A couple of years ago, I was invited to appear at a convention, and one of the duties was to read aloud a Poe story of my choosing. My favorite has always been The Cask of Amontillado, so I rushed to grab that one before anyone else could. When the coordinator started emailing all of us with scheduling updates and such, I noticed that he had mistyped the title of the story, calling it The Cask of Amarillo instead. This led to many joke emails (“Clearly this was from his Texas period,” and “The Purloined Top Secret White House Email” and so on) and to me writing a short story to go with the title. (If you’d like to read it, it’s available for the Kindle or on PDF.) Most of the time, titles aren’t so easily come by. But they’re just as important as all the other words you’ll write.
We talked before about titles, and how tricky they can be. Despite the old adage “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, we happily judge just the same. We judge by the picture, the description on the back and by the title. Readers more in tune with current publishing might do a little more research and have an idea about the yummy insides before they go shopping, but for the most part, we’re judging by the cover. Publishers know this good and well, which is why they pay artists to create enthralling cover paintings and marketing analysts to determine if the title will attract readers.
Sometimes, though, books end up with the same names as other books. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at this…after all, my name’s a bit unusual but I’m not the only one who has it. I’m not even the only Misty Massey. Not too long ago a nice woman wrote me to say that she was going to buy my book and read it because we had the same name. Certain words have a bit of drama to them, and they feel attractive. Clarkesworld just twittered, “Most frequent titles in the slush pile: “Rebirth” “Hunger” “Lost and Found” “Perchance to Dream” “Deus Ex Machina” “Home” “Alone”. I’m not a publisher or an editor, but as a reader I can imagine how bothersome that might be to an editor, seeing yet another story float by with the same name as twenty-three before it. Just off the top of my head I can name novels with four of those titles right now. It implies that the writer was lazy in his titling, that he didn’t bother to take a look around and see if there were already stories called that or that he simply doesn’t read in the genre. Titles aren’t the deal-makers, by any means. Most of you should already know that publishers will change a novel’s title if they believe a better one will sell books well. At the same time, there’s no reason to slack on the title and give a false impression of yourself.
Sometimes when I’m struggling for a title I’ll go wander my own bookshelves, and skim through the tables of contents of all the anthologies I own. If the title I’m considering is there, I change to something else. Part of that has to do with being unique – I want my story to have its own name, so that when someone somewhere says, “I read Mad Kestrel,” the other someone doesn’t say, “Which one is that?” I want my title to reflect the feeling I had when I wrote the story. I want a little oomph, a little sparkle. The title is the bow on the package, so instead of choosing a plain bow like all the other ones in the store, I’m going for the glittery one that will make my package stand out. That way when someone says, “Did you read Fabulous Title by Misty Massey?”, everyone will know exactly which book that is.