Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Snappy Title Goes Here

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I'm about a third of the way through writing - rewriting - again - a novel I put together eons ago called Kept in Trust. It's the story of a cop who, on an exchange placement in rural North Wales, finds himself having to protect a tough and guarded single mother whose brother is involved with some nasty drug dealing types. When I started it, the crux of the story was that he helped this poor, abused, lonely young woman learn to trust people, believe in herself, and even believe in something else - naturally he was a Mormon and she joined the church by the end of the book. And he also bought a valuable painting from her, without her realising, which he "Kept in Trust" for her. Hence the title, you see. It was all about trust.

The book has changed a great deal. The hero used to be Michael Boyd, from Norwich, England, and he was LDS. Now he's called Ryan Tench, from New York New York, and he's not. The heroine is not quite as pig-headed as she used to be, and her daughter turned into a son before turning back into a daughter again, and is on her(his) fifth name. At one stage in the development she was kidnapped. Now she isn't kidnapped. The process of developing a novel, you see, means it goes through a lot of changes, and this is BEFORE any editors get their hands on it.

That's all part of being a good writer, I think. If something doesn't work, you have to be quite ruthless about hitting the delete key and starting again, as painful as that sometimes is. If you read my blogs regularly, you may remember that I actually gave up on this particular book altogether about four months ago. That's part of being a good writer too. If your entire book is rubbish, you have to be prepared to let it go. Do you see the irony here? I'm trying to pretend I'm a good writer by admitting that I know that what I write is rubbish.

Here's another problem for you to solve: I have effectively removed the the theme of trust from this story. My heroine is no longer reticent about having a hunky New York Cop protect her from the drug pushers trying to kill her and her multi-monikered daughter/son/daughter (let's face it, that wouldn't be convincing) and he no longer buys the painting. So the title no longer fits. I need a new title.

If, like most people, you start a book at the beginning, then the title may be the very first thing you write, followed by the words "Chapter One" and, if you're me, nothing else for several hours. A good title is important. It grabs the attention of the bookshop browser, gives the simplest and briefest description of what might lie between the covers, and will be what you type futilely into search engines for months trying to find out whether anyone has reviewed, recommended, or even bought your book. It's going to be with you for life.

I am completely stuck for what to call this book now. All and any ideas are welcome! Having said that, my first book was originally called In the Shadow of the Mountain, but the contract for it calls it Hearts in Hiding (which, as you'll know, is actually by the wonderful Betsy Green) and the final title was Haven. My second book was submitted with the working title of Haven 2 and the publishers chose A World Away. My current book was always called Easterfield.

So, if you have a title which you think might fit, or you've always wanted to buy a book called _____, please let me know!


Jennie said...

I think my computer is having a nervous breakdown. Maybe it's me. Anyway, you're doing pretty well if you're even thinking up titles. I usually just give my works in progress a number.

Valerie Holladay said...

Believe it or not, I do remember this manuscript and I liked so much about it. I don't remember what kind of issues I had with it and I might not have them if I read it now. I'm just glad you're still working on it. Maybe its time just hadn't come. At the time, I think the focus was still on romantic fiction at Covenant and hadn't yet moved to suspense/ thriller.

And as for titles. Sheesh. If I could somehow relay to you what happens with titles from the publishers' end of things. It's so so subjective and everyone responds to titles so differently. I remember with Lynn's gem series we went round and round in circles and finally went back to Emeralds and Espionage.

And then there's a funny story with Rachel Nunes' Ariana book. She'd originally named it Nicole, but Jack Weyland already had a Nicole, so JoAnn came up with a list of names (and their possible nicknames, since that was important), and the names went out to the various Seagull managers and booksellers and finally Ariana won.

And then there's the story behind "The Great Gatsby." Fitzgerald had several ideas that honestly were horrible (Trimalchio in West Egg, was one, Of Millionaires and Ash Heaps was another). Maxwell Perkins, the famous editor, said, "Trust me. It's Great Gatsby." And so it was.

Titles have to evolve and mature the way the whole novel does, don't you think? I think the book has to be done before you can have a title. And being "done" also means going through the process that involves the pubisher and their reactions and plans for marketing and so on.

My two cents :-)

Stephanie Black said...

I have a tough time coming up with titles. I'm glad Covenant is good at it--I know that even when I submit a book with a dull title that they'll come up with a good one. Right now my work-in-progress is called novel5draft2.

Melanie Goldmund said...

I always name my story files after the main character, or two maincharacters. I don't pick the actual title until the story is complete, and even then it's really hard to come up with something that sounds good, snappy, and intriguing. Two boring examples:

My file named GuyQuenilda has now become The Dragon of Throxenby.

And LucasOlivia turned into The Assassin Drone.

If I had a good editor, though, I'd probably end up with wonderfully evocative titles like, I don't know, She Tasted Good With Ketchup or Laser-Shootin' Mama.

I guess A Singular Mother would not be a good suggestion for your book.

Gale Sears said...

Hi Anna!
I really like, A World Away.
Chosing a title is dreadfully hard, isn't it? Good luck!

Kelsi Rose said...

At the risk of sounding cliche and possibly rude (although it is not intended), if your books still has any scenes in England, I thought it would be punny if you called it Cheerio for Breakfast.

Cheri J. Crane said...

'Tis a joy to name a book. Actually, it's quite the challenge. ;) I thought I had a perfect title for my latest manuscript. Then when I had to submit 5 more suggestions, I liked one of them better than the original. =D Hang in there.