Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Finding a Good Title

Titles are hard to find.  Good titles are even harder.  I'm reading Jeanette Winterson's autobiography Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. The title made me smile and I wanted to read the book - exactly the reaction most authors would want. (And it's well worth reading, by the way.)

But how to find a good title?  Here's how I've done it...

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.  Half way through the book, Jeanette Winterson's adoptive mother asks her 'Why be happy when you could be normal?'  

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... Then go for a long walk
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.  Whenever I was walking the dog I was muttering titles.  One afternoon, within 100ft of home, I came up with Kissing Mr Wrong and knew immediately it was The One. And so it was.

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. Accept you won't always get the title you want
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.


Penelope Alexander said...

Hmm on that last point, I prefer your title, too. I think it has to do with the 'beat.' Yours is 1,2,3/1/1 while the other has way too many :-)

I enjoy brainstorming for titles, but as you say, you only know the right one when you hear it!

Sarah Duncan said...

Exactly Penny, the second one has too many syllables, it doesn't flow.