I'm so glad to hear that the title can/often does change before a book is published. Mine started out really badly, got a little less bad, and now it's just okay.

michael: I've rejected books based on the cover (even though I tell my library kids not to!). Usually, it's because the covers are trendy/whimsical when I want dark and serious.


Lois Peterson said...

The one title that drew me to a book long before I knew what it was about, and has stayed with long after I read it:
For Those Who Hunt The Wounded Down.

I think its poignancy and musicality/rhythmn of the words attracted me, and the novel certainly offered them both in spades.

There are few others I could mention off top of my head as memorable titles from a reader's POV.

I did come up with what I think are pretty good titles for two novels-in-progress:
Who Do You Wish Was With Us and
Shrinking Viola - but that was long after I despaired of ever coming up with good titles for my short stories - other than Five Uses for a Paring Knife.

MissSnark said...

I've sold books without titles. They're called "untitled novel" in the contract.

Titles change a lot and I've never amended a contract to reflect that.

All Adither said...

Oh, Miss Snark. How I miss your blog.

(I like you too, Rejecter)

Anonymous said...

Most of times it's just a regular title or an especially bad one, but that doesn't bother us. The title can be changed throughout most of the book-publication process.

I sure hope so.

Two things I'm noticeably weak on are Titles and Proper Names for characters.

The Pink Spyder said...

I just discovered your blog, and I love it, especially your tag line. Thanks for putting the effort into helping aspiring authors and making the task amusing at the same time. Kudos!

Marissa Doyle said...

Oh, Miss Snark. Heavy sigh. The Rejecter has assumed much of your mantle quite gracefully, but you are so missed.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, for the love of God and all that is pure, come back!

Kidlitjunkie said...

Titles change a lot and I've never amended a contract to reflect that.

Yup. The only amendation is usually someone crossing out "Untitled" and writing the new title in in pen.

bluemlein said...

Interesting. The title of my first unpublished novel was Jornal Discombobulato - Notes on a Sesquiquadratic Relationship.

My reasoning was that:

the discombobulations of the title refer specifically to the fractured nature of the tale that follows, and

"sesquiquadratic" describes an angle of 135 degrees - or a square and half a square - a bit of word play on the square - one of the main characters in my novel, a conventional man who, in the end, cannot change despite the woman's influence - and half a square - the female protagonist who, despite a conventional upbringing, is a bit loopy.

That term also refers to an astrological aspect which supposedly brings strain and irritation to the parties involved and which, with another such aspect, would essentially be akin to kicking a football back and forth between two angry people.

Which is, so to speak, largely what the book is about - and whose principal character dithers and wavers from reason to divination and back.

Only a couple of people liked the title, so we changed it to Falling Woman.

Hey, if you want to read it, you'll have to buy it. . . tho' not from a publisher, even now.

Dr. Dume said...

I'd have no problem with changing the title. Heck, I've changed everything else!

Besides, titles are easy. It's writing the rest of the book that gives me a headache.

Anonymous said...

I've changed the title of my current WIP so many times, I've lost count. (Five? Sixteen? Who knows?)

But I read on AW that the publisher (and, I guess, the marketing department) eventually decides what the title will be.

Which is long as they give me that publishing contract! :-)


Anonymous said...

OMG...Miss Snark! I SO miss your blog! ::sniff::

Say hi to Killer Yap!


Ray said...
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Ray said...
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Ray said...

bluemlein // you leave me speechless!
That was a very impressive post on why "it is what it is" with allot of reading between the lines // I would love to hear your Opinion on my Blogg "Fear of the Mind"

Denny G said...

I can't remember the last time I got a book based on the title. Usually I'll look for an author that I know is good or who I've heard is good, and just pick one of his books at random. If it's a series character, I'll try to get the first of the series, but if not I'll take anything. Title rarely comes into it at all.