I used to have a dog named Baby. She wasn’t named Baby on purpose. When I brought her home, she was small enough to sit inside my tennis shoe, but I couldn’t decide what her name ought to be. She was black as midnight and sweet as a cupcake, but I just wasn’t sure. I called her Baby Dog at first, just to have something to call her until the perfect name was discovered. She was still Baby Dog when she passed away eleven years later.
I have the same trouble titling my work. Titles are important, of course. Unlike personal names, the title of a story must hint ever so gently at what the reader can expect and it needs to draw a shopper’s attention. It can’t be very long, but too short isn’t good either. You can name your book for the main character (Camber of Culdi, The Pirate King), for a major event (The Drawing of the Dark, The Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys), for an important object (Doomsday Book, The Black Ship), or for a place (The Courts of Chaos, Nightworld.) You can try using a line of poetry, your own or someone else’s (On Stranger Tides, The Stress of Her Regard.)
If you do choose just the right thing to name your book, you’re not done. It’s best not to let yourself become too attached to a title. Once a publisher chooses to purchase a novel you’ve written, the title becomes a working title. It may end up going on the cover, but it’s very likely it won’t. Just as you’ll have very little say in the cover artwork, you also may be asked to choose a different title from a list the publisher offers you, a list that probably doesn’t include your original title. I used to agonize over what to call my stories, so much that some of them have had half a dozen titles since I wrote them, and I’m still not satisfied. I remember once, a few years ago, when Faith was writing her Rhea Lynch series, she’d been sent a list of possible titles. She showed them to our writing group. As someone who has so much trouble choosing a title, I was relieved. Suddenly it didn’t matter whether my title was lousy or boring – the publisher would change it to something wonderful! Hooray!
I’d been calling my manuscript “Mad Kestrel” just because I couldn’t think of the perfect name. When Tor sent my contracts, the novel was still being referred to as MK, but I wasn’t worried about it. They’d come up with something brilliant any minute now, and I’d soon have a lovely list of sparkling titles to choose from. Except the process went on, and on, and the title wasn’t changing. When the final edits were done, I realized that “Mad Kestrel” wasn’t just a working title, but the real one. Since Tor tends to know what they’re doing, I had to accept that maybe I wasn’t so bad at this naming thing as I’d thought I was.
So here’s your task for today – what titles have grabbed your attention? What was it about them that made your heart thump or your mind race? What questions do you have about naming your stories? Let’s talk about titles.