I Will Call Him George…

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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?

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9 comments to I Will Call Him George…

  • Patricia Briggs titles work for me, especially Iron Kissed. It is both hard and soft, violent and loving, brings magic to mind, and visions of forges and swords and dark heat.

    Misty, I totally suck at titles. You are much better than I.
    Tho in my own defence, I did chose BloodRing as one possibility for the first of the Rogue Mage books.

    Finding the right character name is very important for me. I can’t continue writing unless I have the right character name. And…um, that said, I named a cat, Cat, and my dog, Dinkums.
    Faith

  • Lou Berger

    I like, as dated as they may be, the John D. MacDonald titles.

    “One Monday We Killed Them All”

    Damn.

    “Bright Orange for the Shroud”

    Holy crap!

    And, of course,

    “The Long Lavender Look”

    Ooh…alliterative chills…..

    For me, JDM is the Man!

    Lou

  • Wow, titles!

    Right off the bat I’d say Douglas Adams has great titles. Each of the Hitchhiker’s books has a great title. My favorite of his though has to be:

    “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul”

    And then there’s Samuel Delany’s:

    “Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand”

    One title that struck me early was Andre Norton’s:

    “Galactic Derelict”

    I just had to know what that was about.

    Nowadays in epic fantasy the titles almost seem very generic.

    If one were to take the titles from the Wheel of Time, the Sword of Truth and A Song of Ice and Fire and mix them around, would they stand out all that much from each other with the exception of the few titles amongst them that are very character specific?

    By the way:

    “A Song of Ice and Fire”

    This is probably my favorite Series Title at the moment.

    I ponder titles for my own writings. I’ve a few alternatives for each one depending upon how I want to approach naming them. In the end, if I ever do get published I imagine the titles of my books will probably be determined by a marketing team based upon the hot naming scheme of the day.

    Whatever they end up being I just hope it’s something I can be happy about.

  • Frank

    I have never bought a book because of the title; it has always been due to a review or recommendation. “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” is a good one, though.

    Cover design is probably more important… Terry Pratchett’s “The Fifth Elephant” *almost* hooked me by the title alone, but it was only when my sister recommended Pratchett that I started reading him….

    Ooh! I lied. I did buy 1 book because of the title, just not fiction! Al Franken’s “Lies and the Lying Liars”… etc.

    Carl Hiaasen has good titles, and if Mario Acevedo’s title’s don’t get your attention, then you’re dead. (and not undead either, just regular dead.)

  • Beatriz

    The only two books I can recall that I picked up to examine because of their titles are Mistress of the Art of Death and the Autobiography of Henry VIII.

    The first was intriguing– and after reading a page or two I decided to buy it. I don’t regret the choice as it’s a great book.

    The second was so “what the—-?” that I had to buy it. Turned out to be a much fun, utterly cotton candy historical fiction.

  • I start writing my books with the title. I can’t get a solid handle on what I’m doing until I’ve come up with a title I like. Fortunately, I’m pretty good at titles.

    The problem with this is if the publisher *doesn’t* like it, then I’m in a position of what feels like trying to re-name a 12 year old. Which is happening right now. Gah. We hates it, precious.

    -Catie

  • I’m pretty good at coming up with my own book titles, which is one of the reasons why it’s so odd that I CAN’T come up with a title for my current WIP.

    My favorite book titles?

    Most come from outside out genre:

    Snow Falling On Cedars
    Dirt Music
    Angle of Repose
    Animal Dreams

    In genre I’m not sure what my favorites would be, but I think Catie picked a winner with The Queen’s Bastard.

  • Chris Branch

    My two cents: I cannot honestly remember ever choosing a book based on the title – or the cover art, for that matter. It pretty much always takes the brief blurb on the flap or back cover to decide it for me.

    Glancing through my shelves, I do see some great titles, but they don’t always equate to a great book.

    _On Stranger Tides_ (Powers): great title, great book.
    _Anansi Boys_ (Gaiman): so-so title, great book
    _The Calcutta Chromosome_ (Ghosh): great title, not-so-great book
    etc…

    So to those who come up with great titles: go for it.

    To those who can’t, or who have your great titles overruled by publishers’ bad ones: don’t worry. If the blurb (cover copy? what’s the technical term?) gives an accurate taste of the book, you’re all set!

  • jobs at home

    Someone asked me why women don’t gamble as much as men do, and I gave the commonsensical reply that we don’t have as much money. That was a true and incomplete answer. In fact, women’s total instinct for gambling is satisfied by marriage.