Monday, April 22, 2019

Including alternate titles in your query

Should you introduce a title and an alternative title in your query?

A good title is an asset.
A list of possible titles is just annoying.

"Working title"attached to any title makes me roll my eyes.
If you're going to have a working title, why not pick "My Big Best Seller" of
"Sox Knocker to the Stars?" 


Let's step back and think about what a query needs to accomplish.
You want your reader (that is, me) to read the first sentence and then want to read more.

In other words, it's the story that's important.

The title is in the subject line of your query, and again in the closing paragraph. It shouldn't be anywhere else in the query (ie NOT in the story.)


Example:

Subj: Query for The Duchess of Yowl Meets Cujo by Quentin Tarantino
Closing paragraph: The Duchess of Yowl Meets Cujo is three words long.


Now, how in the HECK are you going to insert an alternate title there and have it read smoothly and enticingly?
You're not.
I'm not sure why writers fret about this. I've never passed on a book because of the title. A good title HELPS, but a bad title is just fixable.
Any questions?

20 comments:

Kitty said...

My time has been consumed with my 3-y-o granddaughter, and Holy Week was BUSY, so I'm constantly trying to catch up with my Reider posts. I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe holiday.

As to the business of titles... I've noticed over the years when I'm uncertain about the title it means I'm uncertain about the story. It might be a little thing or it could be major. Getting the title is like labor pains in that I know when it happens.

Colin Smith said...

I've seen a few agents put more weight on a title than this, suggesting a good title would entice them to read the story. Frankly, I'm of the view that if an agent rejects a story because of the title, the agent wasn't really interested in the story in the first place. Either that, or it doesn't bode well for a future agent-author relationship.

My 2c...

K. White said...

My traditionally published friends advise the first title rarely makes the cut. It's a good idea to keep any alternative titles in your back pocket.

Lennon Faris said...

I've seen a few books out in the world (traditionally published) that have a title, then an "or" and then a completely separate title.

If it's obviously a joke (and funny), it could set the tone of the book. But a couple I've seen are just plain ol' titles that the author/ agent/ publisher couldn't seem to decide on. I didn't even pick them up, and I can't remember any of those titles at all. So...

BTW Colin! You're alive!

CED said...

Now I'm trying to figure out what the three words are. "The Duchess prevails"? "Cat chomps mutt"? "Meow, hiss, yawwrl"?

Even Hemingway needed six words for his masterpiece.

Amy Johnson said...

Ha, CED, I was thinking the same thing! What might those three words be?

Perhaps a reason some writers include a working title is to indicate their flexibility, which they think might make them come across as people who would be good to work with. But flexibility should be a given, and I suppose indicating flexibility regarding book title might come across as amateurish. My 1 cent. ;)

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

As K. White mentioned - very often, your working title does not make it to publication. In fact, with some publishers, the author has no input regarding the final title.

I dislike the title of my second book. But, whadda ya gonna do.

Colin...!

Craig F said...

Does it help if your query ties in with the title?

I am querying Ashes of a New Dawn. In the query I point toward the inciting incident with the sentence "The new President burn that new dawn to ash."

Too much?

julie.weathers said...

I don't worry much about titles because I figure there's a good chance it will be changed anyway. If it went into print in another language it might get changed due to copyright laws. Why get attached?

I changed the name of my second fantasy. Far Rider was preceded by another one called...wait for it, The Bard. I know, I'm a whiz at titles. Before Far Rider was Far Rider it was something else. I decided to search on the internet to see if anyone else was using it. Sure enough a woman had self-published some space porn under that name.

That's not really what I wanted to be confused with, but if it was good space porn-- The female astronaut was stranded on a bizarre world where the warriors wore invisible armor. Of course. The warrior who rescued her had extra large, jumbo equipment, also he had a big gun. She was so thankful to be rescued they immediately ripped off their armor and space suit and he sat her in his lap. His equipment disappeared into (insert lots of purple prose and various other things). She was surprised.

I'll bet.

I'm always surprised when I sit on some naked guy's lap and stuff disappears. It's magic!

Which just goes to show, people may not want space cowboys, but space warriors/magicians, apparently there's a following.

Anyway, I decided to change the title to Far Rider. I also realized I am not cut out to write erotica.

Colton, (I know. I told you I was a wizard at naming books.) my cutting horse/rodeo suspense story became Dancing Horses. When cutting horses hop back and forth on either front leg but are planted in the rear, they call that dancing.

The Rain Crow is my MC's cover name for her spying operations.

It's not that I don't try to come up with interesting titles, I just don't stress about it. I certainly wouldn't offer up multiple choices.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

I'm pretty sure the novel goes something like this:

"Mreow. Yeooowl! Meow."

It does lose a little in translation, but for those who are the target audience, the tone it strikes is just write. Er, right. Cat-speak is a lot more descriptive than human languages, so a lot can be said in fewer words.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

Julie Weathers: I think your titles are perfectly intriguing.

I can imagine putting "working title" in a query as a result of humility or just lack of confidence. To signal "I realize i don't know everything." Good thing I've got this site for guidance.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Titles plague me. I've got a novella on submission right now and of course I thought of a better title three weeks after the email was sent. Siiiigh.

I also think that I ask a lot of a title, personally. I kind of want it to wrap everything in the story up, and give you a further feeling about it, in a "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" kind of way.

julie.weathers said...

This is the title of the last book I read and it was pretty good.

A Woman's Wartime Journal; an Account of the Passage Over a Georgia Plantation of Sherman's Army on the March to the sea, as Recorded in the Diary of Dolly Sumner Lunt (Mrs. Thomas Burge)

Theresa said...

Craig, when I'm reading a book and come across a line like that that ties in to the title, I'm always pleased.

Like Julie, I don't sweat titles. I figure everyone involved knows it's a working title. And I love Mrs. Thomas Burge's title. I've been reading a lot of sources with similar very long, descriptive titles.

Kate Larkindale said...

it pays not to get too attached to titles because they often change through the process. When I submitted An Unstill Life, it was called The Boyfriend Plague (which I still like as a title, just maybe not for that book). So even if you think your title is genius, your publisher might have different ideas.

MelSavransky said...

I hope the Victorian trend of Very Specific Subtitles makes a comeback. You know: "A Most Peculiar Afternoon: Being a First-hand Account of the Zombie Apocalypse from a Gentleman Who Popped Out For More Champagne But Got More Than He Bargained For, Part I of IV."

Adele said...

The flip side - an awesome title can sell a book. Marie Forleo credits the title of her book (Make Every Man Want You : How to Be So Irresistible You'll Barely Keep from Dating Yourself!) with its continuing popularity. And, way back in the 80s, author Sharyn McCrumb created the title "Bimbos of the Death Sun" for a writing group title contest - and when she won, she had to write a book to fit. Now, honestly, don't you want to read "Bimbos of the Death Sun"? Doesn't it sound like fun? BOTDS sold very well indeed.

John Davis Frain said...

A six-word title for a three-word book?

Your flash is showing!

I'm reminded of James Michener: "In six pages, I can't even say hello."

luciakaku said...

I think a lot of the fretting from writers comes from a "it must be perfect" mentality.

Plenty of writers are natural perfectionists, and will fret about everything no matter what you tell us. (Did I tip my hand on which kind I am?)

Writers are also told from many sides that everything MUST be perfect before they even attempt to query.

There's also a general myth surrounding any and all artistic pursuits that you get 'lucky breaks' and 'one chance,' so doing anything to possibly screw that up--i.e. sending something NOT PERFECT, GOD DAMNIT--will ruin your 'one chance,' or turn a 'lucky break' into a 'not today.'

We can't control how people read our work. So, we (meaning 'those that do') stress over every other detail, in the hopes it'll balance out what we can't control with what we can.

AJ Blythe said...

I love coming up with titles (that's the joy of writing cozies and their pun-like titles). Often I come up with the title first and then the book follows. But I know titles can and often do change, so if that happens so be it. One of the first things I learnt as a newbie writer was don't get attached to your title (or your character's names).