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.
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):
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
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.
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."