Thursday, February 25, 2016

What to call your baby?

by Debbie Hardy, the Queen of Resilience

If you’re writing a blog post or a magazine article, you can usually pick your own title. That’s fine, because these tend to be monthly publications. But when writing a book, the title lives for a long time, maybe even to the big screen.

Many writers treat their work like offspring: it takes months to give birth, there’s a lot of labor involved, and they gotta come up with a name. But what you call your baby while it’s in utero may be a lot different from the name on the birth certificate.
What to name it?

A writer friend of mine loved her title and refused to consider self-publishing her first novel. She also wasn’t interested in subsidy publishing, where she would share publication costs with the publisher. No, she insisted that her book be published traditionally. AND that the title remain the same.

Well, I've got news for her. And for you. If you publish your own book or pay at least part of the cost to bring it to market, you usually get naming rights. But if you sell your manuscript to a publisher, which is the traditional publishing model, you have done just that: Sold. Your. Manuscript.

It’s like giving up your baby for adoption. You might be able to choose the parents, but they can name that baby whatever they want. You have no say in it. You’ve relinquished your “title entitlement.”
Some movie name changes work, like “Frozen” based on “The Snow Queen,” or “Tangled” from the fairy tale “Rapunzel.” The original titles were so familiar that viewers had pre-conceived ideas what they should look like.

Other name changes are a really good idea because the book title was a little strange. “Die Hard” was based on the novel “Nothing Lasts Forever.” To me, that name indicates a failed marriage, not blowing up an office building. “Full Metal Jacket” is more forceful than the original semi-autobiographical novel “The Short-Timers.” And “Total Recall” began life as a short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” which sounds like it should take place in Costco, not in virtual vacation memories of the planet Mars. Even the remake of the movie used the new, more effective name.
So what do you call your baby?

·       Just like a baby’s name can determine how he or she will grow up, your book’s name can affect its future. Do you think Marion Robert Morrison would have become a successful cowboy actor if he kept his birth name? John Wayne worked much better. And that name change defined his image. An author’s page, like Amazon’s, lists all the books for that author, so one lousy title can ruin a good reputation.

·       First, create a hook, just like you do in your writing. A short title works best, but you can add a subtitle, usually necessary in nonfiction. Grab your readers’ attention to get those books flying off the shelves.

·       Search Amazon and the internet to be sure you’re not duplicating something already out there, especially if the other book didn’t sell well. You don’t want to get lost in search engines or assume some else’s bad reputation.

·       Make the name easy to remember and able to roll off the tongue. “Twilight” works much better than “Teen Vampires and Werewolves Go to School.” (My idea, not Stephenie Meyers’.) The worst book title I found was “Every Man His Own Letter-Writer: Or, the New and Complete Art of Letter-Writing Made Plain and Familiar to Every Capacity, Containing a Collection of Upwards of Two Hundred Original Letters." Um, No comment. 

·       Get input from others. Create a survey or post on social media, maybe giving two or three options and having your friends and followers provide input. You might have a good idea, but someone else may have a great one.

Bottom line, have fun with names and have them edited, just like your manuscript. Until you re-release your book, that name will stick with it – and with you.

Make it good!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles, aopsan, and Master isolated images at

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