Working Title by Deb Jennifer

I thought I’d go off topic today, because what I’ve been obsessing about lately isn’t astrology, but titles.  But perhaps my trouble with titles has something to do with me being a Gemini – with being moody and indecisive sometimes to the point of paralysis. 

See, I’ve got a list of possible new titles for my young adult book taped up on the wall above my desk.  It’s been there for weeks now and nothing’s jumping out at me.  This isn’t new.  I’ve been through it with Promise Not to Tell, and actually with an earlier incarnation of this YA book too.  And here I am, trying all the same tricks.  I’ve brainstormed on paper and in front of the computer.  I’ve highlighted significant phrases from the text of the book.  I’ve harassed family and friends who’ve read it, insisting they give me a good title.  I’ve written words on index cards, shuffled them then drew some and laid them out randomly, like tarot cards.   I’ve gone to sleep with a notebook under my pillow telling myself that the perfect title would come in my dreams.   And I’ve got nothing.  I’m still waiting for that bolt of lightning.  Or that moment of synchronicity when I’m stopped at a traffic light and suddenly — the street sign, the logo on the fruit truck beside me, the song on the radio all line up in some cosmic way to spell out the perfect title for me.

In the meantime, I’m left feeling like there’s some secret to this title thing that I don’t quite get.   It’s a little like I’m stalking some ever-elusive creature  — the perfect title for my book has become my own version of Big Foot.  Does it exist?  Will I ever find it? 

I’ve come to the conclusion that coming up with titles is just not one of my strengths.  Now, to make myself feel better,  I did a quick Google search and found some nice examples we’ve probably all seen before of awesome titles that started out… well, not so awesome.

The High Bouncing Lover became The Great Gatsby
Before This Anger became Roots
First Impressions turned into Pride and Prejudice
and my favorite… They Don’t Build Statues to Businessmen became the iconic Valley of the Dolls

Somehow or other it comforts me to know I’m not the only writer who struggles with titles.  Let’s face it… some of these working titles are true duds.  They Don’t Build Statues to Businessmen – what’s up with that?  (Many heartfelt apologies to Jacqueline Susann.)  But then, what each of these authors ended up with are true gems.  The kind of titles that live in our hearts and minds forever.

So what I want to know is what is it that makes a great title?  What’s the magic formula? 
I found this great little widget, the Lulu tile scorer, that implies there might be a some sort of formula, magic or not.

Do you have a favorite title of all time?  And if all of you writers out there would indulge me – what’s your secret?  Where do your titles come from?  And do you all have this sudden “a-ha” moment when you just know you’ve found the right one?   

9 Replies to “Working Title by Deb Jennifer”

  1. I love the Lulu title scorer for fun – it’s fun to run through all the names.

    Titles are a really big part of the creative process for me. I really need to have the “right” title in place in order for me to write the manuscript. Ditto with my characters’ names – I just can’t have “X” for a character, I need to have their name and it needs to be “right.” It is definitely an a-ha moment for me.

    One of my favorite titles right now is by an author named Amanda Ashby who has a book coming out in August, about a woman who dies with unresolved issues and comes back in the body of her geeky co-worker in order to sort them out. The name of the book? YOU HAD ME AT HALO. Hee hee – I can’t help it. I love a witty title. Plus it’s a great cover, which helps.

    The hard thing about this process is knowing that the title could change once it’s in the hands of the publisher, but I think finding the right title for the writing process (which is slightly different from the right title for the selling process) is key.

  2. I love the title “After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings and Flew Away” – a great young adult book by Joyce Carol Oates.

  3. Oh, Jennifer, I’m tooling around in the same boat. Your post is so reassuring inthat I felt utterly deficient, but The High Bouncing Lover has put my mind at ease.

    I like titles that are either blissfully simple — The Road, The Old Man and the Sea, Finn — or simply brilliant — Inheritance of Loss, The Catcher in the Rye, A Long Way Down.

    I’ll try your trick for highlighting phrases,something’s got to give (a great movie title).

  4. Simple or offbeat works well for me and PROMISE NOT TO TELL is such a winner, even though Lulu didn’t judge it so…hmm.

    And back on topic, Jennifer’s yet another Gemini writer. Now there has to be something to that trend.

  5. I usually have an aha moment. Catching Genius was just given to me, there was never any question that it was THE title. But I am in the same boat with you now, Jennifer. I’ve not tried all the methods you have yet; I’m still convinced it will come to me. I have a word. That’s it.

    *sigh* Maybe we should trade synopses and first chapters or something, give us both a break from our own hell?

  6. Kristy and Amy — it’s so good to know I’m not alone!

    Mia, I usually come up with a sort of fond name for the book as soon as I begin, though for me, it’s usually just one word: Rabbit, LaSamba, Potato Girl (okay, that’s two words)but you get the idea. If I waited to have a title in place first, I’d never get anywhere!

    Larramie — I know… I put Promise Not to Tell into Lulu and the results weren’t so hot.. but it’s still fun to play around with.

    Em — I love that Joyce Carol Oates title! I hadn’t heard that of that one before. I tend to like short, simple titles, but I really like the sound of that one.

    Eileen — Running with Scissors is a great title! And thanks for the vote of confidence!

  7. Wow, that Lulu thing was fun. My title changed from Party Girl to The After Party when a book called Party Girl sold right before my auction. Then it changed back at some point, though there was a brief discussion about simply calling it After Party at some point. Have been lamenting lately that the title makes it sound so much lighter and frothier than it is so I was happy to discover that PG has a 39% chance of being a bestseller and both After Party and The After Party only got a 10.2!

  8. The book I’m writing now (a YA mystery) is entitled “White Trash With Money.”
    I absolutely love the title – it says so much with such few words.

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