Guest Post by Aya Tsintziras
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.