Saturday, 23 October 2010

Me - Good at Titles? Think Again.

I've been doing a lot of talks recently, and if the subject of titles has come up, people have kindly said that I have great titles and am obviously brilliant at them.


Yes, all my titles (except one) are made up by me and I'm pleased to hear they hit the right buttons. But if anyone thinks I've found it easy to come up with those titles, they're utterly wrong. Apart from Adultery for Beginners, all my titles pitched up after the book was bought and edited - in other words, they took ages to develop. Here's my process...

1. Look at other titles in the same area. With Adultery for Beginners, I had in mind Carol Clewlow's book A Woman's Guide to Adultery, which I thought was a brilliant title. I wanted something like that, though obviously my own. I played around with text book ideas, substituting adultery for maths, geography, whatever.

2. Find a phrase or bit of dialogue in the book that seems to say it all. Oliver tells Anna as he's seducing her that "Nice girls do." The book is about nice girl Anna going off the rails, so it sort of fits. They do, and she does.

3. Write a list (it may be a very long list) of words you associate with the book: place names, character names, adjectives, verbs, nouns... I knew what became Kissing Mr Wrong was about Lu's hunt for a mythical perfect man, so I was playing around with ideas about perfection and Mr Right. Then I turned it upside down - the book was really about her mistaken idea of who Mr Right was, and how she actually needed Mr Wrong.

4. Do the above, and then if you get stuck, ask around. Book No 4 obviously needed an Italian theme, preferably mentioning Rome. I had the longest list of words but still couldn't find a title. At one point I collared a bunch of my son's friends and had an impromptu eight person title brainstorming session. In the end, my lovely friend Nancy came up with A Single to Go, which needed just a bit of tweaking to become A Single to Rome.

5. And the one that got away? I called Book No 3 Another Man's Wife, after Becca the main character describes herself as such. My editor liked it, but sales and marketing didn't. They wanted Another Woman's Husband. I still prefer my version.

So, do I think I'm good at titles? No, not in a million years. I wish I was; it would save so much angst. I'm writing book no 6 at the moment and have absolutely no idea what the title is going to be.


womagwriter said...

Your titles are good. I'm lousy at them. Some of the women's magazines change titles anyway so I never bothered too much if I couldn't think of the right title for my shorts.

At my writing class the other day we did an exercise where we all thought of as many titles as possible, put our two best forward and then voted on our favourite. The homework is to write a story using the winning entry as the title - it was The Cloud Catchers

Sarah Duncan said...

That's a good point - the publisher always has the last say. I like The Cloud Catchers as a title, and I'd want to read on - but I'd hate to have to write a story called that. Glad I'm not in your class!