A popular post from September 2010 by Annette Lyon
This is probably the most common question I get from readers about whatever my current work in progress is.
I never have an answer for it. I used to, when the stack of rejection letters was growing. But I no longer name my books as I write them, and I haven't for many years.
Why? For starters, authors rarely get to have any say in their titles.
That can come as a surprise to aspiring writers who spend hours concocting the perfect title and imagine it emblazoned on a stack of books at their favorite bookstore.
But the reality is that the marketing department gets to pick the title, and an author is extremely lucky to have any say at all. Just about every book I've submitted has hit shelves with a different title than I gave it.
I got close with book #3: the title I suggested had the word "house" in it. The final title was House on the Hill. To my utter shock, my 7th book kept the title I submitted it with, Band of Sisters. But I can't take credit for the title, because I'm terrible at coming up with them; my husband invented that one, and it worked.
I think most authors will be honest by admitting that there's a part of us that hates having so little control over the title. It's my baby; why can't I have a say in what it's called?
But then you have to remember the one and only purpose for a title: to get potential readers to take an interest and pick up the book. If the title does that, it's a good title, no matter how well it ties in.
We write stories; that's our specialty. We aren't nearly so good at selling them. On the other hand, the marketing department specializes in selling books and knowing what kind of title grabs interest. They have entire meetings devoted to picking titles.
Since the publisher is the one footing the bills for editing, design, marketing, printing, shipping, and other costs associated with my book, it's only fair that they get to pick the title that will give the book its best shot. They have a vested interest in seeing the book do well, so they'll pick a title they think will get the final product off the shelf and out the bookstore doors.
That said, I still dislike the title of my first book. When my editor informed me that it would be called Lost Without You (now available in e-reader format on Kindle and Smashwords!), I sent her an email in hopes she could clarify what in the world the title had to do with my story.
Basically: nothing. It's just a romantic-sounding title.
Since it didn't even almost fit the story or my characters, I added a line of dialogue in the final scene so the title would both make some sense as well as reflect what I felt was the entire point of the book. (Which, by the way, wasn't the romance.)
Side note: I've had many readers tell me they had no clue why it was called that until they reached the added line. Glad I made that change!
Aside from the fact that I know whatever title I pick won't be used, there is another reason I no longer use working titles for my projects: It's emotionally and mentally tough to rename your baby.
With Lost Without You it took me a good year to be able to refer to the book by name. For months it was just, "my book." (That worked at the time, since it was my only one so far.) Since my stories always become such a part of me, it feels like an appendage gets cut off when they're renamed.
Instead of giving them working titles, I refer to my books by a significant element in them, like a character (House on the Hill was my "Lizzy" book), part of the setting (At the Journey's End was my "Honeymoon Trail" book), or the topic (Band of Sisters was my "military wives" book.)
The good news is that my publisher now asks for at least five title suggestions, along with lists of significant locations, objects, ideas, words, etc. so the marketing folks can have a better idea of what's inside the pages, and then attach a more-fitting title.
I love that it gives me some input in the process, and I must admit that all of my other titles rock; they fit the books and are catchy enough to grasp a reader's attention.
Even better, with each one, I haven't had to call them my second, third, fourth, and so on, while getting used to them. Without batting an eye, I've been able to call my babies by their final titles even before they're in print.