Monday, March 3, 2014

Ask An Editor: What to Do When Publishers Want to Retitle Your Book

Roseanna always dreamed of being a writer--and her husband always dreamed of being a publisher. When their dreams combined, she ended up the senior acquisitions editor of his ever-growing small Christian press, WhiteFire Publishing. Working with fabulous authors as an editor and with amazing editors as an author, Roseanna's days are full to brimming with the written word--just how she likes them. You can connect with the WhiteFire crew on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest 

~*~

A little while ago, Jill did a great post on How to Come Up with a Cool Title. I'd been itching to talk titles too, so I loved reading her take on it. And then I thought it would be fun to look at the same topic, but from the publisher's point of view.
As an author, I alternately dread and am eager for title discussions with my publisher. I'm never sure when a suggested title will stick and when they'll go, "What else have you got?" As an author, I've become an expert at generating those lists of possibilities like Jill discussed.

But it's as an editor and publisher that I really began to understand why the publishing house might pick the title they do.

One of the things they consider that you obviously can't while you're just writing your manuscript (at least if you're writing without a contract), is what other titles they already have in their list. I ran into this with one of my Harvest House titles. I really liked Echo of Silence for the title for #2 in my series, but they had just released Echoes of Titanic. Mine would be coming out within 9 months of that one. It would have been too redundant for them. No more echoes allowed!

We had a similar situation at WhiteFire. Though we didn't end up buying all these book, we at one point had the following submissions (I'm altering slightly but preserving the similarities):

Ryan's Father
Searching for Father
Searching for Grace
Portraits of Grace

The overlap was, frankly, confusing even for the committee when we were discussing them. We ended up buying Ryan's Father, and the title wasn't changed. We passed on the two middle books, but we also bought Portraits of Grace.

We gave this title a lot of thought. Since we passed on the other two, it was no longer a matter of redundancy...but it still didn't feel right to me. There was certainly a theme of grace in the book, and it was vital. "Portraits" was even more vital--the heroine is an artist who paints prophetically (so cool!). But the book has a dark, gothic edge with a huge dose of suspense, and Portraits of Grace didn't even hint at that awesome aspect, much less capture it.

So in much the way Jill discussed earlier, we set about making a list. To capture the element of art, we wanted to include a word like portrait or painter or paint. But we needed something that would give it an edge. I recommended Soul. Not edgy in itself, but when combined with the first, it definitely hinted at mystery. We went through a few variations, but our main two were:

Portrait of the Soul
Soul Painter

WhiteFire is a great community of authors, so we put those two out for a vote among all the authors, and the consensus was that Soul Painter was the most compelling. It conveyed the genre and the elements of the book, was mysterious, and didn't sound like any of our other titles. We always run our choices through Amazon to make sure there aren't a gazillion other books by the same name, and that came up clear too, so it was a go.
We've also had to retitle books in a series. For these, we wanted to keep the same rhythm throughout, so after we decided on Shadowed in Silk, we went through possibilities for the other two and decided on Captured by Moonlight and Veiled at Midnight. For each of these, we consider the particular words and how they play with the story, how they convey the genre and book, and how they fit in our line. For instance, since we had agreed to Veiled at Midnight, I had to nix Song of Midnight for another book I was titling. Far too similar.

To jump back briefly to my experience as an author, my third book with Harvest House got its name largely from these same considerations. We were locked into a rhythm by then (Ring of Secrets, Whispers from the Shadows), so we knew we needed Noun-preposition(s)-Noun for the title. I came up with a bunch of options for the committee to consider, but this time they created one of their own. The conversation, as it was relayed to me, went something like this:

"This series is about spies. Have we used the word 'spy' in anything for it yet? No? Why not? Shouldn't we? YES. Okay, so let's put spy in the title somewhere. But what else? The first book had Ring. That's a good image. And my notes here say that one of the secret groups in this third book is called Knights of the Golden Circle. We could hint at that too. We could use the word circle, which alludes to the KGC but also brings ring back to mind from the first book."

The result--Circle of Spies.

At this point, I'd say that as an author, I've kept one out of three of my titles, and the rest of the time the publishers ask me for other options (or come up with their own). As an editor/publisher, I'd say we keep the author's title about half the time. But here are a few others we've changed this past year.

Dead Woman's Chamomile BECAME My Mother's Chamomile
(We were not digging "dead woman." It was evocative, but...)
The Long Haul BECAME Macy
(The author's first book with us was Jasmine, and we liked that theme)
Who Quickens the Dead BECAME A Soft Breath of Wind
(This is my book. I hated my first title, LOL. 
And wanted to keep the rhythm of A Stray Drop of Blood)

So while authors might just consider things like "What fits my story? What has a cool ring to it? Does it convey my themes?" publishers will also consider things like, "How does it fit with our line? Does it convey the genre? Are there too many books with the same title? Will it fit with other books from the author?" Not opposing, but a different take.

And while this won't necessarily help you title your own book, it will hopefully shed some light on why a publisher might say, "Let's try something new."

32 comments:

  1. Thanks for the insight, Roseanna!

    http://teensliveforjesus.blogspot.ru

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  2. Now this is making me feel bad. I haven't even THOUGHT of a title for my latest WIP yet, let alone brainstormed many. I suppose that is what I will be thinking about today. I will come back to this later though. Thanks!
    -Samantha
    www.youngwriterscafe.wordpress.com

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    1. No need to feel bad! I can't tell you how many times I've just called a book by the heroine's first name for lack of inspiration for a title. No big thing at all. =) But once you get the hang of brainstorming, it's really just a matter of finding key words and then tossing variations together.

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    2. From Amo Libros:
      Oh, good, I'm not the only who does that! My original title was "Maiden of the Woodland" (a string of key words I tend to look for when I'm at a library or bookstore which fit the story and the character), but it was so long that while I was working on it, I just referred to it by my heroine's first name.
      And thank you so much for this post! I tend to be protective of things like character names and story titles, and knowing why an editor might want to change a title is really helpful!

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  3. This was really interesting! Thanks for stopping by! :)

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  4. This was great, Roseanna! It's awesome to get both perspectives on retitling books. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Amo brings up another good point I should have mentioned--key words. Publishers have a lot of data on what words in the title = sales. I always joke that if I want to be successful in the romance genre, I should title my books "The Bride's Heart of Love" or something (nooooooooooo! Thus far I've avoided those, LOL). Those words are used A LOT, but for good reason--they sell. Whatever genre you write in, there are probably key words readers look for. So publishers will often want to change titles to include those words.

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    1. From Amo Libros:
      Ok, this is pathetic: as soon as you said "Bride's Heart of Love", I could totally see myself pulling that book form the library shelf to look at it. And I don't even read much romance! I didn't realize just how keyed in to keywords I was ;)

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    2. LOL. See?? They totally work! ;-) I didn't really realize how prevalent this was until I was judging a published author contest, historical romance category, and HALF of the titles had "heart" in them! HALF!! Craziness.

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  6. I'll have to remember that when (if ever) I get published, the publishers want to change my title. I'm real touchy when it comes to people changing my work. ;) But this is good for me to keep in mind.

    Just a silly little question. If your book Love Finds You In Annapolis Maryland hadn't been a part of the Love Finds You series, what would you have named it?
    Your book is one of my favorite historical romances ever. :)

    Thanks!!

    teenwordsofsteel.blogspot.com

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    1. Aww, thanks, Brooke. =) And what a good question! I actually wrote the book specifically for the line, so I always called it "Annapolis" when I was writing it, and took it from an idea I hadn't titled yet, but was just calling "Lark," LOL. So I really don't know! I would have had to brainstorm titles for that one. I probably would have played on Lark though, and the adages with it. Like "Free as a Lark" or "Freedom of a Lark" or something, that would appeal both to her quest for independence and the nation's. =)

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    2. Not The Heart of Lark? The Bride Named Lark? Lark, A Bride? :)

      And I agree, Brooke. The character arcs of Lark and Emerson are both lovely.

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    3. LOL. A Bride Running Away from her Heart. ;-)

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    4. I have always loved the name Lark. It's funny though because just last year my family moved to Larkspur, Co. :)

      For The Love of Lark? ;P hehe Lark Finds Wings? I love coming up with crazy titles.

      I just did a review on your book at Goodreads. Five stars. :)

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  7. This is really insightful. For some reason I never looked at it that way - that the publisher has a lot of their own specifications that, really, actually help the author even when they don't want the title changed. Running into the problem with too many books titled the same on amazon can, I'm sure, be a serious problem. So in a way it's actually helping the writers.

    sunsetrising.blogspot.com

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    1. Yep, their goal is to sell as many copies as possible, which helps the author too. =) Really, the publisher's goal is ALWAYS to help the author. We artistic authors might not always feel that way, LOL, but they want to produce the best book possible and draw on their experience to do that.

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  8. This is very helpful. I know that (if and when) my book gets to the publishers they'll take off my title, but it so fits. Is that wrong to get too attached to your title name? Right as Rain just fits my story plot and everything. Rain comes whenever there's a plot twist so it makes it fit right in. Whatever. It's hard to come up with titles! ;)

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    1. And you just never know--a publisher could very well keep it!

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  9. I loved hearing your perspective, Roseanna! I'm always curious whether authors kept their own titles or publishers changed them. Was the Ring of Secrets your original title?

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    1. It was, yes! They kept my series title and that one, book 2 was their putting-together from my list of possibilities, and book 3 was all them, LOL.

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  10. Wow! I actually wouldn't have even thought that publishers could have so many queries with similar titles...yikes, what a wreck! This was a great idea to talk about. :) Definitely clears up the question for me. Thanks!

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    1. Yeah, that was a little insane, LOL. But that's just for me at a small press. I can only imagine how similar some titles must be a big publishers!

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  11. I had no idea that I'd have to come up with several titles for a publisher! I thought that I would choose a title and that was it. I have a horrible time coming up with one title, much less a couple. :) When I'm writing, I always just call it by my MC's first name. I'm actually considering my heroine's name, Snow, as a real title for the novel. That or Frostbitten, which I love as a title, but I'm afraid if it was ever shelved under paranormal (since the MC has unnatural powers), readers would think it was about vampires (which it's not.) I'll have to remember that if I ever publish that I don't need to worry about a perfect title right off since it might be changed. :) Thanks!

    ~ Kayla

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    1. Sometimes your first title will indeed stick, so make sure you like it! But also keep in mind that they often ask for alternatives, yes. As for yours, I really both Snow and Frostbitten! I don't get a vampire vibe. Though I read many vampire novels...

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  12. Never thought about title changes. Usually I Google my titles to make sure it's not already taken.

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  13. I love this! I always keep that in the back of my mind when I'm drafting a book...because my title ideas usually suck. BUT I know if I get a publisher that won't be a big deal (or a selling/breaking point, thank goodness). One of my book's is currently called "Blood" which is the most generic title in the world. I'm working on that...XD

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    1. Nah...more generic would be "Novel." No! Wait. "Book." ;-)

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  14. I'm currently struggling with what to title my WIP. The story involves a main character who's something called a 'Truthseeker' - i.e. he knows if you're lying.
    However, an Amazon search revealed another book with the same title, also involving someone with that power.
    They're quite different genres, and that book isn't very well-known, but I'm not sure what to do.

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    1. If that title fits your story, then I would say to go ahead and use it for now. The worst that can happen is that you have to change it someday... But you might not. That other book is already 4 years old, and publishers are usually more concerned about books within the last 3 years, unless they're huge sellers.

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  15. Hopefully I won't have to change my title :) but it probably has a big chance of being changed

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  16. I hope that I don't have to change my title because I think that it is great! I am calling it, "Black Gold".

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