Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Mystery of Titles

NaNoWriMo is over for another year, at least for me. And I managed to write my latest mystery in a month. Initially I called it Twilight, but someone told me that title was taken, so I later renamed the manuscript to The Adventurers. I should mention that when I originally thought of the story, it was called: Grave Mistakes. Because everyone in the story makes pretty grave mistakes. However, once again, I discovered that another writer had a mystery with that title. I hate reusing someone else's title if I can help it. So, since one of the pivotal moments occurs on a boat called The Twilight I decided to use that. And you know what happened. Hence: The Adventurers.


Title are obviously subject to change. Which is unfortunate since the title is crucial to my mindset and my general feeling of the book. So I try very hard to come up with a title that reminds me of the concept, especially when I'm writing it. Once that is set in my mind, any later changes to the title never really "settle in" for menever really encapsulate the essence of the story.


For better or worse, my current publisher has never suggested I change a title. However, I know that most publishers regularly and routinely force their authors to change their titles, usually to something wretchedly bland and vomit-inducing. Particularly for historical-set books with any kind of a romance in them. You usually end up with some sort of peerage, e.g. Marquis, Earl, or Duke; in combination with some adjective having to do with his amorous abilities or general bad-ass-ness, regardless of how well this does or does not fit the story. All these titles are interchangeable and all equally forgettable. Lately, I've been wondering if the publishers realize how they trivialize the books they are selling with these horrible, formulaic titles.


If I buy one of these, it is in spite of the title and horrific cover.


Maybe that's why I tend to be instantly attracted to the often ironic, satirical, if not downright black humor of crime fiction and mystery titles. The Weight of Water, Suicide Blonde, and the story-encapsulating Ghosts. Great, evocative titles. I wish I could come up with something like: The Weight of Water. Of all the titles I've run across over the years, that is, by far my favorite (although not my favorite book). Despite my terrible memory, I've never forgotten that title.


Do titles make a book? Will it make or break your sales?

Heck, no.

As I said, I've occasionally purchased books in spite of the titles and terrible covers, if the blurb on the back of the book interests me.


But when faced with rows upon rows of books, my glance will often et caught by the weird, the wacky, the different title. And I'll pull the book out and read the back, the first step to buying.


So in a way, the title can make the difference.


Or maybe not.


In the end, it's really a crap shoot. No one knows what book is going to be insanely popular and which brilliant book will not. I just need a title to work with.

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