Accepting Responsibility for Your Titles

Accepting Responsibility for Your Titles
It’s fairly common for editors to want to change titles. Sometimes a title might be too much like that of another book. For example, one of my novels had the working title of Berserker Prime. I turned it in without realizing that Fred Saberhagen had used the same title five years previous. This kind of thing has happened to me more than once.

Other times, the editor just doesn’t like your title for artistic reasons. Maybe the title is too long, too obscure, or doesn’t have the right resonance. Heck, I’ve known some editors who change your titles for absolutely no good reason. When I was writing for one young adult publisher, the editors always changed my titles—without ever telling me or asking my opinion.

On two occasions I’ve had editors ask to change my titles to something that I thought was blasé. In both instances, my sales in the series fell dramatically.

There is a saying in the book industry that “A bad title won’t hurt book sales on a series.” That may be true, but when you get a bad title, the artist almost always comes up with a lackluster image. Thus, you get both a bad title and a lousy cover.

Don’t do it. If you and your editor can’t agree on a title, ask for a day or two and think about a new title. Come up with a good one. If your editor doesn’t like it, tell him or her to butt out. It’s your book, your career, and your livelihood on the line.

A good title should have three qualities.

  1. It needs to be short, only a word or three, so that it can fit on the cover.
  2. It should combine words or images in an interesting way so that readers will wonder what it is about. I think that my novel Wizardborn worked well that way, but there are plenty of novels on the bookstore shelves that provide good examples.
  3. It should resonate with other books in your genre. In short, if you’re writing a romance, the title should scream “Romance.” If you’re writing horror, it should be appropriate for horror.

So pick a good title for your novel, and then stick with it. If your editor calls you and says, “Hey, I’ve been thinking that you should change this title. . . .” Ask him or her why. In the cases where it happened to me, the editor did it at the last moment, just before the book was going to press, or the catalogs were going to the bookstores. I allowed the changes, but the proper response should be, “We’ve been editing this book for a year. Why the hell didn’t you bring it up earlier? Forget it. The title stays.”

Don’t be pressured into making last-minute changes. Take responsibility for your title.


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