Feature Article: Behind the Scenes: “What a Catchy Title!”
Recommended Books for Other Writers
Best Books I’ve Read (for entertainment) This Month
What a Catchy Title! (Or, The Title Wars)
SING ME HOME has had as many titles as… well, probably as many titles as any other book has before its published.
I don’t know what it is about titles. Most people confess to me they couldn’t write a coherent sentence if they tried, so they very much admire my way with the written word. This includes my friends and family. And my agent. And, even editors will say a book may be beyond their skill set.
But titles… Everyone thinks they can write a title.
Including me. Boy, was I wrong.
SING ME HOME was was originally titled LEMONADE AND LILACS. Okay, not originally – it had another title when I started that has since been lost in the mists of memory. (Okay, OKAY… the deep fog of my brain.)
Made sense to me – Lilac is the protagonist’s name; “making lemonade” is a theme in the book. Besides, I thought it was clever. Especially after I’d tried for weeks to come up with something that had an alliterative bent. (I’ve since learned “clever” does not necessarily translate as “good,” whether it be in the text of my writing, or in my titling, but that’s food for another time.)
“Ick,” said my agent. “Sounds like a children’s book, or maybe Martha Stewart.” That last part was enough to make me backpeddle. “What then?” asked I. “Glad you asked,” said she. “Let’s brainstorm.”
For the uninitiated, let me tell you that “brainstorming” when uttered by an agent or editor should be translated as, “I want you to spend hours, days, even weeks, coming up with some brilliant ideas. And then I’ll tell you if I like them or not.”
So, I brainstormed. I brainstormed over one hundred title ideas, and they all got a shake of the head. Since the hero of my book is a songwriter, and writes a song for Lil that mentions her china blue eyes, most of the titles centered on eyes. As in my very crossed ones. I trashed my agent’s obvious suggestion of CHINA BLUE EYES. “It sounds Oriental!” She trashed my idea of just BLUE EYES. Maybe because it’s been used four gazillion times before.
And we finally settled on BLUE EYES, WHITE LIES. Not that either of us liked it that much, but it was one we could compromise on – and, besides, I was hoping to get the book submitted before I turned eight-three.
So, BE,WL made it into my soon-to-be editor’s hands. And she loved it! She wanted to buy it! She couldn’t say enough good things about it. Except…
“It needs a new title.”
Back to the drawing board. I exhausted the ‘eyes’ thing, exhausted the cute-play-on-words things, exhausted my repertoire of “clever.” My editor liked nothing. And then things got interesting.
I noticed she liked the firmaments. Every title she suggested had a DAWN, or a SKY, or a SUNSET. Rose Sunset? she suggests. Yawn, says I. But maybe she had something. (She usually does.)
Hmm. Lemonade in the first book. Lemons. Raspberry chocolate cake in the second book Raspberries. The third sister, likely to be featured in the third book, has red hair… apricots, oranges, apples. FRUIT! Fruit and the firmaments! What better pairing. I patted myself on the back.
So we settled on LEMON MOON for the first book, TANGERINE MIST (the raspberries lost out) for the second, APRICOT DAWN for the third, and I stuffed away all the pages of possible titles I’d filled.
For a couple months.
I have to admit, I got a tad worried during this period when my editor told me they’d been looking at “beautiful lemon photography” for possible cover ideas. Maybe it’s just me, but sticking a lemon on the front of a debut novel seemed to be asking for trouble.
But then came the real blow. “The publisher hates the titles.” My editor sighed. “But she likes one I just thought of. What about…”
And she named a title that in the interests of our continuing good relationship, I’m not repeating here. But it involved cherries.
I angsted for two days. Do I, a fledgling author without much clout, put up a fight against a seasoned, experienced editor? Against a publisher? I asked my family. I asked my friends. I asked my agent. And after they finished making lewd remarks about the suggested title (they all have dirty minds), I found out, yes I can.
I found out that if you have serious concerns, you can express them intelligently, calmly and with a spirit of cooperation, and your editor will listen.
My editor graciously withdrew her idea. Of course then it was back to the drawing board. You know. One of those brainstorming sessions where only one brain is involved. “Think ‘Home,’” she said. So, I did. And SING ME HOME made the grade.
RECOMMENDED BOOKS FOR OTHER WRITERS:
In drumming up titles, I made heavy use of the following reference books – books that I think are a good addition to any writer’s library:
ROGET’S INTERNATIONAL THESAURUS
I happen to like the older models better than the newer ones. Mine was published in 1962!
Spears, Richard A., NTC’S AMERICAN IDIOMS DICTIONARY, NTC Contemporary Publishing Group, Inc, 2000.
In addition to an alphabetized listing of sayings and their meanings, it includes a lovely alphabatized index by word and topic.
A couple of interesting web sites to check out:
www.wiseoldsayings.com - just what it says
www.m-w.com - a useful language resource from Merriam-Webster
BEST BOOKS I’VE READ (FOR ENTERTAINMENT) THIS MONTH:
LETTING GO, by Pamela Morsi.
The toddler in this book is too cute to be believed, but I loved the flaws in the others. Good book!
THE LOVE OF A COWBOY, by Anna Jeffrey
A great contemporary romance fix, with more substance than the title (or back cover blurb) would imply. This is Anna’s debut novel, and if it’s any indication, she has a stellar career ahead of her.
Fiction for and about women rediscovering themselves