Insert Clever Title Here

Or, what do I call this? And why was it so much easier to find titles for my husband’s books than mine own?

Hey, I’m not that great at naming, especially my own stuff. I usually pick up phrases from older poetry and riff on them for Calmer Half’s stuff. AS for mine, well, sometimes I just ask my beta readers, because the working draft title may say something abut the WIP, but it certainly won’t be what you expect, and it’s certainly not good marketing.

I’d feel worse about this if I hadn’t read a piece by Joan D. Vinge where she noted that she was also terrible with naming drafts; her original name for The Snow Queen was “Carbuncle”, and her original name for Phoenix in the Ashes was “Take Me Out Of Pity” … which, while it had a nice double meaning, her editor complained would be, as far as critics were concerned, like putting her head on the block and handing someone the axe.

Have you ever had to radically rename a working draft to something publishable? How’d you go about it?

18 comments

  1. I usually get my titles from poetry. My usual method is to look for poems that have a similar theme to the story and them comb them from evocative phrases. Edna St. Vincent Millay is my favorite, my recent stories, “She That Was So Proud And Wild”, “The Hopeful Bodies Of The Young”, and “These Were The Things That Bounded Me” are all from her poems.

  2. I usually start with a place holder, especially if the book is early in what decides to become a series. For example, “Wolf of the World” started as “spite story,” because that’s why I began writing it. [The ever popular “Oh lordy, I could do so much more with this/this is so horrible/No, you need to focus on THIS aspect of the story”] _Grasping for the Crowns_ started as _Clawing for the Crowns_, but my cover artist and editor both pointed out that I had a very different book coming out at almost the same time with “clawing” as the first word in the title, so the second book got changed.

    “The naming of books is a difficult matter./ It isn’t just one of your holiday games, . . .” with apologies to Old Possum/T.S. Elliott.

  3. Rex Stout always used the Mcguffin in his stories as part of the title.
    But then his stories always had a Mcguffin.

  4. My drafts tend to have practical names that are immediately recognizable as things I’ve started and really must finish someday. And findable. In case something like “Super Heroes versus the Space Squids” pops out of nowhere and demands to be written first. Right now I’ve got “Lost Russians” “Agent of the 300” “Space Marshal” and “Black Widow” wrestling for my attention. Those last two have been hanging around for years.

  5. — Have you ever had to radically rename a working draft to something publishable? How’d you go about it? —

    Fifteen of my sixteen novels were written under titles I discarded after I’d finished them. The new titles have come from a variety of sources: my wife; my cover artists; wholly spontaneous inspiration; and on one remarkable occasion, my broker. (I think perhaps one title came from an advertisement I stumbled over in a cooking magazine; I’m not sure I remember clearly.)

    Ironically, I keep a file of “potential titles” that contains nearly a hundred entries…yet in twenty-six years of writing fiction I have yet to use anything from that file! I have no explanation; some of the entries in that file have real punch. Here are a few, in case any MGC reader can fid a use for them:
    — “The Devil Paid Cash”
    — “In the Year of the Flame”
    — “The Honorable”
    — “In The Noise”
    — “Insubordinate Claus” (Note: “Claus,” not “Clause”)

    Have at ’em.

    1. I like “The Devil Paid Cash”. I can’t use it myself but it’s stellar.

      1. I came up with that one when I was contemplating doing a thriller about a reformed terrorist. Never managed to write even one word of the book, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.

    2. I might steal “In the Year of the Flame.” I’ve been hunting for a title for a book about a Fire Elemental, and darn Terry Goodkind already took “The Soul of the Fire.”

  6. I’m using a place name in each title in the current series; I like the sound of it and they also sound strange and exotic.

    I like longer, more evocative titles. More like a phrase. One word titles tell me exactly zero about the book.

    Which is a better sell: Noir or The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse?

    1. Or “Brentford Chainstore Massacre.” Someone dropped that man on his head when he was a child…

    2. If anyone writes a book such that the choice between Noir and The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse is feasible, I for one will be impressed.

  7. I feel like I’m better at coming up with titles than I am at novels to use them. I often hear a clever phrase and think, “That would make a really good title for a book.” Of course, the problem with those is that someone has often used them before me (I wanted to write something called “Shattered Under Midnight,” Dorothy!). But at least three of the Seelie Court novels had titles before they had plots.

  8. I generally call my works after the main character until I have a title. This ranges a lot.

    At one extreme, A Diabolical Bargain was literally within a week or two of release. (I had stuck some other attempts on, that hadn’t really stuck. The problem is that they tended to sound either like romance, or like horror. Which is — misleading.)

    At the other Jewel of the Tiger came up in a mock generator for cliche fantasy titles, and pulled the story after it.

  9. Well I’m writing a book currently called *The Science Fair Murder* which last I checked was not taken as a title and it seems clear to me what’s up, but I’m also working on something called *Learning to Ply* which is clear as mud.

    The first book I wrote I called *Marguerite: A Novel with a Little Murder* but it’s too late to change it since I put it up long ago.

  10. There is an author (M.R. Forbes; heh, that’s what I did with my name!) who titles all the books in a series with words starting with the same letter (e.g. Exodus, Emerge, Entropy, Endure, Evolve). The names are not particularly evocative, but they do sort together nicely.

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