Monday, December 28, 2009

A Dear John Letter to my title

For quite some time now, I've known things just weren't meant to be with my title. At first, things were great. We were the perfect match. When we met, he helped me work through some plot problems, and we quickly became attached to one another. I even created an awesome(ly dorky) banner to put in my signature for NaNoWriMo.

But a few weeks into the relationship, we started to drift apart. My manuscript evolved, and the title...didn't. It sat there, stagnate, applying to only the first 25 pages of my novel, and not addressing the themes in my book as a whole. Still, I loved him so, and I refused to let him go. I even sent him in with my draft for my writer's conference, knowing full well that I had no intention of keeping him around for a long-term commitment.

Alas, I feel the time has come. I'm about the start my first round of edits, so I can no longer be attached to a title that doesn't work for me. I need to break up with my title. Here goes: *Ahem*

Dear The Reaper's List,
Thank you so much for the love and support you've provided me with over the last few months. I've appreciated our late nights more than you'll know, and I'll never forget the way you helped me work through my job assignment issues with Kaia. But I think we both know this isn't working. I want bigger and better things from a title than you can provide. I would love to keep you around and have some more laughs, or keep you on the back-burner for a future novel, but unfortunately I just don't think that's possible. I'm sorry. Please don't hate me. And remember - we'll always have NaNo2009.
Love, Heather
P.S. See you in January!

Whew. I feel much better.

Well, sort of.

Except for the fact that my genius break-out novel is now officially (once again) untitled, I'm totally golden.

Fortunately, I'm not the only writer struggling with title woes. Frankie is going through an epic title battle - she's blogged about it and tweeted about it on several occasions. The Literary Lab's Scott G.F. Bailey recently blogged about his title woes, but he's clearly more clever than me, because he had the foresight to name some characters Cocke & Bull, and I just love that as a title. 

Then of course there's the question of whether or not titles even matter. Editorial Anonymous had a great post awhile back answering a reader question about whether a good title would help get you to the top of the slush pile (the answer was a resounding...sort of. Maybe. It might help, but a bad title won't necessarily hurt, unless it's so awful it makes agents want to gouge their eyes out with a spoon.) And Jody Hedlund explained how her book, The Preacher's Bride (due out next year) ended up with it's title - yes, it was the title she used when it was sent on submission, but it wasn't the title she queried with OR her original working title. And even though the ultimate decision was to go with the title she picked, there was a whole Title Committee who met to discuss and decide on these things. Uh, wow. 

Still, even if it ultimately could be changed/doesn't matter (or might matter), I still want a great title. After all, if my title is good enough to convince the publishing powers that be to keep it, I could avoid having a McTitle. But for now, I mostly just want to be able to answer that question: "What's your book called?" And maybe I want to make another dorky graphic.

The new one I'm tossing around is The Death Day Machine, but I don't love it. I don't know if I don't like the word "death" in the title, or if I just think it's too clunky. Getting rid of "The" or doing just The Machine are other options, but I thought the latter was too boring/ambiguous. I want to include Kaia in there somehow (she's the reaper...not like the Grim Reaper, that's just the name of her job), but I'm not sure. It is her story after all, but I don't know...sigh. I'm hoping to have a huge epiphany as I edit, and if not, I'll be turning to the blogging community with a synopsis looking for advice.

BONUS! Are you, like me, Frankie, Jody, Scott, and apparently every other writer on the planet, having a hard time coming up with a title? Here are some tips from Writer's Digest! They were moderately helpful to me, and the last one was the final straw in convincing me to break up with The Reaper's List.


  1. My current WIP is also title-less, and normally I'm good at titles so, I'm at a complete loss, thanks for the Writers Digest link, I'm sure it will be helpful!

  2. Great post, awesome links, fun humor, and good info! Well done, Heather! :)

  3. I'm glad I'm not the only one. Why is choosing a title so hard? So many possibilities, yet everyone I think of that's "GREAT" and "THE MOST PERFECT TITLE EVER" is already taken. That always sucks!

    Good Luck on your title. I've had to break up with mine numerous times.

    Happy New Year!

  4. Aw, I'm so glad I found your blog! Thanks so much for sharing! That was so cute! I actually really like your original title but can understand if it doesn't fit the entirety of your book. I am adding you to my blogroll!

  5. Hahaha ooh the woes of picking a title! I cant decide, at least titles are the osrt of thing that are often changed by editors, so maybe I don't need to worry anyway.

  6. Oh man, I love coming up with titles! I always have tons and tons for my stories. The tricky part is to settle on one that will help with the query. I'm not so attached to any of my titles I can't part with them (so I'm totally okay with giving each of them a dear john), but it makes me nervous that I'll choose the one that bites. So...good luck with your title. I know you'll come up with just the right one. And thanks for all the good info and links!!

  7. I like this post, too! Very witty. My novel was different - I got the title first then shaped a novel to fit it. Eh. The novel's okay. I guess.

    Thanks for the helpful links!

  8. Everyone (including my crit group and an editor I worked with at a One-on-One conference) seems to love my title (Multiple Choice) and think it's fitting. I came up with it, and it's surely fitting, but I'm still not 100% satisfied that it captures the tone of my novel. (I'm a perfectionist, what can I say?) It just nags at the back of my brain... you know the feeling! Anyway, good luck finding a new title!

  9. @Hayley - Well, at least you're good at titles, so you have one up on me!

    @Kimberly - Well, I actually saw a new book today called Heart of Darkness, and I thought to they not get the memo that the first thing you should do is check to make sure your title isn't already taken/a classic work of literature?

    @M. - I'm glad I found you, too! And that's the worst part of this whole thing...I love my original title, but when it's not working, it's not working, you know?

    @Frankie - My new greatest fear is that the title committee (who even knew those existed??) will pick something awful!

    @Carolina - Hm...well, maybe you'll be the first person I send my synopsis to when I finally give up and need to brainstorm :)

    @vanille - Well, lucky you. *Sticks out tongue and pouts in corner*

    @Donna - I definitely know the feeling. The title is the way my book will be judged (theoretically) by millions of people, so I want to get it right!

    Thanks for the comments on my humor and wit, everyone! Don't I feel special :)


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