Monday, April 25, 2011

Title Me This with Guest Blogger: Laura Kaye

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 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.
~William Shakespeare

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.


“Next question.”

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.”

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Laura Kaye said...

Thanks for having me here today at The Book Boost!

Patricia said...

I've never spent much time thinking about the titles for my books so I was interested in what you had to say. I loved the idea about thinking of a title first then writing a book. I am seriously going to use that. Thank you very much.

Laura Kaye said...

Awesome, Patricia! Glad you found it helpful! :)

Joya Fields said...

Wow, that's something about "The Great Gatsby" and "Catch-22." Your titles are great, too. I especially like the titles for your series. Good luck coming up with a "spring" title for your series. Maybe this blog will help a title spring to your mind. LOL.

Laura said...

Hi, Laura,

Fun post! I hadn't thought about it before, but I always have a title before I write, too. Thinking about it, the title seems to come to me as I think about the plot. I don't think it comes first. An interesting idea to try, though!

Take care ~ Laura DT

Anonymous said...

Just read Hearts in Darkness and really loved it!! Steamy!!!!

I hear you about titles--I find them incredibly difficult, but I write without them, or I'd never write at all!!


Christi Barth said...

I completely agree - titles make it or break out. I absolutely can't write without one, and I hound others to do the same. My first book's title was already in use by my publisher, and it broke my heart to change it. Subsequently took me an entire week to come up with a replacment title that wasn't cheesy beyond belief.

Laura Kaye said...

@Joya--I know, really cool stories about those titles! Can you imagine one of those classics as something else?

@Beth--Squee! Can I just say how cool it is that people are loving HEARTS? I love that story so much!

@Laura--I'm really enjoying hearing people's process re: titles. I would be totally driven to distraction to try to write a story without a title. OMG.

@Christi--oh, yes, trying to come up with a NEW title to something that has always been THIS TITLE is SO hard. Which relates to some ironic news:

My new publisher, Entangled Publishing, wants something different from SNOW'S MAN. So I'm losing it--funny since the title is what led to the story! But the story also become something more as I wrote it, so after two days of brainstorming, I've not only come up with the replacement title, but with all the titles in the series. Only, I can't share 'em yet! ;) LOL

Thanks for stopping by everyone!

Heather Thurmeier said...

Great post! Titles can be so tricky. You want one that tells the reader a little about the book, conveys the genre, is catchy and also easy to remember. Yikes! For me, I usually know the title as I'm writing it. Title are so fun to come up with!

Susan Macatee said...

Great post, Laura! Book titles are so very important, but I always have such a hard time coming up with them. I do like to have a title, or at least a tentative one, when I start on a book, but I can't seem to come up with one for the novella I'm currently plotting out. I'm hoping an idea comes by the time I start the first draft.

Vonnie said...

Laura, you made some really great points there. I wish you'd made them before I had my first book published! Do you know how many books there are for sale called COMING HOME? Sigh. Talk about lost in the rush.

The Wild Rose Press also made me stop and think about titles. Trust in Time has become LETHAL REFUGE. A MUCH more forceful description title.

As you say, there are long titles which are so intriguing that we cannot forget them and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD does it for me. I read the book because of the title. I wondered who would want to kill a mockingbird?

Thanks for your blog.

Vonnie (the other one)

Laura Kaye said...

@Heather--yes, that's the challenge isn't it--finding a phrase that does all those things!

@Vonnie--Lethal Refuge is great! Your editor actually hosted a bit of a brainstorming session on one of the loops when she was working with you to come up with a new title, and I was thinking of that conversation as I was preparing this post! Congrats on that!

I picked up the book Angelology on title alone--I thought, cool, the study of angels. Of course, the naked male angel with the massive white wingspan also helped with that one! ;)

Laura Kaye said...

@Susan--good luck figuring out your novella title. It sure can be a stumper!

Sarah Grimm said...


Just like you, I have to have a title before I can write the book. And for some odd reason, even though I am a 'pantser' I need to have the blurb written as well, before I begin to write.

Ilona Fridl said...

Great food for thought, Laura! I have a series of books, Silver Screen Heroes,and Golden North were the first two. I was going to call the third, Alaskan Skies, but my friend pointed out I had metal names for the first two, so I chose Bronze Skies to be my third. Sometimes listening to a friend helps.

Laura Kaye said...

@Sarah--hearing everyone's process with this has been so interesting--just shows how important titles really are!

Ilona--good catch! I agree with your friend! :)