Ah, titles. When authors get together to talk, it’s one of the subjects (like marketing and writing a synopsis) that can make us pull out our hair and offer each other wine. It seems so easy, doesn’t it? A couple of words and you’re done.
If only it were that simple.
Book titles have to entice. To lure without being cheap. To encapsulate a theme. To set up a resonance in a reader’s mind that tells them a little about what they’re getting. Some book titles are so good that you wonder if it took the author or editor a month to come up with them—or if they simply arrived in a moment of inspiration. Like Apocalipstick by Sue Margolis, or Neuromancer by William Gibson. Cool titles. The covers look great, with that single word.
But most of the time, coming up with a good title hurts the brain.
I wrote an inspirational young adult series a few years back that I gave the perfect series title: Gospel Girls. We pitched it as “the wholesome version of Gossip Girl” and it sold in a six-figure deal. My friends and my RWA chapter loved it. I loved it. But the legal department did not love it. They came back shaking a bony finger and saying no, no, people could get the two series confused (really??). Since Gossip Girl was also released by my publisher, the whole idea came to a screeching halt. My editor said, “What else have you got?” Well, thirty-six (yes, 36) series titles later, I had nothing. Not even a brain cell. Strangely, in the midst of all this, they approved my original titles for books 2 through 6—chick-lit takeoffs on Bible verses:
- The Fruit of My Lipstick
- Be Strong and Curvaceous
- Who Made You a Princess?
- Tidings of Great Boys
- The Chic Shall Inherit the Earth
But that first book title, which would also become the series name, that was impossible. So my editor did what editors sometimes do, and went with the lowest common denominator. Ready? It’s All About Us. After I got done gagging, we were out of time and I had no choice but to approve. So it went to press. Loved the cover. Said the title out loud as little as possible.
Happy ending: When I got the rights reverted back to me, I renamed it my second choice: Glory Prep. As in the Gloria and Stanford Fremont Preparatory Academy, the name of the school the characters attend. Easter egg!
Fast forward eight years, and I’m not writing as Shelley Adina for the faith-based market anymore. Now I’m writing steampunk, specifically the Mysterious Devices series, which has its own title journey. You may recall that my heroine, Daisy Linden, is a watercolor painter. I wanted the titles to refer to the watercolor palette in use at the turn of the last century, but coming up with a good schema was hard. Victoria Thompson and I spent an entire flight last year trying out every variation on painting and murder we could think of without Southwest kicking us off the flight.
But in the end, I went with my first instinct and kept it simple: The [Victim] Wore [Paint Color]. Because you know what? They called their colors nifty names back then. No Quinacridone Gold for them!
- The Bride Wore Constant White
- The Dancer Wore Opera Rose
- The Soldier Wore Prussian Blue
- The Lady Wore Venetian Red
- The Governess Wore Payne’s Gray
- The Judge Wore Lamp Black
So now you know the rest of the story … or at least where the titles for the Mysterious Devices novels come from!