QOTW: Picking the Perfect Title

14 May

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This week’s QOTW comes from Victoria, who asks:

Where do you find inspiration for your titles? Do you find it easy or difficult to think of them?

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It’s pretty rare for me to have an easy time coming up with titles. Usually, it involves me + a pad of paper + 20 blank slots. I’ll then write down words associated with the novel, then see what I can come up with. For A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, I wrote down every word/phrase associated with elements of the novel: faeries, court intrigue, the “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, the dark fairy-tale feeling, etc. After many, many failed titles, I wrote down ACOTAR, and realized it was The One. When I know a title is right, it’ll just HIT me. However, QUEEN OF GLASS was a different story.

It started out as a placeholder title while I worked on the series–I originally intended to change it someday. Somehow, over the years, it stuck, and became so closely intwined with the story and its characters that I can’t imagine changing it. So, my experience with titles has been a bit of a roller coaster–and it DEFINITELY helps to have a critique partner to brainstorm with!!

-The Writer With Her First Book Deal!

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For me, often there’s a phrase in the text that is especially evocative.  But other times, it can be nearly impossible for me to settle on just the right words.

Recently, I needed to change the title of the book that I currently have out on submission.  The very week that I signed with my agent, there was a major YA sale of a book with the same title as mine.  It was extremely difficult to find a new title, because I had come to think of the book as being defined by the previous title, (which, in case you’re curious, was STAR-CROSSED.)  It took days for me to generate any new ideas.  In the end, I searched the book for symbols – images that represented in my mind what the book was about.  There was a single scene in the manuscript involving a firefly.  To a reader, that scene could pass by with little significance, but to me, the firefly represented my male MC.  The title FIREFLY seemed to fit.  But once I had the title, I realized I needed to justify it a bit.  I expanded that scene, and added a few more images of fireflies throughout the text, all meant to emphasize their temporary and otherworldly nature.  Once I had made those edits, I was just as satisfied with the new title as I had been with the original.

-The Other Writer Out on Submissions

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I used to stress about getting the perfect title. The original title for Prada & Prejudice was “How to Snag a Duke– and other things I learned in school.” Yeah, no idea what I was thinking with that one. My agent kind of said she hated it, so I started thinking of new ones. I was in Borders and saw a book called “Pride and Petticoats.”

So then I was like…. well…. how can I use something old meets something new? Within 24 hours, Prada & Prejudice hit me. Of course, the original drafts had nothing to do with Austen. I just wanted the whole Austen era meets 21st century. It ended up being that editors had all these expectations based on the title, so I had to rewrite it!

Ever since, I’ve just considered my titles to be “working titles.” Trust me, even if you think your title is the best thing since sliced bread, someone at your publisher will consider changing it. Think of your title as a placeholder. YOU WISH started out as THE GHOSTS OF BIRTHDAYS PAST, and my editor proposed YOU WISH. SHATTERED (coming in 2011) will be changed too, though I don’t know to what, yet. if RIPPLE stays the same, it will be my first book to keep its title–And it’s going to be my 5th published book! ha!

I think an amazing title can help you (since you’ll put it in the subject line of E-queries) but I wouldn’t stress to much on it.

-The Writer and Literary Agent Working on a Book Deal

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The first novel I wrote was originally named WOMAN’S WORLD, because that was what I slapped on the document I was working on when I got called to dinner. And that was all I had at that point: a world where women were in charge. It was only after I got an agent that the title was changed to ANTEBELLUM, and to be honest it might get changed again (too many people think it’s about the Civil War, lol). The other books were named almost instantly, sometimes even before I had a story. The next two books in the ANTEBELLUM SERIES, APOSTASY and INSURRECTION had names before I really knew where the plot was going. The title GO LOOK THERE stuck with me for years before the characters approached me, and the new novel I’m working on had its plot inspired entirely by the title: A CLEAR AND BEAUTIFUL LIE.

I’ve found that when I don’t have a name for a project it inevitably falls apart and I don’t finish it. For example, a time-travel drama novel I was working on last year. I didn’t have a name and I didn’t have a name, and soon I didn’t have a plot either. I’m just glad this particular curse didn’t affect my first book, but I have a feeling I’ll be suffering from it all my life. 😉

-The Writer Waiting on Submissions

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I’m terrible with titles. It always feels as if I need to describe my entire story in a title; and as a result, I get a bit hung-up. The best for me, though, is just to jot down words, lines, or ideas that come to mind when I think of my manuscript. My current one is still untitled, but I have pages of notes to help me start thinking of one. I also find reading poetry to be great in terms of inspiration for titles. I figure that forcing it might not work, especially seeing as how I’m still writing it; stressing out about it doesn’t particularly help. I’m sure it’ll come to me when I least expect it.

-The Writer in Publishing Working on her First Book

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I have a REALLY hard time with titles. My current WIP is just named after the main character as a placeholder, actually, because I really can’t think of a significant title.

As for my shorter works, I tend to get inspiration from music. One of my short stories on FictionPress is titled “I Know You’re Still There,” which has significance in the story as well as the song that inspired it. It’s not the title of the song, just a line, but it fits really well in my opinion.

The funny thing is, I was brainstorming titles one day a while ago, before anyone even KNEW of Twilight …. and I came up with “Breaking Twilight.” Breaking Dawn + Twilight = my title. I should sue for plagiarism!

-The Writer Who Earned A Fixed Position At Her Internship

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I almost always have a really hard time with titles. Usually, I can’t think of anything right off the bat, or when I do it doesn’t seem to fit. Sometimes, I sit and just try to think of titles but this takes forever. PRISCILLA THE EVIL was one of the few times I knew right almost immediately what the title would be and felt good about it. My other titles often come from snatches of songs or phrases that just fit some part of the story.

-The Archaeologist Currently Querying

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Oh man, I hate coming up with titles. It’s so hard to come up with a really, really good title that means everything you want it to mean, and gives the best first impression to the reader. People judge books on titles as much as covers, and it’s true that after reading the novel the title will make a lot of sense, but the name is its only identity before it’s read. Even though I know it happens, and even though I do it too, I hate the thought that what I’ve written will be judged by it’s name first, and content later.

Especially since right now my placeholder title is TIME IS A FUNNY THING. That’s terrible as a title! It sounds cliche; it sounds like I’m putting on airs and trying to be profound when really, it was just the first sentence ever written of the novel, and it’s said in the sardonic voice of somebody too proud being trapped in a place against her will for too long. Now though, I can’t think of anything else to call it because the book has become the title, and there are plenty of ‘time’ elements in it, so changing it will be really hard, even though I know I’ll have to. If only so that people don’t sniff at it and walk away. Because even though I think it works really well with the tone and content of the book, people don’t know the tone and content when they haven’t read it.

The day I start making brilliant titles that correspond beautifully to the work is the day I’m happy!

-The Writer Revising Her First Novel

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How do YOU pick  your story titles?

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32 Responses to “QOTW: Picking the Perfect Title”

  1. Samantha W May 14, 2010 at 12:31 AM #

    Star Crossed sounds so perfect for Firefly, too! But I like Firefly anyway. 🙂

    So far all story ideas I have, have a title. A title I’m more or less happy with. The more developed a story is in my mind, the better title I think I’ll have for it. I think the story having a lot to do with the title works really well, too. Heck, The Vacant Throne was originally the title of an illustration I made! It just happened to grow into a story too. 🙂

    • Julie Eshbaugh May 14, 2010 at 12:33 PM #

      Wow Samantha, I LOVE the fact that The Vacant Throne was originally the title of one of your illustrations! It sounds like your artistic life is very integrated. That’s really cool. And I agree, the story having a lot to do with the title works well for me, too. 🙂

    • Vanessa May 14, 2010 at 4:00 PM #

      I actually find it SO much easier to give my artwork titles! But when it comes to lengthy stories, I’m absolutely terrible!

    • mandyhubbard May 17, 2010 at 11:50 AM #

      oooh, i just love the TITLE the Vacant Throne. I want to read it based just on that. 🙂

  2. Aurora Blackguard May 14, 2010 at 2:32 AM #

    Hah. I have a major problem with this. I totally run parallel with Savannah’s problem: no title = no work done. So yeah. Major problem. I was fiddling with a story and it’s about people born from a fire clan who have this ritualistic dances. What’t it called? FIRE DANCER. Yeah, totally not what you were expecting, right? 🙂

    • Savannah J. Foley May 14, 2010 at 9:29 AM #

      Well, if having a title permits you to get work done, I say go for it.

      By the way, I’ve been dying to know… is the main character from Fire Dancer a redhead? 😉

      • Aurora Blackguard May 15, 2010 at 11:49 AM #

        Hahahah 🙂 That is random. What gave you the idea?

        Anyway, I will dish this ONE detail. NO, she technically isn’t but she is at the same time.

  3. Meagan Spooner May 14, 2010 at 7:01 AM #

    I think I’m evenly split between having titles leap out at me, and having to hunt for them. It seems to have no correlation to how “good” the story is — one of my best stories was also the hardest to title. But I’m like Mandy, I usually consider the title a working title even when I like it, because really… getting attached to a title means you’re GOING to have to change it. That’s just the way fate–and the writing world–works!

    • Julie Eshbaugh May 14, 2010 at 12:24 PM #

      Hey Meagan! I love your attitude. If you can always think of your title as temporary, you’re less likely to get your heart broken. 🙂
      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Renee May 14, 2010 at 7:16 AM #

    I usually struggle so much with titles, but being a fanfiction author back in my youth sort of helped me bumble through that. Everything on the title front for me became easier after I wrote a book called “Give Unto Darkness”, a working title borrowed from a friend. After weeks of brainstorming I came up with the alternative name “Fireglass” and if nothing else it gave me hope that SOMEDAY, no matter how difficult finding a title may be, it WILL come along. 😀

    • Savannah J. Foley May 14, 2010 at 9:32 AM #

      I think naming shorter stories is easier, because you can be whimsical or opaque with them. Another thing I love about fan fiction – the EPIC titles!

    • Vanessa May 14, 2010 at 3:59 PM #

      Fireglass is such a great title!!!

      All of my fanfiction titles from back in the day were terrible, ahahaha. I was always so envious of all the epic-sounding ones!

  5. Clare Sager May 14, 2010 at 8:45 AM #

    Hello – my first comment here after reading for a little while!

    I’ve had lots of different relationships with titles over the years. My current WIP started off with a pretty definite title (‘The Gentlewoman Thief’) which is essentially what the protagonist is. I also like the way in which the word ‘gentlewoman’ places females on the same level as ‘gentlemen’ – they are not ladies (which suggests ‘ladylike’ behaviour – something my protagonist doesn’t generally hold with) and they have a status in their own right (rather than being ladies who are married to/daughters/sisters of gentlemen.

    The first thing I knew about the story was the character and she is very much at the centre of the action (rather like the Angelique books), so it made sense to name the book after her, but as she uses pseudonyms a great deal, it also made a kind of sense to me that her name itself wouldn’t be the title.

    After some feedback from my Masters tutor, I changed the title very slightly and took a little title inspiration from ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ (again, attempting to subvert something male for my gentlewoman) and came up with ‘A Thief and a Gentlewoman’. I’ve also used this as my template for the other planned books in the series – they all pair two apparently disparate roles that my protagonist plays in that particular story.

    • Savannah J. Foley May 14, 2010 at 9:35 AM #

      Aww, well congrats on your first comment!

      I love the concept of a Gentlewoman Thief!

      • Clare Sager May 14, 2010 at 11:08 AM #

        Thank you for the warm welcome!

        She is rather fun to write. I’d better finish the story and hopefully try to get published – then we can see if you like the execution as well!

        • Biljana May 15, 2010 at 12:16 AM #

          Welcome indeed! 😀

          I love the concept of a gentlewoman. It seems dangerous and regal at the same time. Mysterious 🙂

    • Vanessa May 14, 2010 at 3:48 PM #

      Awesome first comment Clare!! I’m hoping it won’t be the last!

      Your protagonist sounds like a very strong female – and I love stories with strong females!

      • Clare Sager May 14, 2010 at 6:37 PM #

        Thank you, Vanessa. I hope to be back – as long as I don’t bore people with my excessively long comments. I’m afraid I do tend to ramble.

        And yay for strong women – I’ve found that I can’t read books without strong female characters … but then you could spend ages working out what constitutes a ‘strong’ female character. Perhaps that’s a discussion for another time!

        • Myra May 14, 2010 at 8:35 PM #

          That’s actually something I’d love to see. “Strength” seems like such a vague term, sometimes, and people interpret it differently… or misinterpret it entirely.

          • Vanessa May 16, 2010 at 1:03 AM #

            Long comments are the best!

            And yeah, perhaps we should have a discussion about this topic! I think it’d be interesting to hear everyone’s different P.O.V.s!

  6. Lua May 14, 2010 at 9:30 AM #

    I always say I’m great with titles, they are really easy to find and I always find the perfect one but then I end up changing it 20 times so I guess I’m not that good as I believe to be 🙂
    If I can’t come up with anything, I usually pick a line or a few words I find most striking from the text.

    • Julie Eshbaugh May 14, 2010 at 12:29 PM #

      Hi Lua!
      I agree with your technique of lifting a striking phrase from the text. That’s a great method. And I would have to say you are being too hard on yourself. If you can come up with 20 or so different titles for a piece, you ARE great with titles!!!
      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

    • Vanessa May 14, 2010 at 3:56 PM #

      I am jealous of your awesome title skills Lua!

    • Biljana May 15, 2010 at 12:23 AM #

      I’m jealous also! I have trouble just thinking of one ;).

      While I love the idea of titling by a powerful phrase, I always get distracted when I find the origin of the title in the text when I’m reading. It always pulls me out of the suspension of disbelief.

      Does anyone else feel that?

  7. Myra May 14, 2010 at 11:19 PM #

    For me, it’s almost a 50/50 chance that the story comes with a title.

    Half the time stories come with a title attached that is perfect. The Perfect Mirror Image, for example, is the title of a short story I wrote about twin sisters–or, rather, a girl and her clone. I still think it’s a fantastic title for the story after much thinking. Another title I came up with on a whim is A Curse of Red, and it describes so many different curses, all of different natures, in the story that I also thought it was perfect.

    The other half of the time titles are just impossible and can’t be drawn out, like in my current WIP. I can’t for the life of me think of a title for it. I guess I won’t force until I have to (after I type THE END? As I’m editing? Hmm.)

    • Biljana May 15, 2010 at 12:28 AM #

      I’m always envious of people that have titles right off the bat. It seems so much smarter and easier. I’m an idiot because I procratinate on them like mad and then I just get stuck trying to capture the whole book, rather than just an idea.

      And those are some mighty fine titles.

    • Vanessa May 15, 2010 at 11:30 AM #

      I’m also not planning on thinking of a title until sometime after I type THE END :p Hopefully, somewhere along the way, something will come to me. If not, I’ll be reading a lot to see if I can find some inspiration! Taking a step back from the WIP for a while might help.

  8. Olga May 18, 2010 at 6:50 PM #

    For me, the title usually smacks me in the face just before the story itself comes together. What I hate is when I have a brilliant title, but no story. I have a plot, I have snippets of half-remembered words of half-created characters, but it just doesn’t HAPPEN. Titles, for me, are the easy part. Summaries are even easier, come to think of it. Fictionpress forever altered the way I write. I get the little blurb first. Then the title. THEN the story just seems to form around it. I think I’m the odd one out here. 😛

    • svonnah May 20, 2010 at 12:16 PM #

      That’s really interesting; I’ve never heard of someone coming up with a summary before a big plot or title! Whatever works for you, I guess! I’m glad you like summaries, so many writers hate them but I think it’s kind of fun to condense your book down to a few sentences.

      • Olga May 20, 2010 at 12:30 PM #

        It’s what HAS to be mastered to get people to pay attention to your work. If two sentences can grab their attention, they’re more likely to give it a shot. If those same two sentences don’t do anything for them, then it won’t matter if you’ve written something glorious enough to rock their socks – they will have probably moved on. I’ve even helped a few of my friends write their little summaries. It does help.

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