A few years ago, a musical played on Broadway called “[title of show].”
It was about two guys who try to write a musical. Sadly, I never caught it, but based on the (non)title alone, I bet I would have liked it. Especially this week.
See, I’ve been trying to come up with a new title for my novel. I’ve never had much trouble titling the stuff I wrote before now—for my plays and such, I always had a title well before the writing was done, and each time the name just seemed obvious.
But from the beginning of the writing process for this book, I’ve never really had a title. I would just call it Gladys Gatsby or Gladys if it came up in conversation (which rarely happened anyway). When I submitted drafts to my writers’ group, I called it The Culinary Adventures of Gladys Gatsby, but I always thought that title sounded kind of long-winded and pretentious.
Then I visited a teacher friend’s fifth-grade class last year, and she told them that I was a writer who was working on a kids’ book. The FIRST question the kids asked me was “What’s your book called?”…and I found that I didn’t even want to say it out loud. That moment cemented it for me: I needed to find a better title.
But for once, I didn’t have any ideas. Luckily, I did have the Breadbasket Writers’ Group, who had been reading drafts of the story for 5+ years and knew it almost as well as I did. So when it came time to search for an agent, I asked the Breadbasketeers for ideas. Katie kindly came up with a long list of possibilities, from which I chose Gladys Gatsby Takes the Cake. Done! I sent the manuscript out into the world, and after a few months, I found my agent.
But now that we’re getting ready to submit to publishers, it’s suddenly time to reconsider the title. Joan and I agree that the current one is catchy, but we also agree that it sound a little young, perhaps more like a chapter book than a bona fide middle-grade novel. So it’s been back to the drawing board (titling board?) for me.
Luckily, my favorite writing blog featured a well-timed post on this very subject last week, which helped get me going. And a couple of my betas chimed in with their suggestions (my fabulous writer-buddy Ann actually read the whole book on Friday night to try to come up with ideas!). And Joan and I have a good e-mail dialogue going—we are in total agreement about exactly what doesn’t work in all of the potential titles so far, so hopefully when we find the right title, we’ll be in perfect agreement about everything that’s great about it.
(And then, if the book sells, the publisher’s marketing department will probably want to change it to something completely different anyway.)
At least I can comfort myself with the fact that many great and popular books have had title changes at some point in the publication process. Here are a few you may (or may not) know about:
–My favorite book, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, was originally titled First Impressions. Austen made this change herself—she wrote the first draft in her 20’s, failed to get it published, put it in a drawer for over a decade, then revised, renamed, and sold it. (If this story doesn’t give heart to aspiring writers, I don’t know what will!)
–When she was querying, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was called…wait for it…Forks. (Nope, not making that up.) She and her agent came up with Twilight together after much brainstorming, but she was never fully happy with it. You can read more on this page of her website, where she also shares the many different titles with which the book has published in translation.
–Speaking of translation, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was originally published in Swedish as Män som hatar kvinnor—Men Who Hate Women. Some clever marketing person probably figured out that American readers would be more attracted to a title promising an encounter with a punk chick rather than one that sounds like a tract on misogyny. (Though which one more accurately reflects the content of the book is another question.)
So, of the famous options above, which titles would you have chosen? Do you think the authors (or agents, or publishers) were right to make those changes?
And, any brilliant thoughts on what I should call my book? For now, I’m running with Gladys Gatsby and [the Rest of the Title]. Catchy, huh? 🙂