Friday, April 22, 2016

What's Your Book Called?

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.

Next up: my cookbook, which the marketing department brilliantly titled Chocolate Never Faileth.

I never in a million years would have come up with that, but readers are clamoring for the book weeks before it's on shelves.

See? Those marketing people really do know what they're doing.


Jordan said...

I won a copy of Chocolate Never Faileth on Josi's blog. I'm so excited!

I like your story about submitting one of your books with one of those uber-descriptive titles ("My Temple Book" or something), and one of the readers strongly suggested you retitle it. Riiiight.

Annette Lyon said...

I saw that! Congrats, Jordan!

Yeah, that story--book #5. I just had a placeholder descriptor on it: "Salt Lake Temple book." I couldn't believe an evaluator actually thought it was a title.

And they came up with a great one for it: Spires of Stone works!

Susan said...

This is too funny because I go by names in my books too. People ask and I say, "That's my Sarah book. Or my Emily book."

I'm terrified the title of mines going to change. This post was probably perfect for me.

Becky McKinnon said...

What a great reminder! Mentally I know my book will change names if it's printed, but it's hard to believe I don't have to sweat bullets over the title. For myself I have a title for the trilogy I'm working on, but other than that it's book 1, 2 or 3.

Can't wait to see what someone who knows what they're doing thinks they should be called.

Cheri Chesley said...

I'm pretty sure we were all clamoring for the chocolate cookbook after all those delectable FB posts you had. :)

But I agree it's a great title.

I had a really hard time naming the books in my trilogy just so I could personally refer to them. When I talk about them, though, it's always Krystal's book or Roweena's book or the third book. I guess it's good not to get too attached to our titles, isn't it?

Heather B. Moore said...

For my first series, I just call my books by color now: that red book!

Laura said...

Mmmm Chocolate. What were you saying again? Something about titles?

Julie Wright said...

I wish I could get over the titles I give my books. It always breaks my heart to have to get used to the new name. I'm still weeping over the loss of one in particular . . . sigh. I have got to do as you do.

Melanie J said...

Yeah, I'm having to add some dialogue to my #2 release due to a title change. Sigh.

Kimberly said...

Such a fabulous insight into the marketing aspect of publishing (and I love the titles for your most recent books - so perfectly fitting!).

Anonymous said...

I hope that someday I'll have someone to name my book...I hope that someday I'll have a book published that requires someone to name it! =) Love your blog!

Shannon said...

I hope that someday I'll have someone to name my book. I have no creative genius when it comes to titles. I hope that someday I'll have a book published that requires someone to name it! =) Love your blog!