So, sadly, this is not a post on How To Come Up With The Most Amazing Title Ever.
It is a post, however, on the fact that many--many, many, many--of the Baker's Dozen entry titles were less than stellar. And this phenomenon was unrelated to the quality of the actual writing. Because, truly, it seems to me that titling is a separate skill.
Which is why I think it's important to throw titles out to critique partners and colleagues in the same way we throw our writing out. And we've got to ask them, honestly, "Does this title suck?"
If they love you, they'll say "yes." Unless, of course, it doesn't suck.
But the Baker's Dozen entry titles? Many of them were simply flat. Cliched. Cardboard. The kind of title that, if you type it into Amazon, you'll get two hundred hits. Or the kind of title that, if you type it into Amazon, you'll get no hits. Because nobody else wanted it, either.
Again, I want to stress that there wasn't a correlation between the titles and the writing! I'm just thinking that, somehow, the art of titling stories has somehow been overlooked. And we've all suffered a bit for not having invested more time, perhaps, in learning how to do this thing right.
(I know, I know. That's what editors are for. But imagine how delighted an editor would be to not have to come up with a good title because the story already has one!)
I've just gone through the angst of Coming Up With A Better Title for something, at the request of Agent Josh (he was absolutely right to request it), and it was decidedly un-fun. Because I hate it when I'm not good at things and am unable to prove myself wrong. (Which is why I'm thankful to be surrounded by talented and helpful people!)
In the midst of my finding-a-title angst, I pleaded with agent Lauren MacLeod, a self-professed Stellar Title Comer-Upper-With, to tell me what method she uses. Here is her approach:
- Go through the manuscript and highlight interesting words or phrases and write them all down.
- Make a list of "what the book is about" (values, morals, themes, etc.) and hit the thesaurus.
- Cross off anything silly or overdone (aka cliched).
- Hand the list to your crit partners who have already read your novel.
- If you're still stuck, make a list of your favorite parts of the book and see if anything comes up.
- Don't panic! Titles aren't written in stone until the book is printed.
And, yes, titles do change. Just ask Peter Salomon and Jodi Meadows and Beth Revis, whose debuts have all ended up with different titles from those that had been submitted originally.
So, while I don't think it's necessary to get all angsty over a title, it is certainly something that bears closer examination. A title should reflect the SOUL of a story, and that's no easy thing. And, yes, a title should also say, "Pick me up and buy me." But I believe that will happen when we find the title that does reflect the soul of the story.
No pressure, right?
Anyway. Are you gifted at titling? I would love for you to share your tips and expertise in the comment box today! Something tells me that a lot of writers will be devouring your words of wisdom.