Sometimes it seems like the hardest part of writing a book is coming up with a good title, so I wasn’t surprised by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mylnowski and Lauren Myracle struggling to find one. I’ve seen those arguments before; I’ve been in those arguments before.
The discussion that flowed from my post about their title poll is almost exactly like what happens when you, your editor, your agent and others are agonising over what title to go with. There’s always someone who hates every title. And they always have really convincing reasons. The arguments are intense and passionate. Getting the title right seems like the most important thing in the world and also the least likely thing in the world.
And then the book is titled and everyone forgets about it. The title is rarely mentioned again. I’ve had one reviewer complain that Magic Lessons and Magic’s Child are boring, generic titles, but that’s about it. It’s like the title becomes the thing itself and arguing about it feels like arguing about whether “table” is a good name for actual tables. They just are tables. What else would you call them? (You know other than “mesa” or all the other words in other languages for “table”.)
Sure, a really good title helps heaps: I picked up A Great and Terrible Beauty because of the title (I’m one of the few people who wasn’t in love with the cover—I’m not down with headless women). I’ve also picked up books because of their covers. But if the book isn’t good it doesn’t matter what the title is or how fab the cover. The title and cover are all about making us punters pick up the book after that it’s up to the actual words inside.
I just stopped reading a wonderfully titled book a third of the way through. I loved the musicality of the title and the premise it promised. I’d heard good things about the writer, but the book sucks. I hates it.
There’s no sense of place. I had no idea where I was until place names were mentioned. In fact, the book is mostly dialogue or first person self-absorbed monologue. The awesome premise is not really explored—it’s like the writer had this cool idea and then had no idea what to do with it. I didn’t believe in any of the characters, or what they were doing, or the first person narrator’s response to them. The brilliant title didn’t stop me putting the book down and reading something else.
Titles really aren’t that big a deal. I’ll be buying and reading E., Sarah and Lauren’s book no matter what it’s called. I bet heaps of other people will too.