Friday, 6 May 2011

A Working Title...?

Do you decide upon the title of your novel first and write the story to suit or do you finish the manuscript and choose a title afterwards?
Me, I start with the title. It 'pops' into my head while I'm pondering the theme, the premise and the characters, then it is fixed. Even my next book, the one I haven't yet started writing, already has a title. See, I just can't help myself.

Of course, it might not be a good idea to get too attached if you have a publisher, as I know lots of writers who thought they had the perfect title, only for it to be changed later. Famously, Jilly Cooper's latest blockbuster Jump had a working title of 'Village Horse' during the four years she was writing it.

So what makes a good title? Well, surely, it has to be the minimum number of words that sum up the feel of the book. If you can relate genre, setting, time period and premise, as well as attracting attention to the cover, then you have to be backing a winner.

I had an interesting time on Better Book Titles  today - a website that features recognisable book covers of bestsellers and classics and updates them, with a twist, and gives a much more descriptive title. The site is run by Dan Wilbur and he aims to give you the meat of the story in one condensed image. Great fun!
My advice if you are struggling to name your magnum opus would be to think about what you want the title to convey and to make notes, jotting adjectives, verbs and nouns, which can be associated with the story. Use a thesaurus and refer to a reverse dictionary - a reverse dictionary allows you describe a concept and get a backlist of words which have definitions conceptually similar to the words you search with - a good place to find a reverse dictionary is

Next I would suggest giving yourself some time and space to process your ideas and to allow your subconscious to work. Then, when you have a title or a selection of title ideas to work with, go to Amazon and look up other books with titles that are similar or the same - noting in particular the ones in the same genre as your work. Originality is always best but remember that there are no laws of copyright on titles.

If you are deliberately trying to be controversial with your choice or simply like to be a little different then don't be suprised if you find yourself shortlisted for next year's Oddest Book Title Of The Year Award. This year's worthy winner was an inspirational guide: Managing a Dental Practice:The Genghis Khan Way  - as announced recently by the Bookseller magazine.

So how did you come up with  the title of your book and at what stage in the writing process did you do it...? All comments appreciated.


Rosemary Gemmell said...

Morning, Janice - loved your post. I always need to have the title before I can start any length of story/novel! It's like needing to have the main characters names just right, or else they're not real to me.

Melanie said...

I've done the title thing both ways. Two of my novel-length manuscripts began their lives as short stories and I had the titles for them before I put pen to paper.

My third manuscript, I knew my characters, where I was starting and where I was ending but had no idea what to call it until one night driving home from work, the title smacked me up the side of the head... wonder I didn't wreck my car.

I pitched my first manuscript (the one I was revising until I decided to take a wee break) to an agent and she didn't like the title at all. Said it didn't do the story justice. So back to the drawing board. Now I have a long list of titles to choose from which could still be subject to change. I still think of it with the original title and probably always will.

Janice said...

Hi Rosemary - interesting that you have the title first too - I'm different about names as I often change them, sometimes several times, as the charcter develops and becomes real to me.

Janice said...

Hi Melanie - titles are tricky. Words that mean a certain thing to one person can mean something else entirely to others, and it's so difficult to say 'what it's about' in a just a few words. Thanks for your interesting comment.

Angela Barton said...

Hi Janice

I agree it's incredibly important to find the right title for your book. I tend to change mine several times throughout the process of writing it. I settled on 'Lies and Linguine' because the main thread of the story is based on a lie, and the protagonist is a brilliant cook who wants to work in catering.

All I need now is a publisher!!!!

Ange xx

Janice said...

Hi Ange - I love the sound of your title and I'd guessed you had to have both deceit and food in it - in fact I can't wait to read it - so I too hope you find a publisher soon!
My next book is a culinary one too - but more about the angst and conflicts borne of ambition. I hope to finish it by the end of the summer - and the title is 'Reaching For The Stars' - the stars in this case being the ones won by chefs.

Elpi said...

Hi Janice,

Loved your post. My titles also pop into my head at the start or before the start of my story. I seem to need to have a title to progress the WIP. I have never really done it the other way around, although I would imagine it's not easy. Very topical post. There have been a couple of questions from Twitterers on title and I think your suggestions really help. I know what to do now if I struggle with a title.

Liz Harris said...

I'm working at the moment on finding a title for the book I'm now researching, and it's not easy to come up with the perfect title.

It's important to get it right first time if possible because, as Melanie said, once you've been working with a title, it's very difficult to change it mentally for another title.

The same is true of the names that you give your characters.

It makes it all the more important that the title/names you pick from the outset really do the job.

I'm confident - or foolishly optimistic - that the right name for the current wip will hit me at any moment now. Fingers crossed that it does.

Liz X

Janice said...

Hi Elpi - thanks for your kind comment. I'd love to know the title you chose for your WIP - but also quite understand if you'd want to keep it under wraps!

Janice said...

Hi Liz - I'm sure you are wise to let your subconcious do the work for you and let the new title come to you when it's ready. Thanks for your interesting comment!

Elpi said...

Hi Liz,

Happy to share. The title of my novel is The Pandora Prophecy. A paranormal romance with a splash of ancient Greek / Roman myth element weaved into it, set in contemporary times. First draft is done and currently editing it. Which I am finding very hard. So maybe you can do a blog post about editing large pieces of work next? :-)

Elpi said...

OK sorry, my previous comment is addressed to Janice, obviously! I haven't even had any wine yet. Doh!

K. Rosenberg said...

Great post, Janice! I agree with Ange. I usually come up with a title early on, but often end up changing it during the process of writing. The title for my latest, "Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues" popped into my head first thing in the morning one day, when I was still half asleep. I'd been trying to come up with something for a while, and writing down lists of ideas. I guess my subconscious had to sort it out overnight... :)

Janice said...

Elpi - it sounds like you settled on a good title with The Pandora Prophecy - as it shouts out all the elements you described in your story.

Good luck with the editing - although for me it's the thing I love best - even when it's a messy and mammouth task. I find the first draft the hardest job.

I do know one thing from talking to lots of writers, everyone works differently, and there is not a right or wrong way to do it!

Janice said...

Hi Kenneth - I can't wait to meet Sweet Opheila and find out about those Tinseltown Blues - it's such an exciting title!

Jane Lovering said...

I too do it both ways. Sometimes the book is clamouring to be written, but refuses to be defined by a title. Other times a perfect title springs into being and the book comes with it. I prefer it this way around, since I find the title sets the 'tone' for the book - a comic or amusing title (like Reversing Over Liberace) or something a bit deeper (Please Don't Stop the Music). Mind you, my agent usually makes me change the damn thing...

Janice said...

Hi Jane - I must read 'Reversing Over Liberace' - it's got to be the most original title I've ever heard. Lol!
I already have PDSTM on my Kindle but my reading was interupted by a concentrated effort with my own WIP over Easter time - but I am looking forward to getting back to it soon as a treat to myself. I promise to do a review on Amazon when I'm done - enjoying it so much. x

Bert Johnston said...

Interesting question, Janice. I've enjoyed seeing the varying responses. As for me, I start with a title but haven't yet ended with the same one. My latest book, Sunrise in the Cloud Forest, had three working titles before I arrived at "Sunrise...".

Janice said...

Gosh, Bert - now I'm interested to know what the other titles were and what influenced your final choice?

Bert Johnston said...

Janice, it was "Megachurch" at the start, because it is largely about the dynamics that exist in a large church staff.

Then it was "Trinity Temple," because I thought giving the church a name was a step up from just "Megachurch." (Before I completed the book, Trinity Temple became Harmony Temple, an ironic name for a church that was marked by disharmony.

Then it was "The Tattoo," reflecting a hidden tattoo that was almost the downfall of the protagonist.

Finally, "Sunrise in the Cloud Forest." In most of the later chapters of the book, the setting changes from Mobile to Costa Rica, and the happily ever after scene takes place in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Thus the evolution of my book titles.

Janice said...

That is really interesting, Bert. Great titles. All very powerful - and they say such a lot about your novels. Looking forward to the launch of 'Sunrise in the Cloud Forest'later this year.

Anonymous said...

Great advice and suggestions. This is something that I struggled with after I'd written Discovery at Rosehill. I settled on a title "Breaking The Ice" at first because Camilla, the MC, spends a lot of time in the story doing just that. But my editor thought it was a rubbish title and so I decided to change it. I eventually came up with Discovery at Rosehill on my own and I think my editor was a bit peeved!!!

CJ xx

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