Meet author Laura Kaye today at the Book Boost!
Here's what she had to say about book titles...
Don’t judge a book by its…title? Truth is, we all do. Sure, the cover art contributes to a reader’s first impression, and no one’s likely to pick up or reject a story on title alone. But titles serve as the first introduction readers have to the story. Good titles can communicate much about a story’s theme, feel, atmosphere, genre, conflict, and uniqueness.
Think about some of the great fiction titles. Jaws, Psycho, and Dracula all offer a hint about content, set tone and genre, are memorable, and have high impact. Short phrases can make memorable titles, too. Think Fahrenheit 451, Catch-22, The Hunger Games, The Stand, Vanity Fair, Pride and Prejudice, or Romeo and Juliet. Longer phrases, particularly if they’re unique, can be memorable and appealing. To Kill a Mockingbird comes readily to mind, as does The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Catcher in the Rye are other unique phrases that successfully embody a story’s content and feel. Clearly, there are a lot of right ways to do titles.
But there are lots of weaker ways, too. Common phrases, though they might represent something fundamental about a story, are often overused and too generic. Typing the phrase “second chance” into Amazon.com results in 31,000+ results in books – and 7,000+ of those are in romance alone. A title like that is less likely to jump off of the shelf in comparison to its more unique counterparts, and a specific “second chance” book will certainly be harder for a reader to find in online searches.
You can see the importance of a good title when you think of famous works of fiction that almost had other titles. Just imagine what Twilight would have been had Stephenie Meyers titled it Forks, which is how she queried it to agents. In 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald sent a novel to his publisher entitled Trimalchio in West Egg. When the editor hated it, Fitzgerald changed it to The Great Gatsby. Gone with the Wind was Margaret’s Mitchell’s fourth title idea (Tote the Weary Road, Not in Our Stars, and Bugles Sang True were others). Catch-22, a title that’s become so famous it made its way into the language as a common expression, was proposed as Catch-18. The publisher rejected that when another title scheduled to release included the number 18. They also considered 11, 17, and 14 before settling on 22. In each of these cases, the story wouldn’t have been the same thing with a different title.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time considering titles. In fact, I have something of a special relationship with titles in my writing process. I have a very difficult time – no, that’s understating it – I cannot write a book without knowing its title first. In fact, I have on several occasions come up with story ideas after thinking of a phrase I thought would make a good title. The erotic novella I’m about to query is an example of this. Just Gotta Say is part of a phrase I sometimes like to use: Sometimes you just gotta say, what the… I’ll let you finish the rest! The fantasy romance I just sold to Entangled Publishing, Snow’s Man, was another such example. Once I had those titles, stories literally unfolded in front of me.
The flip side is what happens when a title doesn’t come to mind, or for whatever reason doesn’t work. This has happened to me three times. The first novel I completed was a 140,000-word urban fantasy called Absolution. From the first moments, Absolution totally embodied the story. Problem was, there were issues with the manuscript that ultimately necessitated rewriting. It was a major surgical strike – I chopped the first 60,000 words right off the front of the manuscript and rewrote a whole new beginning and conclusion, not to mention a bunch of stuff in between. And that there Absolution title, well, it didn’t fit the story so well anymore. Complicating my choice of a new title was my plans to turn the story into a series. I could see the whole series arc in my head.
Considerations of series raise whole other issues with titles – often, you need a series title, plus many authors try to coordinate the individual book titles within a series so they obviously relate. Think of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunters series which mostly include the word “night” or J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series and the word “lover.” All of these considerations shaped how Forever Freed came about, with its planned follow-on titles Forever Loved and Forever Young. (I have plans of the far-off variety to transform those chopped 60,000 words into a self-published prequel entitled Forever Damned).
My recently released contemporary romance, Hearts in Darkness, was queried as Hearts in the Dark. When I learned The Wild Rose Press already had a title by the latter name, I had to come up with something else. And while I settled on a title that wasn’t much different, I first brainstormed a list of at least a dozen possibilities – while I liked many of them, the word “dark” gave many people a paranormal vibe, which the story isn’t at all. Right now, I’m struggling over the second book title in what will be a series with Entangled Publishing featuring the worlds of the four Greek Anemoi (directional wind gods associated with the seasons). I’ve got the winter and summer titles down, but the spring one is eluding me, and of course that’s the next one I have to write. Which, given my process, is a wee bit of a problem…
So, I think titles are of great significance to both readers and writers. Strong titles will be remembered, will elevate the work in the mind of readers, and might even make it into the lexicon. Writers—what’s your process for titles? Readers—what difference do titles make to you?
A Note from the Book Boost: Great research and thought into the history of book titles, Laura. I totally agree that their importance is tantamount to a book's success. I'm exactly like you in that I must have a fabulous title for my book before I can even begin to write it properly. Titles are totally my thing! Please tell us more about your latest.
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Makenna James thinks her day can’t get any worse, until she finds herself stuck in a pitch-black elevator with a complete stranger. Distracted by a phone call and juggling too much stuff, the pin-striped accountant caught only a glimpse of a dragon tattoo on his hand before the lights went out.
Caden Grayson is amused when a redhead literally falls at his feet. His amusement turns to panic when the power fails. Despite his piercings, tats, and vicious scar, he’s terrified of the dark and confined spaces. Now, he’s trapped in his own worst nightmare.
To fight fear, they must both reach out and open up. With no preconceived notions based on looks to hold them back, they discover just how much they have in common. In the warming darkness, attraction grows and sparks fly, but will they feel the same when the lights come back on?
Makenna shifted onto her back and stared at the invisible ceiling. She had a big goofy grin on her face because Caden was about to tell her about his first time, while she had absolutely no intention of sharing hers.
“Okay. I’ll start then. I am, after all, a man of my word. My first time was with Mandy Marsden—”
“Mandy?” Makenna wrinkled her nose and smirked.
“Hey, telling a story over here. Keep the editorial comments to a minimum.”
“Oh, right, sorry. Please continue.” Her smile grew wider.
“As I was saying…my first time was with Mandy Marsden, on her parents’ living room couch while they were asleep upstairs. I was sixteen and had no idea what the hell I was doing. I remember it as being nice, but I imagine Mandy might have been…underwhelmed.”
Makenna found the chuckle in his voice at the end there so endearing. She liked a guy who could laugh at himself. He must be pretty confident in bed now to share a story like that—the thought made her even hotter than she already was. “Sounds very romantic,” she managed.
“Who knows from romance when you’re sixteen?”
“Well, that’s true, I suppose. Did you at least buy her dinner beforehand?”
“Does pizza count?”
She couldn’t help but laugh. Caden was adorable. “For a sixteen-year-old, sure. I’ll give you a pass.”
“How big of you. Okay, then, your turn, Red.”
She didn’t answer.
She heard him roll over. His voice sounded closer. “No way. We had a deal.”
“Could the court reporter please read back the transcript to ascertain Miss James never agreed to tell this story?”
He scoffed. “Okay, I realize we’ve been in here for a while, but please tell me you’re not losing your mind already.”
“Not at all, just getting the facts straight.”
“Come on. What’s the big deal?”
She was almost glad she couldn’t see him—if his eyes were anywhere near as persuasive as his voice, she’d be a goner. “Just…no,” she said through a laugh at his pleading.
“It couldn’t be any worse than mine.”
“Hey, that’s Makenna to you, mister. And the answer’s still no.” Even though her initials didn’t bother her in the rest of her life, there was something about the way her name fell off his tongue she really liked. She didn’t want him to treat her just like everybody else did, just like one of the guys.
“This must be some story. You realize you’re building expectations here.”