Tuesday, February 24, 2009

WHAT’S IN A TITLE?

Hayley has been blogging about book covers on Eventide Unmasked for the past couple of weeks. She has given us a lot to think about, both as readers and as writers. As readers we are drawn to certain books by their covers. As writers we dream about the cover we would like for our novels.

After covers (or maybe before for some people) titles draw a reader to a book. I’ve noticed a lot of recent titles follow a series pattern that suggests to the reader a certain storyline. I find these titles less than creative. For example, if you check out Harlequin Romances titles for March, you will find such titles as Brady: The Rebel Rancher, Italian Groom, Princess Bride, Falling for Her Convenient Husband, Cinderella’s Wedding Wish, Her Cattleman Boss, and The Aristocrat and the Single Mom.

Now I don’t want to get into trouble with Harlequin, but these titles are not to my liking. (Is that safe enough to say?) As a reader, I get an idea what the story is about, but what happened to the more creative titles like Gone With the Wind, Above Suspicion, The Snare of the Hunter, Hot Ice, Jewels of the Sun, Lord of the High Lonesome?

When I’m writing, I prefer a title that reflects the story yet also shows creativity and cleverness. Following are some titles that I have already used or am considering using:

Boyfriend in a Box – the idea came from an actual product created for women who wanted a non demanding relationship with a man. In my story, the heroine, Georgia, invents a boyfriend so that her grandmother will stop nagging her about finding a man. In a fancy box, she keeps photos of Donovan, an old friend of her brother, to show her grandmother whenever she’s in a nagging mood. Donovan, conveniently for Georgia, lives outside of the country. Things heat up, however, when Donovan returns to her island.

Professional Husband – someone who helps out widowed women (I saw this in an old career book). My heroine had been widowed young. When her husband died, she didn’t know how to take care of the finances, etc., so she was unprepared to take care of these things. Once she learned how to manage her finances, she decided to open a professional husband business whereby she helps widows who find themselves in similar situations. The hero’s grandmother is one of the heroine’s clients. The hero doesn’t trust her with his grandmother’s finances.

Woman in the Well – a catch phrase in a news article. I like the possibilities behind this cold case story of a woman found in a barrel down a well in the Sutherland area of Saskatoon. The woman had supposedly died in the early 1920s. I’m intrigued by how she died. What was her story? Or maybe I can create a contemporary story connected to this cold case. I’m still working on this.

Best Before Date – we’re all familiar with this saying. I think this title has lots of potential – I just haven’t found the right characters yet to populate this story.

Delicious by Nature – the tagline for Over the Hill Orchards, a Saskatchewan based company. I haven’t thought of a storyline for this yet, but I think this would be an intriguing title for a romance.

Heroine Addiction – my husband’s suggestion for a romance title. I like the play on words. Again, I don’t have a storyline for this, but it has possibilities.

I like to have a title before I begin writing. I actually have trouble writing a story when I have no working title. In fact, the title quite often sparks my storylines.

Where do your titles come from? When do you title your work? Before? After? During?

14 comments:

Tara Maya said...

What do you do when you have a series? Then you have to find "matching titles" for all the books.

And isn't it true you publisher can nix your title (especially if it is too close to something else in their line)?

What do you do if you have fallen in love with your title but are told to pick a different title?

Karen said...

Hey Suse,
I'm the opposite. A title has eluded me from the beginning for my current wip. I have many story ideas but none of them come with titles. I do have one awesome title and no story idea to go with it.

Hopefully a great title for my current wip will come to me.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Suse,
I totally agree with you about the titles of some in the Harlequin line. I prefer a more creative and witty title myself. Sometimes those come to me easily, and sometimes not so easy. Usually the title will come to me as I'm writing, but in one case I had a title before I wrote. I've never finished "Victoria's Secret" but I still think it's a great title.

Jana

Janet C. said...

Great post, Suse. I need to hire you as my official "Title Girl". I'm terrible when it comes to titles and usually create files for my WIP with the hero and heroine's names. Thus - Hugh and Mena (Lady Bells), Grayce and Droyn, Gillian and Mac, etc. Really creative, eh?

Of course, when it was time to start querying, I needed a title. I went to my readers. I started with Secrets and Seductions, then changed it to The Power of Seduction, and finally settled on The Seduction of Lady Bells. And as Tara pointed out, more than likely that title will be nixed when it gets to publication time.

It would be interesting to know how many writers start with titles, how many with characters, and how many with plots. I seem to always start with characters and one scene.

Janet

Suse said...

Hi Tara Maya, thanks for stopping by. Your comments are very true. I haven't explored writing a series, so haven't given thought to titling them.

I had thought about also mentioning about how publishers will probably change the name of our novel anyway, but I wanted to explore how people come up with their titles and how it affects their writing of the story.

I probably fall in love with each of my titles when I'm writing, so it would be difficult to give them up. But as I am unpublished, I haven't had to deal with that. I think writers need to be aware of which publishers they target and realize that some will change the title to match the line you publish under.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

I love your concept of the professional husband, that sounds like it has great potential. Heroine Addiction had me laughing pretty hard. Fantastic pun.

I agree with you that I'm not a fan of such blatant titles as your examples at the top. They don't end up resonating after you finish the book. I like a title that makes sense, and then starts to take on extra relevance as you go along, tying into the themes, etc. A tall order, but those are the most satisfying to me.

As for 'series' titles, I can't really speak for Harlequin series, but in terms of single author series, I do like it when a series ties the titles together in some small way. An example from one of my first fantasy authors: "Arrows o the Queen" "Arrows Flight" "Arrows Fall". And more recently, "Kushiel's Dart" "Kushiel's Chosen" "Kushiel's Avatar" They each stand on their own and resonate with the book, but also make the books resonate with each other as well.

I'm planning to run an 'Eventide' theme through my titles, although I only have the first figured out so far.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Great post, Suse.

Titles are like art. I don't like abstract art so titles like Gone With the Wind might be creative but it doesn't tell me anything. Well, until I saw the movie.

Ditto for Hot Ice. Images run the gamut from a mad scientist to a bartender. That's really crossing the genres.

Your titles are definitely bringing images to my mind - especially Delicious by Nature and Heroine Addiction. Now there's a couple titles for erotica, eh.

To me, the Harlequin titles are like non-abstract art where you can actually see the people, their faces, their clothes. You read a Harlequin title and you know what you're getting. When I'm standing in Walmart purusing the book shelves, I don't have time to read the back blurb of every book. I can zoom along pretty quick from the titles alone. Efficient is what they are. :)

The more creative titles are fine for mainstream books of 100,000k words like Janet's Lady Bells. Books that have a long shelf life in the stores and the libraries. But for category books that hit the shelves for 6 wks tops, I don't think they're necessary.

Suse said...

Hey Karen, I envy your ability to carry on with a wip without a title. For whatever reason, I can't seem to get going until the title has been decided. I don't know if this is my way of procrastinating or if this is telling me I don't really know what my story is yet.

Good luck on coming up with a title for your current wip. I look forward to hearing it.

Suse said...

Hi Jana, you are creative and witty, so I can see why you like those titles. (Not that I'm saying I'm also creative & witty, but those are the types of titles I like too.) However, I understand why Harlequin uses the titles that they do.

I think your "Victoria's Secret" title is great. Maybe you need to find a different hero or heroine for the story before it will work for you.

Suse said...

Hey Janet, titles used to come to me easily but I've lost the knack some over the years - probably out of practice. But if I get it back, maybe I should start a side business of creating titles for people. That should be easier than writing the whole book, right?

I like your title "Seduction of Lady Bells." It's titillating yet also introduces us to the heroine. Your title does double duty.

I quite often start with the title or an incident, and then I find characters to fit. I think I rarely start with a character.

Suse said...

Hey Hayley, thank you for your comment. Could I lift your 2nd paragraph? You summed up everything I was trying to convey in just a short space.

I agree with you if you're writing a series, you need to tie your titles together somehow and create a brand like Harry Potter or Mary Balogh's Simply series.

I'll stay tuned for the rest of your titles in your series.

Suse said...

Hi Anita, you're right that Harlequin has a purpose in how they name their series titles. And I hadn't thought about how it might be related to the shelf life. Definitley single title romances or other longer novels have a longer shelf life and therefore need more memorable titles.

Even knowing this, personally I still like something that's a bit different that makes me think about the story I'm going to read.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Suse, absolutely. Lift away :)

On the topic of titles, the Twitter group @Bookies recently collected their members picks of Best Book Titles. These are titles they absolutely loved, regardless of whether they enjoyed the book. Some neat results.

Suse said...

Hi Hayley, the Best Book Titles from @Bookies was interesting. Maybe I should have asked people here what their favorite titles are, either their own or from books they've read.