I'm writing a new series for readers of age 9+ at the moment. It's about a group of girls - Mollie, Sunny, Min, Rory and Alanna - who live on a small island off the coast of West Cork. I came up with a title for the series - The Wishing Girls. 'Too young' my publishers said. 'Sounds like a Rainbow Fairy book'. So I had to start again.
I produced a list of over twenty different titles. My editor added some, as did my agent. My editor narrowed it down to about a dozen and then I picked my favourite three:
The Songbird Café Girls
The Butterfly Island Girls
The Firefly Bay Girls
I asked some bookseller + writer friends and they liked both Butterfly Island and Songbird Café. Apart from the boy, who liked Firefly Bay. But they thought Songbird Café was the most original so that's the one I went for in the end. Which suits the book perfectly as the island is full of songbirds.
It took eighteen months to come up with a series title and the process got me thinking about other writers and how they picked titles. I asked them about their title process for this blog. As I got so many responses, I will use some of their wonderful words of wisdom in my next blog also.
For me, choosing titles is like pulling teeth. It’s the last thing I do, and I have to be honest, I’m not entirely happy with all of my choices. My editor often helps, and has come up with some great ideas. Occasionally, a title chooses itself, like Bonjour, Alice and Alice in the Middle.
My most recent book is Eva and the Hidden Diary. At first it was to be called ‘Eva and the Secret Diary’, but I changed it at the last minute, due to great advice from a writer friend, who suggested that it was wasteful to use two precious words like ‘diary’ and ‘secret’ in the same book. (That would have been me - Sarah).
Titles ... Sometimes hard, sometimes easy ...
The Sleeping Baobab Tree ended up as this because much of the story revolved round a wondrous ancient baobab that at some stage in its history fell on its side but carried on growing. In local folklore it is known as 'ngombe ilede' (the sleeping cow - as this is what it resembles ) and this was the book's first title, but over time it became The Sleeping Baobab Tree. I am very happy with it.
I love titles and I love the process of arriving at one but think that even though it can be discussed ad infinitum with agent, editor, friends and family at the end of it all it has to be yours.
My next book is called 'Fintan's Fifteen' and I chose the title myself.
When I pitched it to my publisher it was a story about the worst U12s soccer team in Ireland, but we took a decision quite early on to change the sport to hurling. It made very little difference to the story (a falling-apart team gets better by recruiting players from different sporting backgrounds and foils a robbery along the way to winning the cup) but it made a huge difference to the title – the original title was 'Oisín's Eleven' (obviously a play on 'Ocean's Eleven'...), but as there are fifteen players on a hurling team it necessitated a title change to 'Fintan's Fifteen' and a corresponding change to the main character.
I have a notebook full of prospective book titles and character names, most of which are still in search of stories to go with them!
Prim Improper popped into my head when I was writing book one. I blogged with a friend whose online name was improper miss and another friend had written a book called Mary Modern, endearing two word titles featuring names to me. Improper Order popped into my head two thirds of the way through book two. I was fiddling with other titles "Prime Impropriety" and "Properly Prim" being two other possibilities but once I came up with Improper Order I kind of liked the way it fit the themes and also how it sounded like a crappy straight to video action movie featuring Dolph Lundgren. Or Steven Segal, I'm not sure which.
The title of my most recent novel is 'Rat Runners'. I chose it, but it wasn't my original title, as Random asked me to change it. I might still use the original one for another book, so I won't tell you what it is! Random saw a pitch for this book before I'd got very far into the writing, so it was the title almost from the start.
I like to have a title before I start writing a book, partly to help me give it an identity to keep my sights set on, but also as practical means of keeping notes when I'm working on more than one book.
I have some ground rules for any title: It must be compelling, it should reflect the theme or feel of the book and I'll always try and pick a combination of words that don't already score a direct hit on Google. I don't want a title that someone has used before . . . for anything.
Sometimes I get the title right straight off, other times I have to write out lists of combinations of words. It's a process I enjoy, so even when it's challenging, I don't find it difficult. This was the case with 'Rat Runners', but once I had it, I was very happy with it. I liked the suggestion of urban action (having thought of it, I then found out a rat-run is route along small roads to avoid traffic on main routes) and the real underground air it gave the story.
The original title of 'Wendy Quill is a Crocodile's Bottom' was 'Wendy Quill gets a little bit Famous'. But Oxford University Press thought title of my first chapter was funnier. And I agreed.
But it's a bit embarrassing when I have to go and stage at Award Ceremonies and they say: 'Wendy Quill is a Crocodile's Bottom.' I feel like shrugging my shoulders and saying: 'Yes, I am.'
And my little boy said: 'I'm only giving you 4 stars our of 5 because you've used a rude word on the cover.' So there you go. That told me :)
More tales of book titles in February - stay tuned! And a huge thanks to all the writers who helped me with this blog post. You are superstars!
Yours in books,
This blog post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website - www.girlsheartbooks.com