Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Question: can a bad title be instant death?



Is it possible that the query or manuscript reviewer wouldn't even get past the title if they didn't like it? How important is the author's proposed title?


I've seen titles that were instant turn-offs. Of course I'm hardpressed to think of them now, but they were things like "Bedbugs and Bad Children"--so horrible they overshadowed everything to come.


Generally though, bad titles are a fact of life at the query stage. At the submission stage too if you were to poll editors I work with. More than once I've pitched a title only to hear a strangled yelp on the other end and quickly added "of course, you'll want to change that title."


Fabulous client Jeff Somers and I joke that he comes up with the worst titles in the world for his manuscripts, and when he recites a couple of examples to his boon companions at the bar, they collapse with laughter and agree. I've sold eight books for Jeff and almost none of them have the same title they started with. Didn't dissaude me from reading any of his manuscripts.

I think if you avoid bedbugs, incest and abuse references in a title you'll be ok.

20 comments:

Michael Seese said...

Bear in mind, the original title of the Beatles' "Yesterday" was "Scrambled Eggs."

Anita Joy said...

Some classics started their life with terribile titles. One for "The Great Gatsby" was "Trimalchio in West Egg".

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I love my title.
Problem is, I'm so married to it that suggestions otherwise would quell a deal. Oh, wait, there's a deal...I wish.

Melissa said...

For me titles reveal themselves with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in the background of my brain singing "Ta Da." However, this is usually about fifty thousand words in.

In the meantime my current ms is called something like "Biking Thriller." I would assume querying with that might be the kiss of death.

Colin Smith said...

Mmmm... I was considering AWESOME NOVEL as the title for my next book. Are you saying that's not a good idea? ;)

Kitty said...

40 Worst Book Covers and Titles Ever

Janet Reid said...

Colin, don't think I haven't pitched a book or ten as "Author's Next Best Seller!"

Marian Perera said...

This reminds me of the story about child prostitution that was titled "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" The query showed up on Query Shark, iirc.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

I sent a novel to Janet with the title "One Stormy Night" ala Snoopy, because I was stymied. No, she did no send it to a single editor with that name.

Patrick Goggins said...

I've thought about submitting queries with only the genre as a title, but that might come off as just being lazy.

donnaeverhart.com said...

I suppose my working title, THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL isn't going to fly either. There are pigs in it. Maybe if I make the pigs fly?

Okay, JK. However, my first ms started off as GRITS AND SUGAR. (should I even admit that?) It became THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE. I wish it had sold. I've always wondered what the "real" title might have been...

donnaeverhart.com said...

@Kitty - OMG!!!!! I laughed so hard at some of those...good grief!

ShaunaJ said...

Note to self: Incest puns are not good titles.

But All in the Family lasted ten years!

More proof books and TV shows do not compare.

Michael Seese said...

@Colin...

Just don't steal my title. "Buy My F--KING Book."

DLM said...

@donnaeverheart, grits and sugar is just wrong because - sugar? on grits? Eep! :)

@ShaunaJ - *gigglesnort!*

Per always, a fantastic post. I've kind of even dropped the habit of linking Janet on my blog, because the only proper frequency to do that would be Every. Single. Day. Anyone who's dumb enough not to be reading her daily doesn't deserve nor even want my help.

Wendy Qualls said...

I've got my current WIP titled "Nerd Romance" because I haven't thought of a title yet. Unfortunately, it gets Lady Gaga ("Bad Romance") stuck in my head every darn time I open up the file.

Jenz said...

From the link in Kitty's comment, I highly recommend reading the reviews on Amazon for How to Avoid Huge Ships.

NotaWarriorPrincess said...

I'm not responding to this post but since the story contest comments are closed until the stories come in, I just have to say that "fin dermabrasion" is among your finer turns of phrase, Janet. Which is saying something. To make it relevant to this post, I think it's the title of my next book, which will be about something other than fin dermabrasion. Brava.

girlseeksplace said...

I'm not great at coming up with titles, so I'd be happy to have an agent suggest if I were querying them.

V Brown said...

i've been working on my sci-fi for a few years and am close to querying. i've posted for feedback on several writing sites and come to realize that my title isn't that appealing. it's hard to change it after all this time (because i thought it was perfect), but just last night i came up with something new that i think will be a little more intriguing.