Thursday, May 01, 2008

Writers Wednesday :: Working Titles

Today PHS ed Ally Blake gives newbie writers some tips on whether or not working titles are all they're cracked up to be! (Article first seen in RWAus magazine Hearts Talk - April 2008)

I cannot begin a new book without three things: hero name, heroine name and working title.

As I get stuck into a story the hero and heroine names may well change as I get to know them. I mean a man named Charles would have a fairly different take on life and love than a guy called Rocco. Right?

But once my working title is in place it’s not negotiable. My whole story hinges not only upon the truth within those two or three well-chosen words but upon the very mood it evokes. My working title is my touchstone. My beginning and my end. It’s sums up the theme, the feel, the tone, the hidden secrets, the very essence of the tale. Heck, I even agonised over what to call this piece before I wrote a single word of it!

That’s a lot of pressure to put on so few words. So, figuring it might be healthy to find a modicum of balance on this issue, I asked some of my nearest and dearest writer friends what kind of importance they place on their working titles.

And I have been mightily surprised to find that not everyone in the romance writing world shares my perfectly reasonable view…


Some romance authors agree that working titles are a crucial part of the writing process.

PHS Ed and Harlequin Romance and Modern Heat author Nicola Marsh says, “For me, choosing a title before I begin the book is essential! I use the title to try to capture the essence of the story: a mood, a concept, a tiny fragment giving insight into the bigger picture. In all honesty, I don't think I could write the story without the title first, which is crazy considering I haven't had a keeper yet!”

Jenna Bayley-Burke, fabbo Modern Heat author and PHS ed agrees. I always have to have a working title. Can't start until I get it just right in my head."

Allison Rushby was as surprised as I was to find out that, “People really work with a title that's just the heroine's name? I could never do that! I always find that having a title I really love and think that fits gives me focus. Something to aim towards. I could never write with just a name as a title, or a 'working title' that would just 'do'. I at least need a 'proper' working title, that I think is the perfect fit (and will generally be up for discussion with my editor later on!).”

RITA winning Harlequin Romance author Liz Fielding used ‘The Journey Home’ as a working title for her recent Harlequin Romance, ‘Reunited: Marriage in a Million’. “It completely encompassed everything that I felt about my heroine’s story and kept me focussed on the heart of the book. That, for me, is the purpose of a working title.”

Though Harlequin Romance author Jennie Adams makes a valid point I would not dared have said aloud; having such avid dependence on a working title can be as much of a hindrance as a help.

Her biggest struggle naming a draft book so far? “My March 08 release which I think I renamed about five times before settling on the working title of 'Corporate Millionaire, Country Girl'. I wasn't happy with that working title, either, really, and maybe this book was just a tough one all 'round to label, because I ended up tossing around a lot of title ideas later, too, until my editor and senior editor finally came up with 'To Love And To Cherish' which I adore, and it really, really suits the book. I wish I'd have thought of it when I started the draft. Maybe it would have made the book easier to write.”

And Allison Rushby once had a story in progress she had titled ‘Possums in the Sunshine’. She says, “It became... nothing. It is, to this day, too hideous to publish! Too hideous to even give a proper title to!”

Perhaps Jennie has a fair point after all. Hmmm… Must investigate further.


Others again find coming up with a title all too hard. Or – gasp! – irrelevant to writing a good book. Shocked and dismayed by this rejection of all things I hold sacred I questioned them endlessly about how they came to such an unhappy conclusion.

Paula Roe who writes for Silhouette Desire works along these crazy lines: “Most titles I think of on the fly - they're just something to put in the header so the editor can refer to it as something other than "book title" .”

Bestselling Harlequin Presents author and PHS columnist Anne McAllister says, “After 60 books I have given up trying to come up with titles. I just use the hero's name.”

Berkeley author Anne Gracie begins the same way, “I rarely start off with a title in mind -- I usually name them after the characters, so my computer files are called "Sebastian" and "Gabe and Callie".

Aussie Medicals author Fiona Lowe actually detests the process I love so very much. “Titles send me into a blind panic,” she says, “and make me think I am the most unimaginative person every put on the earth. It takes me forever to think of one. Before I was published I always gave my books well thought out titles. Then I discovered they discarded your gorgeous title that summed it all up eg ‘Labour of Love’ and gave it something like 'The French Doctor's Midwife Bride’.

Actually, Fiona has made a valid point there. Hmmm. Even after all the energy spent coming up with a working title, when you do sell a book there is a verrrry good chance you won’t get to keep your title anyway.

Making the best of both worlds the fabulous and entirely clever RITA and RuBY winning Barbara Hannay says, “Even though I call my document names like ‘Nell and Jacob’, I usually try to think of a title as well e.g ‘The Cattleman's Baby Surprise’. This way, at least, I can make sure I have hooks. Every so often I forget to do this and I end up with a non-hooky book that is hard to market.”


Liz Fielding says, “I try to go with the “it does what it says on the tin” titles, although when I used ‘The Best Man & the Bridesmaid’ it never occurred to me that it would end up on the book. I couldn’t believe no one else had used it.”

Liz has also put her foot down when it came to title changes. I resisted, with all the breath in my body, ‘The Family He Deserved’, a title so bad that it deserved to be taken out and shot. It was changed to ‘A Family of His Own’ and yes, it was worth it.” As a side note ‘A Family of His Own’ went onto win the Romantic Novelists' Association "Romance Prize". Did the title help? I guess we’ll never know…

Jenna Bayley-Burke had a different experience. ’Driven to Distraction’ had to become ‘Drive Me Crazy’. Someone else snagged ‘Driven to Distraction’ before I had the contract! Ooooh, so close to the prize!

Anne McAllister said, “I had a Presents I called ‘Finn’s Twins’ because the hero was stuck with six year old twin girls by his irresponsible sister. Strictly a working title. And what did editorial call it? ‘Finn’s Twins!’ (Their addition was the exclamation mark).”

Though another time when Anne did fight to keep a working title the results were a little different. She fought for ’Gibson’s Girl’. She says, “It was worth it to me because the title they wanted was dire. But the sales were mediocre, so my title obviously didn't sell the book. Still I am happier with it than the other option.”

Anne Gracie found a way of keeping her chosen titles, lucky duck! With my Berkley single titles, I named the first book ‘The Perfect Rake’ and my ed liked it and it stayed. She also wanted a series, and for every book to have "perfect" in the title. They were all my titles, though, except for the last one. I can't recall what I originally chose, but she didn't like it and asked me to come up with something more romantic-sounding. I came up with ‘The Perfect Kiss’ and she was happy.

Sigh… If only it was always so simple.


This writer usually spends a fair amount of time, which she’ll never get back, muttering under her breath about how perfect her working title really was and that she imagined readers the world over going nuts for the book because of the working title alone as, let’s face it, she is the best title comer-upper-wither on the planet ;).

Liz Fielding has her fiftieth book out this year and still finds it hard to let go. The trick is not to get so attached to it that when marketing choose something completely different it doesn’t break your heart. I don’t think I’ve ever got over a book that was, always will be in my heart, called ‘Sacrifice of the Heart’ was renamed ‘The Three Year Itch’, a title that was wrong in so many ways that I still can’t bear to think about it.”

Newbie Harlequin Romance author and PHS ed Donna Alward was so excited to sell her first book, changing her working title was the last of her worries! ’Hired By The Cowboy’ was initially ‘Wedding at Windover’ and I loved, loved, loved that title, though I expected it would get changed. And honestly I was happy enough to sell that I didn’t care much what they called it! And I trust editorial know what they’re doing!”

And as Paula Roe said: “For some, titles can be a major sticking point. But it's important to remember that just like covers, it's all about selling the book.”


If the working title gives you something solid on which to hang the spine of your story, hang on tight as you write.

But when it comes to the crunch this is big business. Getting people to read the story you love is about more than writing a good book. It’s about doing whatever it takes to get them to choose your novel up from amongst the masses bombarding them the moment they step into a bookstore. And if ‘The Magnate’s Indecent Proposal’ (the title of my next Modern Heat) translates in title speak to ‘Pick me!’ Pick me!’ more than ‘The Beautiful Stranger’ (my working title for that same book) would, then learn to love a hook!

I’ve never been able to keep a working title though I did once come up with the final title in a brainstorm with my editor post sale. ‘The Billionaire Bachelor’ became ‘How to Marry a Billionaire’’. Close right? But Harlequin Romance is a heroine driven series therefore the title had to allude to the heroine. See, clever.

Though I must add as an indulgent side note, ‘How to Marry a Billionaire’’ has been my best selling book to date. I’d like to think the title I chose has something to do with it ;).

And just for fun these are my working titles and the final titles of all of my books!

book title ~ working title

A Night with the Society Playboy ~ Hanky Panky
Hired: The Boss's Bride ~ Ring a Ding Ding
The Magnate's Indecent Proposal ~ The Beautiful Stranger
Falling for the Rebel Heir ~ The Voyager and the Mermaid
Steamy Surrender ~ The Sweetest Thing
Millionaire to the Rescue ~ The Next Best Thing
Getting Down to Business ~ Alpha
Billionaire On Her Doorstep ~ Sunsets Over Sorrento
Meant-To-Be Mother~ Come Fly With Me
Wanted: Outback Wife ~ Wanted: Outback Wife
A Father in the Making ~ Something About Her
The Shock Engagement ~ Loving Mr Irresistible
A Mother For His Daughter ~ Love, Italian Style
How to Marry a Billionaire ~ The Billionaire Bachelor
Marriage Make-Over ~ Love Schmove
Marriage Material ~ Grounds for Marriage
The Wedding Wish ~ Wishin' & Hopin'

Ally’s next book FALLING FOR THE REBEL HEIR was originally titled The Voyager and the Mermaid, not her best working title by a long shot, and one she was pretty happy to see the back of ;). It's on Australian and New Zealand bookshelves now as part of the MOTHERS’ DAY GIFT SELECTION in April.

And next month her third, and sexiest yet, Modern Heat novel THE MAGNATE'S INDECENT PROPOSAL (working title The Beautiful Stranger) is out in the UK. Or if you simply can't wait it's available online now through Amazon and Mills and Boon UK.

Check out more about the books at her brand spanking new website...


  1. Great post, Ally. Very thought provoking! I was asked the other day about the title of my book and had to sort of waffle 'aaahh... umm....., well...' - I like the idea of choosing some words that give it a bit of focus, even if it's not something I'd stick on the cover.

  2. I go with the heroine's name usually. Sorry, Ally! :)

  3. "The Voyager and the Mermaid" is a cute title, but I really like "Falling for the Rebel Heir."

  4. Hmmm I'm sort of in the middle ground camp, I have 'The Artist and The Ugly Duckling', 'Dream Date' and the one that got sparked over the weekend... 'The Italian Stallion' I don't see that staying ;-)

  5. Hi,
    since you wrote this I have started using hook titles :-) Currently have a bet on to see if one might stick :-)

  6. I genrally have a title of some sort before I start working. I think it helps to keep focused. Sometimes it stays the same, but sometimes it changes if the book has dramtically shifted. But then as my cps will tell you -- I also change hero and heroine's names so changing a title should not come as a surprise.
    Of the two books which had keeper working titles -- Gladitor's Honour and A Question of Impropriety -- both titles were there at the begining.

  7. I also kept Marriage at Circle M, and my summer release this year started out as Falling for the Marshal and morphed into Falling for Mr Dark and Dangerous, and I STILL can't say that without giggling. :-)

  8. My stories and titles seem to lead totally independent lives...that is, when I think up a story, it takes me ages to come up with a title, and I usually just plonk something on the disk coz you have to save it as something!
    And the editors never keep anything remotely like my working title.
    But I do have a couple of titles floating around in my head, that I yearn to find stories for.
    "The Ego has landed"...could be about an alpha male with a love of flying...
    Also "Who Bares Wins"...this has to feature a struggling single mum who takes to exotic dancing as a way to make ends meet...
    Annie Burrows