Title angst

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.


  1. Dawn on #

    I’m one of those people who believes that titles, like character names, come in time…and you just know when it’s right because it fits like nothing else could possibly fit.

    I also realize the power that a title can have over a perusing book buyer, but I’m a firm believer in right names of things. If it fits, it fits.

  2. Justine on #

    Dawn: You may be right. I guess I look at it a little differently. I think what time does is get you used to a title. I thought Peeps was a terrible title for Scott’s first vampire book, now I can’t imagine any other and the UK retitling of it—Parasite Positive looks wrong to me.

  3. Steve Nagy on #

    Spot-on discussion. I’m sure having three authors made it harder to come up with a title.

  4. jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    GATB girl isn’t headless, you can see her face and everything, she’s just in profile.

    well the very top of her head is cut. maybe they didn’t want to show the model-pattern-baldness going on up top.

    i love the authors, so i will read the book even if it’s called hello, smarmshine.

  5. nichole on #

    It’s true. My friends and I plan on reading the book,no matter what it’s called. I do feel that titles are important, as is cover art (for both books and movies). As i said before, I really enjoy clever titles. I, too, have been guilty of picking up a book based on the cover/title.

    For example, even though i was committed to reading Cynthia leitich smith’s tantalize before i’d even seen a copy of the book (because i was invited to crash the launch party), under different circumstances i would totally have bought it based on the cover. isn’t it beautiful? I have some tantalize bookmarks that i’m afraid to use because they are so pretty.

    I simply adore the magic or madness trilogy title and the cover art for each book is awesome.

    anyway, i guess what i’m saying is that true fans will read the book no matter what. the title/cover just helps bring in new fans.

    picking out books is tough work. everyone should have a personal librarian that tells them what good books are out there. i do.

  6. tracie on #

    Titles are an art form and I really have no talent for them whatsoever. It’s true how you agonize over it and then the whole issue evaporates.

    Do you find yourself abbreviating your titles too? Giving them one-word nicknames? My family does that- “That’s the _______ book, right? (circus, cerebral palsy, twin, etc.)

    Interesting discussion!

  7. lauren on #

    Justine. Oh, Justine. Could you be sweeter? No, you could not. (And Jennifer–Smarmshine! YES!)

    By the way: I got a haircut. An ill-advised haircut. I now look like Liza Minelli, which is not the look I was going for.

  8. Ammy on #

    The title of a book is often what first catches your interest about it (or the cover of it if it’s facing you in the store and not a spine-book).

    As for the headless girl rage… I’m tempted to think that Gossip Girl really fueled that particular area of cover design.

  9. Ally on #

    holy cow! it looks different.. i like it though.. very much

  10. Ally on #

    wait now it doesnt.. im confused

    sorry for double posting*

  11. Justine on #

    Ally: Sorry! I’m just experimenting. Sundays are always the lowest traffic days . . .

  12. Dess on #

    oooo different background *admires the blue and silver design at the top* preeeeeeeeeetttttttyyyyyyyyyy

  13. Rebecca on #

    whooooaaaaa. my universe has turned upside down! but i likes it. 😀

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