Sunday, April 17, 2011

What's In a Name?

Or a title for that matter.
I had this wonderful idea for the story. I brainstormed with my friend Maggie and outlined, diagramed and researched. Finally, after a few months, I was ready, eager actually, to write. My heroine’s name came to me quickly. Rebeka, yes with a ‘k.’ It’s a name I’ve always liked. It’s strong, yet romantic. It just fit my character.
My hero was another story completely. I inserted one name after the other into the text. Sometimes I’d go several chapters before I’d know it wasn’t working and start the name search all over again. There was Jason, Andrew, Michael, and on and on and on. None of those seemed to fit, that is until I tried Arik. I did a global replace and reread the chapters. At last, a story about Rebeka and Arik.
My working title was Rebeka’s Story. I knew it wasn’t the finished title but I thought the title would evolve as I wrote. At the end of 105,000 words, it was still Rebeka’s Story.  I called Maggie. Again we did some brainstorming.  As we talked through the story, I realized I had a recurring phrase/idea, to hearth and home. So, almost satisfied, I titled my story, To Hearth and Home.
I wrote my synopsis and query. I was ready. I pitched it. In February, I got a wonderful call from Angela James. Carina Press wanted to publish my story. It was a wonderful exciting call. I had to sit and think hard afterwards to remember all she told me. One thing that was clear, there would possibly be a title change.
I had to admit I wasn’t surprised with a title change. It did sound like a cozy contemporary and not an adventurous historical time travel. My editor, Denise Nielsen, worked with me and asked for suggestions, words and concepts. The team was ready to work on a new title. 
Earlier this week, I saw a post on the Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal (an online chapter of RWA) blog about book titles, Creating Compelling Titles. I was in the same boat as Anne Marsh, I didn’t know squat about titles. It’s a good read. I’ve included it below.
Oh, before you go, yesterday, Denise emailed me with the team’s result which hit all of Anne’s points.  Knight of Runes, it’s perfect!
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at the FFnP Blog
Guest blogger Anne Marsh

Titles were originally an afterthought for me—a handful of words that got slapped on my book right before I shipped it off. At best, the title was a convenient shorthand for picking out my current WIP from its fellow computer files. I wrote the Cat book. Next, I wrote the Goblin book. And the Amazon book. When, as an unpublished author, I decided to send a handful of manuscripts off on the RWA contest circuit, I simply had to give the blasted manuscripts better titles, so I sat down and considered the key elements in the book: my Cat book was sexy, with a big, shapeshifting hero. Plus, an erotic hunt figured prominently in the book. I came up with ”Caught by the Cat” and patted myself on the back. As titles went, it was marginally better than “The Cat Book” (which sounded like it should be coffee table fare filled with pictures of the African savannah). And, alliteration had to count for something—right? Since “everyone” knows that New York always changes your title, I figured the title didn’t really matter (besides, I had this fabulous midnight epiphany that I’d call the next books in the series “Claimed by the Cat” and “Charmed by Cat,” although, after that, I’d probably have to end the series as I’d already run out of words that began with the letter “C”).

I was wrong.

I didn’t know squat about titles.

“Caught by the Cat” sold to an editor juding the Orange Rose contest. Soon after I sold, however, my editor gently asked how I would feel about changing the title. She wanted to find something edgier, something that packed an erotic punch. That sounded great to me—right up until she asked me to brainstorm a list of possible new titles. Fortunately, I was able to brainstorm with both my agent and my editor—and we ended up going with one of my editor’s ideas.

Why do titles matter? First and foremost, a title makes the reader look. A good title conveys the flavor of a book in just a few words. My agent said that “The Hunt” jumped out at her and would make her pick the book up from the shelf (score!). It also shrieked “Alpha male!,” which was our goal. Strong. Forceful. Sexy. Just like my hero.

A successful title also connects the books in a series. Repeated words, elements, or themes work well. For example, we could have called a trio of shapeshifter books: The Hunt, The Game, and The Breakpoint. Instead, we decided to play with variations on a hunt: “The Hunt,” “The Pursuit,” “The Capture. Always think ahead: how would you pitch the next book in the series? How will you tie them together.

Things to consider when you’re coming up with a title for you book:
  • The title needs to be short and to the point—it has to fit on the cover of a book and the graphic designer creating your cover doesn’t need the challenge of a five-line, polysyllabic tongue twister.
  • The title should hint at the tone of your book. Is the book dark and sexy? Sweet? Hero-centric or focused on the heroine?
  • The title of the book should also serve as a hook for the series (unless you’re truly planning just one standalone book). You may also want to brainstorm a series name -- especially for FF&P-ers, this is a fabulous place to introduce your world-building.
  • Keep an open mind and get feedback from as many folks as possible. A truly successful title is marketable and hooks in as many readers as possible… so you want to get impressions from as many people as possible. What do they think of when you say your title? What kind of book would they guess the book is? What adjectives come to mind? If your beta readers are thinking “Oooh! Dark and sexy!” but you’re writing light paranormal—or vice versa—you need to rethink the title.
  • Search (Amazon is a great tool). Has anyone else used that title? It may not be a deal-breaker if someone else has used “your” title (the title I proposed for my forthcoming sexy contemporary, for example, was apparently used by an anthology a few years ago, but my editor wasn’t too concerned as the other book was an anthology).
There are lots of great titles out there, titles that make me go “Wow. Wish I’d thought of that!” The titles for Jacquelyn Frank’s Nightwalkers series, for example, let you know loud and clear that, when you crack those covers, you’re going to read about strong, forceful alphas. Jacob, Gideon, Elijah, Damien—these are forceful, honorable, no-nonsense Biblical names. Kathy Love, on the other hand, writes fabulously funny, sexy paranormal and her titles convey that message clearly– “Truth or Demon”, “What a Demon Wants”, “Fangs for the Memories.” Rebecca Zanetti’s two books—“Fated” and “Claimed”—use strong adjectives describing the relationship between the hero and the heroine in some very sexy terms. And, Karen Kelly’s books (“The Jaguar Prince,” “The Falcon Prince”) are tied together by the fact that her heroes are princes and shapeshifters.  
Each title reflects the different stories we’re going to find between the covers and draws us in, hinting and promising at what we’ll find. I’ve picked up more than one book based on the title alone because I love the kind of story line the title hints at (cough—Karen Kelly—cough). The next time you’re naming your book, think about what kind of story you’re promising your reader—and what message you want to convey. 
A professional technical writer, Anne discovered that getting laid off was actually A Very Good Thing. While looking for her next writing gig, she picked up her pen (well, okay, she used her writing as an excuse to buy a new Apple laptop) and started writing. She soon discovered that writing was uncomfortably similar to sit-ups: add a few more crunches each day, wake up sore, but, by God, you will fit into that bikini. Or finish the book (she’s still working on the bikini). Now she cranks out software manuals during the daylight hours– and writes about alpha shapeshifters the rest of the time.


  1. Ruth, I really enjoyed this:) Loved the way you and your editor arrived at the title, and I definitely think it fits your work:)
    Anne's comments were wonderful...this is a piece all of us can benefit from greatly!


  2. @Loretta ...

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. It must have been kismet that Anne had this piece out the day before the discussions with my editor. Anne's piece couldn't have been more fitting. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  3. Great blog! Isn't it funny how names can be such a struggle, but when you find the right one it just feels so right?

    Love the new title.

    Jen Sampson

  4. Have I mentioned I love your title! Awesome and perfect for Arik and Rebeka.

    Great post and very helpful with titles. Mine usually 'come' to me with no effort on my part. Sometimes before I type that very first word I have a title. But in looking at titles for my shifter series this gave me an insight. My three (so far) titles fit the suggested guidelines already! I'm just good that way. lol

  5. @Jen Sampson

    I love the title too. It is so true. You struggle so to find the right title and when you find it, it really fits like a glove.

  6. @Calisa Lewis

    I'm glad you like the post. You are so lucky your titles come so easily.

  7. Just curious, you mention that you brainstormed, did your research and then after a couple of months was ready to write. Did you write nothing on the story during that time? I ask only because it amazes me. I don't think I could have waited to get started.

    I really like you choice of character names - very unique.

  8. @Christina Wolfer

    I started out thinking I was going to help Maggie write her book, be her critique partner or beta reader. I didn't really know anything about fiction writing.

    I did jot down scene ideas, and some dialog but I really didn't start writing right away.

  9. Great post, Ruth. Titles are so darned hard to come up with, so it was good to have some direction. Thanks!

  10. @Sandy

    I'm glad this post helped. It must have been kismet that Anne's post came out just when my editor contacted me about my title.