In search of the perfect titleBy Trish Milburn
Throughout my years of writing, I’ve heard many authors say not to worry about a book’s title. You can call it Joe’s Book as you’re writing the manuscript because the title will most likely be changed by the publisher anyway. That’s true, but I still typically need a title I feel fits the book before I start writing pages, at least before I’m very far into the manuscript. The story seems to flow from the title almost as if it, in itself, is a theme the story revolves around.
Let’s take a look at an example. My first book release, this September’s A Firefighter in the Family from Harlequin American, wasn’t born with that title. It’s one that my Harlequin editor and her boss brainstormed to give the book the American feel looked for by readers of that line. The book started out as Fanning the Flames, and part of me will always think of it as such. I’m a fan of titles with double meanings, and Fanning the Flames pointed toward not only the hero and heroine’s backgrounds as firefighters but also the romance that’s rekindled when they meet up again after a few years of separation. I always had that phrase, “fanning the flames,” in the back of my mind as I wrote that book. It helped to ask myself, “Does this scene fan the flames of the story, either the romance or the mystery, in any way?”
Sometimes I can actually visualize how a title would look on a book cover, and that proves inspiring as I write the manuscript. That was the case with the very simple, one-word title of Coven, my as-yet-unsold YA book that won the Golden Heart in 2007. The entire story, about a young witch, revolved around that word. That word has power, just like my heroine. It evokes the mood that matches the story. It’s one of the titles I’ve placed on my manuscripts that I’m very attached to. If I sell Coven, I really, really hope I get to keep that title. I have fantasies of seeing it on a beautiful hardcover novel like Stephenie Meyer’s one-word-title hits Twilight and Eclipse.
Occasionally, I even come up with titles for which I don’t even have a story yet. I have one title sitting in my ideas folder that’s been there for several years. I have just a tiny idea about a story that could go with it, but it’s a historical romance. I’ve only written one historical, my first manuscript, and have focused on contemporary novels ever since. But if I ever decide to write historicals again, that’s one I’ll explore.
I’ve come to the conclusion that even if my titles are changed by the publishers after I’ve sold them, having a good, evocative title as I’m writing the story helps me through the writing process. It’s another tool for taking a story from idea to finished manuscript. I don’t think plunking “Randi’s firefighter story” on the top of each page would have worked anywhere near as well as Fanning the Flames as I was writing it. It doesn’t possess any heart or mood or theme.
What about you? Do you search for the perfect title before beginning a new manuscript? Do they come to you as you’re writing? Or do you subscribe to the view that the effort of searching for a perfect title that will only likely be changed is valuable time wasted? What is the favorite title you’ve attached to one of your books?
And speaking of titles, my manuscript, OUT OF SIGHT (another of my favorites), is one of four remaining finalists in the American Title contest sponsored by Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine and Dorchester Publishing. Voting in Round 4 starts today, and I would appreciate any and all votes. You can read the latest round’s entries and vote at http://www.romantictimes.com/news_amtitle.php beginning late this morning.