Don’t Judge a Book by its… Title

23 Dec

Guest Post by Aya Tsintziras


Aya Tsintziras, 2011 Debut Author

We’ve all heard the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But what about a book’s title? What you choose to call your novel is just as important as the cover image, the story and the writing. Titles can be mysterious or intriguing, drawing the reader in at first glance (Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife or Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games come to mind) or they can be clever, making the reader think and search for the title’s explanation within the plot (like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why or Gayle Forman’s If I Stay). Most importantly, your title should explain something about the book. So, yes, titles matter, just as covers do, and you should definitely judge a title.

What happens when you think you’ve found the perfect title? Or if you query an agency with that title, spend months and months editing that novel under the title, and get a book deal with that title – only to hear your title must be changed?

This is what happened to me. I wrote my novel, formerly known as RAINFALL, at sixteen, started working with a literary agency at eighteen, and got the good news that my novel had been sold this past summer at twenty. I was super excited (and still am!), of course, not only about realizing my dream of becoming a published author, something I had wished for since I was young, but about working with an editor and growing as a writer. I didn’t realize I would learn an important lesson in letting go. But that’s what this journey has turned into – the realization that not everything about your novel will stay exactly the same and always keeping an open mind is the only way to get through the changes.

My YA novel is a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl named Raine who suffers from an eating disorder and must learn how to deal in a world where being pretty means being thin. Therefore, my original title, RAINFALL, was a play on words and on the theme of the book – Raine falls, in a sense, and must pick herself back up. I’m lucky to have such a wonderful editor who was incredibly respectful about the title change, telling me that the book needs a title which eludes to the subject. She allowed me to be involved in the decision-making process and I brainstormed a few ideas. In the end, the title that was chosen was PRETTY BONES. On a personal note, I love it as it’s pretty and poetic, but from a business/marketing perspective, it’s perfect. Those two words say everything about the book – it is about beauty and it is about bones. I understand that RAINFALL does not tell you the book is about anorexia, whereas PRETTY BONES does.

My old title will always stay close to my heart. I chose it when I was in high school, a time full of many ups and downs, a time when I learned to believe in myself. I chose to write a novel and to pursue the path to publication, and that is what my old title represents to me. My title change, then, is symbolic of the fact that I have grown up, from a sixteen-year-old dreamer to a twenty-one-year-old college senior who still dreams, of course, but has made her dream into a reality.

If you are faced with the need to change your title, either a personal decision or a suggestion from your agent or editor, it’s fine to be upset – for a little while. You are letting go of something you have been attached to. But think of a title change, like any changes you will have to make during the editing process, as a new beginning. A step in the right direction. A step to making your book more marketable.

After all, if you are brave and believe in yourself as a writer, enough to pursue the crazy ride to publication, that’s what counts.


Aya Tsintziras is finishing up her degree in Political Science and Media Studies at the University of Toronto. At fifteen, her play, Rainfall, won an Honourable Mention in the Tarragon Theatre’s Under 20 Playwright Competition. Aya turned this play into a novel and it will be published under the name PRETTY BONES on March 1 2011 by James Lorimer in North America. You can follow her on twitter @ayatsintziras.



16 Responses to “Don’t Judge a Book by its… Title”

  1. priscillashay December 23, 2010 at 3:06 AM #

    that’s so true. Sometimes I don’t think titles match the book..but have you noticed sometimes to summary on the back also has little to do with the book or at least it’s misleading?

    Btw, how do you pronounce your last name?

    (and I’m adding you to my TBR)

    • Aya Tsintziras December 23, 2010 at 10:40 AM #

      Yes, definitely. I think that has to do with marketing.

      Sincere-is (it’s Greek)

      And thanks 🙂

  2. authorguy December 23, 2010 at 6:58 AM #

    I had much this same dillemma when getting my latest novel through the system. I originally called the story Blood Moon, since I’d gotten the idea while looking at another book called Blood Moon. Then I decided that Blood Moon was entirely too common a name so I went looking for something different. I discovered St. Martin’s Moon, which is another name for the Blood Moon, the full moon in the sky around Halloween, which is when the Feast of St. Martin is celebrated. My wife thought I should just call it ‘Werewolves on the Moon’, much like ‘Snakes on a Plane’, since so many people really liked the idea of werewolves on the moon. My publisher decided she liked St. Martin’s Moon better, though.
    I did a post of my own on titles a while back, more on the process I use to choose one:

    Marc Vun Kannon

  3. sdennard December 23, 2010 at 10:25 AM #

    Great post, Aya! And congrats on your book deal! I’m going through the whole title-change thing now. My editor wants me to come up with a something different than THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS.

    Fortunately, I was never attached to THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS — it was always just a working title for me, so I don’t mind being told I need something more marketable…

    BUT, all that said, I have no idea what to call it now! I’m supposed to be brainstorming new titles, but I’m totally at a loss. HarperCollins wants something that’s NOT one-word, so it stands out… And that’s the ONLY suggestion they’ve given me.

    Er, a little more help here, guys!!

    Your post gives me some food for thought — some routes to consider that I hadn’t considered before.

    So thanks! 🙂

    • Aya Tsintziras December 23, 2010 at 10:41 AM #

      Thanks! And congrats on your book deal as well!!!

      I’m glad it was helpful! Good luck with your title brainstorming

    • Sammy Bina December 23, 2010 at 2:49 PM #

      What?! WHY? I like that title!

  4. Savannah J. Foley December 23, 2010 at 10:28 AM #

    Ooh, I heard of Pretty Bones the other day on a blog… can’t remember which one, though, sorry! I remember thinking it’s a lovely title, and also similar to The Lovely Bones, which I’m sure you get a lot.

    I had to undergo a name change recently at the agent level… on my first round of submissions editors felt that ANTEBELLUM was a Civil War book title, and as such avoided reading it, lol! A few weeks ago I changed it to NAMELESS in preparation of going out on subs again. The first time I emailed the LTWF girls with an update and said Nameless, everyone was kind of laughing at how different and strange it was.

    • Aya Tsintziras December 23, 2010 at 10:42 AM #

      Thanks! I love the title Nameless – I think it’s mysterious and makes you want to read the book to find out what it means.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio December 23, 2010 at 10:45 AM #

      AND AWESOME! You forgot to mention how awesome we all thought it was!

  5. Vanessa Di Gregorio December 23, 2010 at 10:48 AM #

    Aya, I don’t know if I’ve told you this yet, but I absolutely LOVED this post! Thanks again for guest-blogging! ❤

    • Aya Tsintziras December 23, 2010 at 10:53 AM #

      Thanks so much Vanessa! 🙂

  6. Kat Zhang December 23, 2010 at 12:45 PM #

    Wonderful post, Aya! I love both the titles and can’t wait to read your book 😀

    • Aya Tsintziras December 23, 2010 at 3:14 PM #

      Thanks for the kind words!

  7. Biljana December 25, 2010 at 10:30 PM #

    Great post! Titles give me nonstop hell, haha. I do not look forward having to find a new one for what I’m revising right now :P. That said though, congratulations for PRETTY BONES! I’ve seen it around too!

    • Aya Tsintziras December 26, 2010 at 6:10 PM #

      Thanks so much! 🙂
      P.S. I actually think we in the same class at U of T — The Medieval Tradition?

      • Biljana January 5, 2011 at 12:18 AM #

        …………..OMG!!!!!!! YES!!! That’s awesome! I always sit in the back two rows. I’ll keep an eye out for you next week!!

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