Hunting for the Perfect Title

I’ve written before about titles. They are, like, way important. More important than I would have thought.

It makes sense, though. Whenever I rattle around a bookstore and browse, I’m not pulling each and every book off the shelf to read the back and see if it sounds interesting. I’m running my finger along the spine quickly dismissing titles that don’t sound interesting. If my finger reaches “Pretty Pansy and Her Pouty Puppies” then it’s going to slide on by. That title does not interest me. I don’t care of the series is highly acclaimed, everyone loves it, or anything else. Pretty Pansy is not my thing.

On the other hand, if I see “Descent into the Tomb of Ancient Evil” I’m probably going to pause and at least slide it out to look at the cover. Because I’m a big fan of tombs of ancient evil.

My debut novel, coming out this August (can you tell I’m a bit excited?) is, of course Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom. That is an awesome title. You read that title and you have a very good idea of what the book is about, the tone of the book, what ages it was written for, and that my favorite color is green. Confession time: it wasn’t my original title. The entire time I was writing the book, the entire time I was polishing the book, and the entire time Awesome Agent was selling the book it was known as, simple, “Dr. Fell.”

Excellent Editor decided that wasn’t enough and slapped “…and the Playground of Doom” to the end of the title. And even though I originally hated the addition, I now thank the Heavens for the change. Because nobody knows who Dr. Fell is. Nobody can get any idea of what the book is about from the title. Fingers would have slid by the spine of my book, blissfully ignorant of how totally awesome it is. Now many of those fingers will stop, pull out my book, and–God willing–purchase a copy.

Book 2 (due out August, 2017! Remind yourself now to pre-order it next year!) has long needed a title. I didn’t have one while writing it. I didn’t have one while polishing it. I didn’t have one last month when I was dealing with all 95 of Excellent Editor’s notes. We had always been referring to it by a single word, which for the purposes of this post I shall pretend was Avocados. I have always known that Avocados is too vague a title, and that it needs more. When I submitted Avocados to Excellent Editor, I assumed Excellent Editor would come up with a much better title. After all, Excellent Editor came up with Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom! Of course Excellent Editor will have a title!

Excellent Editor did not have a title.

And so I did rewrites on what we were still temporarily calling Avocados.

Time pressed on, Excellent Editor warned that we needed a title soon because they are already discussing cover art (for a book coming out in 18 months). I held a brainstorming session with my daughter, who has read Avocados. I wrote them all down and sent them on. The list contained elements like:

  • The Avocados of Doom
  • The Tastiest Avocados
  • When Avocados Attack
  • To Be an Avocado or Not To Be an Avocado
  • The Killer Avocados From Atlantis

You get the idea.

I didn’t love any of them, but hoped one of them would spark a flame of title genius from Excellent Editor.

No such luck.

I did some more thinking. Went for a run. Had some ideas. Sent another list.

  • The Avocados That Ate Manhattan
  • Death, Taxes, and Avocados
  • The People Who Eat Avocados
  • The Pits (get it? avocados have pits)
  • The One Strange Girl Who Didn’t Like Avocados

Didn’t really like any of them either. Then I got an inspiration. Maybe we’re spending too much time focusing on avocados. Maybe the title should reference something else. New list.

  • The Winged Lemur
  • Lemurs of Doom
  • The Winged
  • The Lemurs of Philadelphia
  • Bedtime For Lemurs

While none of them jumped out at me, I liked the concept of untying the title from avocados. Finally, I thought, we were on the right path.

Then I get an email from Excellent Editor.

“David. Got your new list of title suggestions. Also got your new new list of title suggestions. I’ve shared everything with everybody, and it looks like we’re going to go with Avocados. With a fun subtitle, like ‘Eat them!’ or ‘Great for Guacamole!’ More to come.”

So Avocados it (probably) is. Though not Avocados, because that’s a fake name I made up for this blog post. But it is the one-word title we’ve been using all along as a temporary title. I actually think it’s a good title, and I’m very relieved that the ‘finding a title’ task is complete.

As soon as I get the official word that the title is locked, I’ll share. Heck, I might share all of the suggestions, as well. So you can see the entire process play out on screen.

Won’t that be fun?

 

They Loved It! I Got 95 Notes!

After much pacing around in circles and chewing my fingernails, last week I received word from Excellent Editor regarding Book 2 (still working on a title). The pacing and chewing is because I am incredibly impatient and had been hoping to hear from Excellent Editor since the day after I turned in the first draft. Because I am her only client and she would of course drop everything to read my book, right? Right?

What do you mean, no?

Anyway. The email was full of conditional praise. The book was a hit! The characters were good–except for where they need to be worked on. The plot was fun and smooth–except for a couple areas that were a bit confusing. The silliness was at just the right level–except for some places where it didn’t seem to fit and others where it didn’t really work. And so on, and so on.

So I quickly downloaded the attached draft with Excellent Editor’s notes and edits and comments. Then I went through the entire book simply “accepting” any typo correction or grammar fix or capitalization change. I mean she’s an Excellent Editor, so if she says I spelled the word wrong or put a comma in the wrong place, who am I to argue?

That left me with the comments. Places in the body of the text where she’d made a note such as “this isn’t working” or “I don’t understand how this could happen” or “I don’t think the character would really say this” or “this is too wordy for middle grade” or just “dear God this is awful!” You know, places where I’d have to actually think and work.

Before starting off on draft 2, I went and counted up the comments. You’ll never guess how many there were (unless you looked at the title of this post).

95.

95 things for me to fix on a document that–according to Mircosoft Word–is 210 pages. That’s, like, almost one every other page. As I scrolled through the document counting the notes, and my count rose higher and higher, my ego deflated more and more. She hated it. She hated everything about it. Every single thing. Well OK, not every single thing. But 95 of them.

I went and sulked, spent time with the cats so I’d feel loved, told myself I was still a good writer, told myself to shut up because no I wasn’t, and scolded myself for being such a goober. I had to look at the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is, she likes Book 2 enough to care. Enough to pay attention to detail and nit pick every little flaw.

So I took a deep breath and dove in, starting with Note #1. I need to see the forest for the trees. If I worry about all the comments one at a time instead of all 95 at once, it makes it more manageable while also stretching out the agony.

A Win-Win!

This is a Bad Title

Titles are hard.

Sometimes. Sometimes they’re easy. I have written books and short stories based on a title that popped into my head., bringing with it an entire story. Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (pre-order it on Amazon today!) was easy. Although my original title was simply Dr. Fell. The publisher added ‘and the Playground of Doom’ and I at first hated it but now I love it.

But sometimes they are hard. Book 2 is hard, and it doesn’t have a title yet. This is even though I’ve turned it in to the publisher and just today got their notes and am excited to dive into a second draft–all without a title.

Book 3 is easy. The title came first, and it took me a bit to wrap the story around everything the title promised. And I’ve been streaking through the writing process ever since (I wrote over 33,000 words in January!).

What do you want a title to say? What is its purpose? As a writer who spends a lot of time locked up in his little room with his keyboard, a cat, and some old Star Wars toys, I thought a title should be what the book is about. That’s why my first book was called Dr. Fell. It is about a small town where Dr. Fell arrives and then all Hell breaks loose. My publisher had other ideas. They thought the title should grab the potential book-buyer’s attention. They thought ‘Dr. Fell’ didn’t do that, because nobody knew who he was, so who cares. So they added ‘…and the Playground of Doom’ and presto chango! Now it nabs your attention.

“Ooo! A playground of doom? I must read about that at once!”

It also helps that the Playground of Doom shows up quite early in the book and is a focal point of the story. It works.

I’m currently reading Omega City by Diana Peterfreund. It is good so far. A fun read with fun characters, fun puzzles and conspiracies, and some other fun stuff. I like the book, despite what I’m going to be writing in a moment. I plan in finishing the book, which is a big thing for me.

The problem is, Omega City doesn’t work as a title. At least not for me.

I am currently only 70 pages into the story (the book is 318). The back of the book reads, in part “…Gillian sets off into the ruins of a vast doomsday bunker deep within the Earth.” Later on the back cover it reads “Now Gillian and her friends must race to explore Omega City and find the answers…”

So OK, it looks like much of the story revolves around an adventure inside this totally awesome Omega City.

I’m on page 70 and we’re not there yet. We don’t even know it exists. The characters are finding clues and not sure what’s going on. One of the clues mentions the word ‘Omega’ and they don’t know if that is important. Omega means last, so maybe it refers to the last of something?

No, it refers to the friggin’ lost city. Duh. Get on with it.

See, I read the back of the book. I know they’re going to find Omega City and go adventuring in it. So I’m twiddling my thumbs waiting for them to get there. Why create a puzzle for your audience of the title of the book gives the puzzle away? I hate being smarter than the characters, and right now anyone actually reading the book is automatically smarter than the characters by virtue of knowing the title of the book.

Cheating and skimming ahead, it looks like the characters find Omega City (but don’t yet know that’s what it is called) around page 100. Between now (page 70) and then (page 100) they are following a series of clues, not sure exactly what they’re looking for.

That’s going to be a frustrating 30 pages.

I wonder if the author had this title from the start, or if it was given to her by her editor/publisher? If anyone knows Diana Peterfreund, ask her for me, will you?

Meanwhile, if the back cover copy and title didn’t give it away enough, here’s the cover art.

omegacity

To recap. I’m on page 70 and there is nothing even resembling that image yet. Sure looks exciting. Somebody wake me when they reach the underground bunker.