Thursday, December 18, 2008

What's in a Name? The Magic of Titles

Are you someone who savours the title of the book you’re reading? Did it call to you from the shelf? Or can’t you even remember the title because you’re so busy plunging into the story? Our columnist Annie West talks today about the magic of titles.

Titles can be magical things. They might lure us to reach out to a shelf and pick up a book we’d never heard of before but which was too intriguing to pass by. ‘The Silver Pigs’ by Lindsey Davis was one of those for me. I was skimming the library shelves and noticed a nice hardback with that intriguing title emblazoned in its spine. Who would want a pig made of silver? Was it a porcine book or something else? Then I noticed the Roman mosaic pattern on the edge and had to pick it up. (And have been a fan ever since).

Titles can stick in our minds for years. All those books we want to investigate but just haven’t had the time to follow up yet – you know, that mental to be read pile.

Some titles get better as we delve into the book and we discover layer upon layer of meaning in those few simple words that delight and intrigue us. Some titles encapsulate the story. Others focus on a key theme. Still others are deliberately provocative or tantalising.

Titles are selling tools as well. In the romance writing industry in particular, titles aren’t necessarily the ones chosen by a writer, but might be the product of a round table discussion of staff in a publishing house, looking at not only this individual story but themes that appeal to readers and shifting market expectations.

Some authors come up with their own titles. I know others who simply call their manuscript x and y’s story (insert name of hero and heroine) until they’re advised what the title will be. Still others can’t write until they have the title fixed in their head, a way to encapsulate the key idea in their story and help them focus as they write.

Then too, titles can be the impetus for the story itself. I’ve written a couple of books that were derived from a title. When the name 'The Liakos Legacy' sprang into my head I had no idea what the legacy would be. As time went by I discovered that instead of the obvious tangible legacy of an estate, this was much more. The book ended up being about family, obligations and distrust and love that passed through generations. I loved that title because it inspired me in so many ways. At first I was rather sad that the published title was different (‘The Greek’s Convenient Mistress’) until I realised that the original title had served its purpose in helping me to write, and that TGCM was a name designed to tap into the reader expectations of my particular line (Harlequin Presents).

Don’t forget titles aren’t copyright, so you might see a title you love appear elsewhere on a completely different book. My first ever published book was called ‘Strictly Business’ which I thought was rather neat since it was about a couple who meet over business, where the business is a key factor in the plot and both hero and heroine struggle to keep their relationship impersonal. Since then I’ve seen that same title on a number of different stories. The chances are it was used well before my story too.

I love titles. They can be funny, fascinating or meaningful. Here are some of the ones that came to mind as I wrote this, either because they are intriguing or attention grabbing or simply because they’d served their purpose of sticking in my mind:

The Year of Living Dangerously
Scandal’s Daughter
Flirting with Forty
The Day My Bum Went Psycho (yes, in case you’re wondering, it’s an Australian children’s book)
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Getting Rid of Bradley
Lessons From a Latin Lover
Mr Impossible
Wife for a Day
Madam, Will you Talk?
Dead Souls
Birds Without Wings
The Last Camel Died at Noon
Love Among the Chickens
Sense and Sensibility
The Importance of Being Earnest

For those of you curious about the titles, here are the authors of those books. They aren’t in order and I’ll leave it to you to see if you can put the writers to the titles: Andy Griffiths, Anne McAllister, Christine Wells, Christopher Koch, CS Lewis, Elizabeth Peters, Jane Austen, Jane Porter, Jennifer Crusie, Kate Walker, Loretta Chase, Louis de Bernieres, Mary Stewart, Nikolai Gogol, Oscar Wilde and P G Wodehouse.

Are book titles important to you? Which ones do you like and why? Or do you ignore the titles and pick up a book simply because of the author?

Annie is currently away, researching fantastic locations for future books. In the meantime her current story is still nameless...

Her latest release, THE BILLIONAIRE’S BOUGHT MISTRESS, is on sale this month in Australia and New Zealand. Or you can buy it from
Harlequin Australia or UK Amazon just in time for Christmas. If you visit her website you can read an excerpt.

5 comments:

  1. I laughed at the Andy Griffiths titles. My daughter loves his books...ack! I have to admit, I do laugh. But her favourite title to snicker at is Zombie Butts from Uranus. Classy, isn't it.

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  2. My first pub'd novel's title, "His Cinderella Bride" has been used by someone called Heather (Graham, I think)
    It always peeves me when I see that her price on ebay is still much higher than mine, even though hers dates from the '80's!
    Annie B

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  3. Annie,

    With this article, you've hit on one of my sore pionts with the Presents line. I HATE, HATE, HATE the titles that Harlequin puts on the books. If anything, I think it projects a "formulaic" story, when they are so much more. I would have much preferred to walk out of the store with The Liakos Legacy than TGCM.

    I realize that marketing believes that they sell more that way and that readers can choose what type of story easier by the title, but I think that they don't give readers enough credit. We know the type of stories by the name of the line and the cover of the book - no need to spoon feed us with a generic title. I'm a 40 something woman from the US with a college degree and it's almost embarrasing to leave the grocery store with a book with Innocent, Virgin or Mistress in the title. Yech. I also believe this fosters a misperception by many that don't read these books regularly of "trashy romance novels". I think it does a disservice to some really good writers like yourself out there.

    I love fun and quirky titles as well and think that the HQ editors should let the writers have more control over the titles of their books.

    Anyway, that's my two cents as a US reader who has spent lots of money on your (and the other PHS author's) books!

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  4. Hey, Annie, hope your trip is going fantabulously! I hope you'll come back and blog about it here. I always really enjoy your PHS columns.

    Titls! Ah, a topic close to my heart as I'm currently in the throes of finalising a title for my latest book. The book went in no major problems. The title's turned into a nightmare! I actually really like the titles I've got - Tempt the Devil strikes me as really sexy. It was originally The Devil's Due which while good isn't quite AS good, if you know what I mean. I will pick up a book on an evocative title.

    Stay warm!

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  5. Hi Annie - hope you are having a fabulous trip!

    Titles - groan - I am soooo bad at coming up with titles.

    Weirdly, I rarely look at the titles of the M&B's that I buy - just the colour of the cover and the name of the author ;-)

    But if I do happen to see an intriguing title whilst in the local bookstore... well... it's one of life's little temptations, isn't it?

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