Some friends and I are currently mulling over book titles for one of our number.
Probably a lot of people don’t realize how much writers are tortured over titles. It usually goes something like this.
1) They* initially come to us with a cheery request for our title ideas. They have a discerning and precise list of requirements. It has to be fabulous. It has to hook readers. It has to encompass the story – plot, mood and sub-genre – in no more than five syllables (unless they’re currently trying to replicate the success of something like The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, in which case we are allowed seven.) It has to have never been used before. Or, in the case of the lighter and shorter realms of genre fiction, not used in the past eight weeks. And did we mention it has to be fabulous?
2) We brainstorm for days, and come back to them with a painstakingly worked list of possibilities, which may or may not include decoy titles that are deliberately so ridiculous and awful they make our serious title ideas look much better, and therefore more likely to be picked. Occasionally, to our gasping horror, they actually go with the decoy title.
3) They ignore all our suggestions, and come back to us with a short-list of three possibilities, none of which, in our opinion, fulfill any of the criteria initially proposed, e.g. fabulous.
4) We meekly offer our opinion that their number two suggestion is best.
5) They triumphantly announce that they have decided to go with number three. What do we think?
6) We bitch to our writer friends, and then turn around and start promoting the book as if the title is the best thing we have ever heard.
You may be interested in these links.
The Guardian’s John Mullan on famous rejected titles.
The Guardian’s grumpy but funny Darragh McManus on bad, samey book titling practices. I laughed. A lot.
*Note – for the purposes of this discussion they shall hereafter refer to all those people at our publisher who are conspiring against us.