What’s In A Name?

A novel often goes through several working titles

Writing is re-writing, and that includes book titles, the name of a book.

It’s been said that the title is the number one element of a book. If potential readers are grabbed by the title, they turn to the back cover, then open the book and read the first page.

Since ancient times, fathers have been careful about the names they give their children, knowing that it becomes their identity and will affect each child their whole life through.

So also do our titles reflect the perception others will have of our stories. Many books go through several title changes during the creation of the story. My current manuscript certainly did.

Because I thought the book was about false accusation (it is part of the story), and since the character, Danni Wagoner, was victimized, I began with the working title of Danni’s Story

Danni was deceived by someone she thought was a friend, so the title changed to Deception.

Then a brainstorming session with an editor brought out that all my stories seemed to have a theme running through them of a woman’s dream. Hence the change to Violated Dreams.

Then as the story progressed we had a final title change to Through Fiery Trails, or so I thought.

Yes, I realize a publisher will likely change a title, but I expected this to be my last change while it was a working title.

While the story never changed, my understanding of it did. More brainstorming revealed I was focusing on the wrong character for lead. I must have known this at a deeper level, because my elevator pitch was not about Danni at all, but rather her Old Order German Baptist friend. This character had to choose between following the expectations for women born and raised in this group and the pull of her heart strings, knowing she was in a position to help her friend get to the bottom of . . . who-dun-it.

So that made the story Evalena’s Dilemma, or as we are now calling it, Through The Deep Waters.

I still like the earlier titles (except for the generic ones with the women’s names). But all is not lost, for they can be used on future books.

Q4U: How have you chosen the titles for your book(s)? Are they just an afterthought? Are you emotionally attached to the first one you gave the book, back when you first dreamed of the story?

11 Replies to “What’s In A Name?”

  1. I am astounded by how many changes in the title you had for one book. Wow. My first kids’ book went from The Key to the Lodge to The Secret in the Hidden Cave. My first YA book went from Echo of Escape to Edge of Escape, not such a big leap. My latest novel was The Rooming House while I worked on it, but it released this week as Sheltered. Next year I hope to find success with The Guardian’s Diary, formerly The Ever Side of the World (and originally Dragonfoot which was too misleading for a Christian novel).
    You are so right about the title being the number one element of a book. Through the Deep Waters sounds exciting, dangerous, and . . . deep. It’s a wonderful title.
    Blessings to you and praise to God.

  2. Funny thing is only one of my manuscripts underwent a title change by me. It was my very first one. After that, I waited a bit before choosing my title. I spend a lot of time up front, developing the characters, learning their motivations and secrets. That’s where my titles tend to come from. 🙂

  3. I’m writing a memoir – the title hasn’t changed, but the meaning of the title changed when I realized it was deeper than I originally thought. The title is: Tell me what He did. When I first started the memoir 20 years ago, the title was just the question my mom asked after my father’s incestuous visits, “I heard him in your room last night, tell me what he did.” She wrote those things in notebooks. Since I got healed and came to know God, the title also shows the He is God and what He did to help me through the abuse and towards a relationship with Him and healing. Before I met God, I spent years in the occult and He was even there in that. So the title expanded. Not sure I would change the title for it says so much, but then if I get a publisher or an agent with a compelling reason for changing I won’t dig my heels in to hold on to the title.

    My other book, when I re-write it is non-fiction and the title will change. But not sure how it will yet.

    Have a blessed day.

  4. Hi Sharon,

    My first book only had one title change. I originally called it “Love Bears All Things”, but it wasn’t a title that drew anyone in except me. So now it’s being published under the title “The Prodigal Son Returns” (Love Inspired, May 2013).

    But I hadn’t expected to change the title – I thought my first choice was perfect 🙂 But as I considered changing it, I realized my thoughts about the story had changed in the many revisions, and the new title focused on the story in a better way.

    That didn’t keep me from choosing a title for my new work in progress, though. The title gives me something to focus on as I’m writing, and every time I see it, it invokes the feelings and images I want to convey in my writing.

    It will be interesting to see how far through the process the title survives!

  5. My business books are easy to title: an attention-getting phrase followed by an explanatory subtitle.

    My one mystery started out as “Through the Fog” and I never stopped to revisit it. It probably doesn’t work as well as it could, but I’m leaving it alone.

    My newest book has a one-word title which has sort of shifted the perspective of the book because I’ve realized that the title was truer than the story details.

  6. Great article. I am writing my first book. A non-fiction piece. The title seems to drive the content but recently I’ve heard another author has the same title. Uggh. My first response was not so godly. My next was “I guess God has a different title for my book.”
    I’m also keenly aware that my title will be a working title. I’m open to change.

  7. I like what you said about your understanding of the story changing and deepening. This is one of the most intriguing aspects of being an author in my mind. We wrote the story. The characters are ours, and yet they are not. They become themselves. Their stories flow from us, yet, like our own life stories, we must grow to understand them. So, yes, my titles go through the same series of changes you detailed as I grow to comprehend what I’ve written and the intertwining of characters and story elements. Isn’t it fun being a writer!

  8. A great post. I’m unpublished so I really don’t have any tales to tell. I find it very difficult to come up with a title. I read a book this week and wondered about the title but I did find it. It was the last sentence in the book. Thanks for you input.
    Glenda Parker

  9. I’m with you on the need for the perfect title and the toil it takes to find it. As my understanding of the story and the theme evolves, so does my working titke, My current WIP started with MOTHER’S DAY when it centered on a retired, widow who was very unhappily childless. Then it morphed into LADIES IN WAITING when I realized there were three women/girls waiting for the truth of their lives to change. Now it’s FRIENDLY FIRE because the theme of abuse is so much a part of the story.

  10. Your title shouldn’t just be married to the subject matter, but also be bound to the way you tell your story. Mister Slaughter isn’t going to be a book about ponies and dolphins and star-crossed lovers. You get a feel from that title right from the get-go, and it prepares you for the horror within. Practical Demonkeeping or Lamb (The Gospel According To Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal) do not sound like serious novels. You hear those titles, you chuckle, you raise an eyebrow, you get it.

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