Sunday, February 07, 2010

A word about titles

Titles, at the query stage, really don't matter. If I think you have a great title, hurray for us, we don't have to come up with a new one.

If I think your title could be better, I'll make some suggestions.

All of this of course is about as permanent as a summer sandcastle because the publisher has final control of the title. You love it, I love it, the editor loves it and B&N hates it: we're getting a new title.

That said, there are some things you should NOT use as book titles in a query:

Romeo and Juliet
To Kill a Mockingbird
Catcher in the Rye

In other words, don't use a title that is so very obviously associated with a great classic.

Sure, you can't copyright a title, so if you and Lee Child both decide to write a book called 61 HOURS it's hunky dory, but you really do NOT want to title your book something that's going to lead to obvious confusion. F for Phineas Flittergibbit isn't where most booksellers will direct buyers looking to buy Romeo and Juliet.


Christi Goddard said...

Since I doubt the motivation for this post was random, I take it someone used a much beloved title recently? Well, at least that's one thing I didn't do wrong in my query. I think... hm. I better go check.

Amusing as always. Thank you, great and noble agent of Oz.

Anonymous said...

People call their books Romeo and Juliet? Wow.

When I was a teen I knew an author whose publisher changed his book title for much the worse, which I thought was rather horrifying. On the other hand whoever changed "Forks" to "Twilight" did well indeed.

I would hate to have a title I'd carefully chosen casually changed--another reason not to take up writing, I guess.

Tiffany Neal said...

Am I that naive to think that people wouldn't do such a stupid thing to query a book of a classic masterpiece??? I just don't get it sometimes.

Unknown said...

Sometimes when you tell me these things, even though I know it's for my own good, a part of me can't help but want to defy you.

Now hastily scrawling across the top of my work-in-progress: "The Tragical History of Jomeo and Ruliet."

Dan Krokos said...

Please stop rejecting FOR WHOM THE BELL GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAALLLSSS: A story of soccer and other things. I am firm on this title.

Janet Reid said...

Dan, if by firm you mean "ossified" sure.

Also: For Whom the Driver Rolls was one of your better efforts.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Obviously a nonfiction title with a subject matter you're interested in might draw your attention quicker to a query in the slush.

How about for fiction, though? Do you prioritize query reading based on title? And does a really cool title have any influence -- however subtle -- at the query stage, maybe make you more predisposed to liking the query or paying more attention to it? In this sense, does a title matter?

Josin L. McQuein said...

I'm not so sure this can't work if done the right way.

Restructuring the titles could work:

A Story of Two Small Towns
Vanity and Bigotry
Of Rats and Y Chromosomes
Batter in the Wheat
A Hamlet's Just a Small Pig

Phonetically challenged:

For Whom to Sell Souls
Tequila Mocking Bird
Robinson's Crew, so?

Perhaps the retellings to add myth and fantasy to otherwise well known stories. In the "vein" of Pride and Prejudice... and zombies, how about:

Jane Eyre: Vampire Hunter?
The Eternal Count of Monte Cristo? As They Lay Dying: Memoir of a Grim Reaper?

For those who don't like the paranormal:

Sarah Plain and Tall Becomes a Top Model.
Hairy Pottery: Crafts for You and Your Pet.

Or take a cue from Hollywood and tack "MUST DIE" onto the end of the title... Romeo and Juliet: Must Die!!!

Sadly, this is what my mind comes up with after a bout of insomnia.

dylan said...

Dear Ms. Reid

As Grahame-Smith successfully demonstrated, the exception to this rule is if you add "zombies" to the classic title.

So "Romeo And Juliet And Zombies" or "To Kill A Mockingbird And Zombies" would probably be copacetic, no?

Or has that boat already sailed?


Basil Zyllion said...

I shiver sometimes. I just read a new mid-grade book that's title was one I would have chosen but was too late. When I searched it for plot and theme however, it lacked the necessary theme that certain crowds would have thought deeply meaningful that its misleading title would imply. Is there hope for my using this title without going down the wrong path?

Lydia Sharp said...

I was going to use JAWS for the title of my memoir. It's about my career in dentistry. Guess I'll have to revamp.

Shelley Sly said...

I'm actually glad that there's a high chance of editors/publishers changing the names of my books. Maybe I don't have enough faith in the titles I come up with, but I get the feeling that if they're changed -- even to a title that I don't care for as much -- it's for a reason. If it'll help sales, it's just a title. My story's still on the inside.

SM Blooding said...

*groan* This is good because I SUCK at titles! *eye roll* The Key? Really? That's the best I could come up with?

*grimace* Yeah. It was. GREAT book, though!

Lydia - LMOA! - seriously? That's hysterical!


Peter Newland said...

Josin, I loved Tequila Mockingbird and "Batter in the Wheat".

Made me LOL.

Anonymous said...

Well shoot....after "The Lovely Bones" I thought my series would sure-fire be a winner:

The Lovely Spleen
The Lovely Colon
The Lovely Lungs

Figured I could "vent" some of the first, "cleanse" the second and find a place for all the hot air in the third. Cuz I want some real meat in the work.

Dang, really should be working on the article that's due, but this was way too tempting, y'all.

Unknown said...

This is a great news for me because I am officially rubbish at choosing titles, and spend too much time worrying about them. Thanks!

Kristie Cook said...

I just have to comment about how creative your readers are...or completely bored of middle-of-the-night infomercials for the insomniacs.

This was good information. I chose my title for a specific reason, but if someone else can come up with a better one, that would be great, too. Title is all about what grabs attention. Like Shelley said, it's still the story on the inside that really matters.

Kitty said...

Did you hear that Jackie Collins' new book is titled "Poor Little Bitch Girl"? I read that George Stephanopoulos couldn't repeat the title on GMA.

Anonymous said...

Just came across your blog and saw this post...

I finished a project, but have yet to decide on a title. How exactly do you go about querying a project without a title? Can you explain that you've got a novel that's currently untitled?