What most readers don’t know is that whatever I’m calling it may or may not have anything to do with the final title.
A surprise for many (including writers) is that a book’s author rarely gets to have any say in the title. The publisher picks it with help from the marketing department.
That can come as a surprise to aspiring writers who spend hours concocting the perfect title and imagine it emblazoned on a stack of books at their favorite bookstore.
But the reality is that a writer is extremely lucky to have any say at all. My first six books hit shelves with different titles than I gave them. (The closest I came was with book #3; the title I suggested had the word “house” in it. The final title was House on the Hill.)
The industry has changed a lot since my first book came out in 2002, and now we have a lot of very successful writers who self-publish or are hybrids (meaning they do both traditional trade publishing and also self-publish; I’m a hybrid).
Successful self-publishers and hybrids are often those who began their careers in the traditional publishing trenches, or those who have a strong marketing skill set. Either way, you have to see your book through a business lens, which means understanding that someone else will likely help your book sell better than you personally can. And that, in turn, means getting outside help for things like titles and covers (and editing and lots of other things).
When you’re with a publisher and don’t have the final say, it’s hard. It’s your baby. You created the book. shouldn’t you have a say in its name?
Maybe, maybe not. Writers spin stories; that’s our specialty. We aren’t necessarily good at selling them.
On the other hand, the marketing and graphics departments specialize in knowing what kind of titles and covers grab reader interest. They have entire meetings devoted to those things.
And since the publisher is the one footing the editing, marketing, printing, shipping, and other bills associated with my book, it’s only fair that they get to pick the title that will give the book its best shot. They have a vested interest in seeing the book do well, so they’ll pick a title they think will get the final product off the shelf and out the bookstore doors.
Not that they don’t make mistakes.
I still dislike the title of my first book. When my editor informed me that it would be called Lost Without You, I asked if she could clarify what in the world that title had to do with my story.
Her reply: Nothing. It’s just a romantic-sounding title.
Yeah, slight problem: Lost Without You didn’t even almost fit the story or my characters.
During the editing phase, I added a line of dialogue in the final scene so the title would make sense as well as reflect what I felt was the entire point of the book. (Which, by the way, wasn’t the romance. I’ve had a heavy dose of women’s fiction in my books even from the start.)
I’m glad I did; several readers overs the years have mentioned that they couldn’t figure out what the title had to do with anything until they got to the end.
Having to rename my baby after being emotionally invested in it became emotionally and mentally draining. I felt as if an appendage was getting cut off. So I stopped titling my books before submission.
Instead, I referred to them by a significant element, such as a main character (House on the Hill was my “Lizzy” book) or the setting (At the Journey’s End was my “Honeymoon Trail” book).
Spires of Stone (which was a cover fail on the publisher’s end) is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing set in 1860s Salt Lake City, so I called it simply, “Salt Lake City.”
When I sent the file to my publisher, an evaluation came in from a contracted reader with a helpful suggestion: “It needs a better title.”
Psst. That wasn’t a title.