Working a title

One of the many excellent pieces of advice I received recently was that I need to improve my manuscript’s title. Meant for a working title – because don’t most works get re-titled in the editorial process? – it has served its current purpose, which is mainly to provide a way for me to name my files. May I confess something?  I hate coming up with titles. Absolutely hate it.

(Wasn’t much good at naming my daughter either, since a friend named her, but that’s a story for another time. And our dog arrived with a name, which we kept despite its banality.)

So you see, titles are difficult for me. I was excited to see an article in the  June 27, 2013 Children’s Writers eNews from ICL that was about titles, but sadly, it focuses on stories and magazine articles.  Not that it can’t be helpful!  Its main points:

  • Titles engage – the reader
  • Titles offer a handle – on the subject matter or story
  • Titles introduce – a main character
  • Titles point to the fun – creating liveliness or interest, setting tone

And as with so much else about writing, the author emphasizes that a little study goes a long way, encouraging us to spend time with our favorite (or target) children’s magazines, reading titles and seeing how they create interest in the article.

Many of her points can be applied to novels. But the article didn’t address my problem directly, which is that using two words beginning with the same soft consonant – well, I had to admit my critiquer was right – gives my title a distinct flavor of the paperback romances put out by a well-known publisher (with red and white covers). Nothing wrong with that! Except my story isn’t a romance novel.  It’s a middle-grade fantasy. And my title hits the mark, according to the article.  It just may not do its job properly.

The other problem? I’ve grown used to it. Likely too used to it. Not that I won’t change it – especially if an agent or editor requests me to do so. But how to come up with a better title? I’m using my reserve creativity on revising the work.

How do you come up with your titles? I’m taking advice and suggestions…



2 thoughts on “Working a title

  1. Leslie, for me, the titles usually come pretty easily, and often organically, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good, even if I’m satisfied with them! I CAN tell you one lesson I learned about working titles, though. Many years ago, I wrote a chapter book and its working title included the four main characters. Rather than using their names, I’ll use their status to make clearer what I learned:

    Old Man and Sidekick meet Sister and Brother. That’s it. Nothing clever or thought out ’cause it wasn’t THE title. Anyway, I had submitted this to a very generous agent’s assistant who critiqued several of my manuscripts. Of this one she said “Why do you have an old man as your main character in a Chapter Book?” The truth is, he’s not THE main character. The book was about a Brother and Sister who met the Old Man and his Sidekick, and had a wild adventure. The Old Man didn’t dominate the story either. What I realized is that it was the working title that gave this impression, since the Old Man “headlined” it. If I had the working title as “Brother and Sister meet Old Man and Sidekick” yet the story was exactly as written, she never would’ve gotten that impression.

    So, similar to your “title sounds like a romance novel” comment, the point I guess I’m reiterating is that it’s just as important not to mislead the reader as it is to lead 🙂

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