Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Titles are the blessing and bane of writers’ lives. If that just-right title simply won’t come to you when you beckon it, the standard thought is, The publisher’s going to change it anyway; so it doesn’t matter that my current title stinks.
That’s one way to clear your head of titling concerns, but it happens not to be true.
Having just returned from a writers conference, my brain is a-buzz with all the publishing conversations I engaged in. I noted that several nonfiction writers, especially those writing memoir, had used as titles for their works long and cumbersome concepts. One writer’s memoir was about the abuse she suffered as a child. Her title ran along the lines of: Overcoming the Reality and Pain of the Trauma of Childhood Abuse. Uh, not too enticing.
When I suggested that she might go with something simple like Mother Love because her issues were about a harsh, indifferent, and emotionally abusive mother who expected her daughter to be the mother figure for all the other children.
Such a different approach to her title confused and surprised her. “But when I tell other victims my title, they get it,” she responded.
“I’m sure they do,” I said. “But don’t you want to reach a wider audience–people who might want to read your book as an inspiring story, and some people have mother issues for different reasons. Wouldn’t you like them to read your book?” The point I was trying to make was that she had needlessly narrowed her audience because of the title she had chosen.
Other writers I met had traveled similar paths to that of this first writer, developing lengthy, overly-specific titles that spelled out with vigorous detail what the book was about. Especially for a memoir, which to qualify to fit in that category must have a strong literary tone, the title must be treated as a piece of art, a crowning flourish to the work rather than an exposition in and of itself.
A long-winded book title is akin to the film The Revenant being entitled Wherein I was Mauled by a Bear and Crawled through the Wilderness.
But let’s go back to the genesis of this blog post: Does the title the writer attaches to the manuscript matter? Isn’t the publisher going to change the title anyway?
Your work’s title is a banner flying over the manuscript. You have the opportunity to decide what “color” that banner is–you’ll want to choose a title that reflects the tone and voice in your manuscript. If the book leans toward the humorous side, your title must have a touch of humor. If your writerly voice is literary, you must have a literary title. The title sends latent messages about what your manuscript is about and what your writing voice is like. You want to be sure the title is “on message” with the book’s content.
A great title can be a strong selling tool not only to a publishing house but also to potential readers. My client, Amy Lively, wrote a Christian Living book entitled How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird. It was the perfect choice because it displayed Amy’s voice, targeted a specific audience, and conveyed clearly what the book was about. Guess what? We never even had a conversation with the publisher about the title. Everyone knew it was a just-right fit.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to cast your vote for your book’s title at the outset by assuming the publisher will be indifferent to your suggestion. Just the opposite is true. The title you select either whets appetites to learn more about what you’ve written or is an unappetizing offering that publishing staff have to move past to discover the joys of your manuscript.
Tell us about a book whose title you think is a perfect fit. What makes it work so wonderfully?
Publishers always change your title. Maybe not. Click to tweet.
Why writers shouldn’t leave titling to the publisher. Click to tweet.
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