When I graduated from college and moved into my first apartment, I adopted a puppy. She was a black Lab/English Setter mix, sweet as the day is long, black from nose to tail and I loved her dearly. I was determined to choose the perfect name for her, so at the beginning, I just called her “baby dog”. Surely I’d come up with the best name in a week or two. And I tried, I really did. I thought of color names – Ebony, Midnight, Shadow. I asked my friends for suggestions. I read baby name books. None of the names ever quite sounded great to me.
Twelve years later when she passed away, I was still calling her Baby.
I’m no better at naming anything else. It’s a testament to good luck that my son likes his name (but then again, he’s named for a character from a book…) Titling is hard. It took me longer to title this post than it did to write it. Those words on the front cover are the first thing buyers see, the thing that catches their eye as they wander through a store. If the book is spine-out, it’s the ONLY thing they see, so it needs to pop. One of my favorite writers, the fantasist Tim Powers, has the coolest book titles. The Stress of Her Regard, On Stranger Tides, Dinner At Deviant’s Palace… every one of them sounds like poetry. But me? Not so much. No matter what title I came up with, after a while it sounded silly to me. When I submitted Mad Kestrel to Tor, I worried about the title. Was it too boring? Would it make sense? Then my friends told me a secret – most of the time the publisher makes title suggestions, and often the original title doesn’t end up on the finished book’s cover.
I was overjoyed! Hallelujah! Some marketing genius who was much better at this than I was would come up with the perfect name for my book! I happy-danced around for days. When the contracts finally arrived, the book was still called Mad Kestrel, but my agent said that was just for the sake of the contracts. Months went by, and eventually the publication announcement showed up in Locus – and the book was still called Mad Kestrel. My editor hadn’t suggested any title changes at all. But I was a terrible title chooser, wasn’t I? They couldn’t possibly think the title I’d chosen was okay, could they?
Apparently they could, and did. I still don’t know how that happened, and my heart is in my throat about the next book’s title. But maybe I’m not quite as bad at the title game as I thought I was.
So here’s a question…what are some book titles that reached out from the bookshelves and grabbed you? And why do you think they worked so well?