Sunday, May 13, 2018

Coming Up with Titles: the Pain and Glory

Spring has sprung here fully into summer and the flowers are so lovely! This is my pink anemone clematis that I'm training to climb up the grape vine in the arbor. Love how it's coming along!

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is "How do you come up with your titles?"

I might have as many answers to this question as I have published (and unpublished, for that matter) works. And a single work can have multiple titles by the time the final one goes on the cover. So much so that I can have mass confusion looking through my various files and documents for versions of stories. I'm pretty organized, but that can get crazymaking, especially keeping things consistent between email folders and those in Dropbox.

So, the short answer is I often choose titles initially on instinct. Some of them come to me before I start writing. Like "Wyoming Trucks, True Love, and the Weather Channel" was a title I thought of first, then wrote the essay, and then we ended up calling the entire essay collection that. Sometimes I write on a book for a long time before I figure out the title. Some are called "Story" for a significant amount of time.

One cool trick I learned is to pull the title from a line or phrase in the story. Grace Draven likes to draw from poetry, which is how we came up with "Amid the Winter Snow."

When you work with a traditional publisher, they very often want to change the title. So, here's a story about the title of the first book in the new trilogy I'll be doing with St. Martin's Press, out August 2019.

I called this book "New Story" for about a week while I worked my way into it. Once I had a handle on it more, I started calling it "The Slave King." That lasted about a month until I apparently decided my heroine needed to share top billing. Then it became "The Slave King and the Flower Queen." I had those images for the hero and heroine, which resonated with the core idea I worked from. When I sent my agent, Sarah Younger, the first rough fifty pages, that's what I called it. We have a number of back-and-forth emails with the subject line "TSK/TFQ." Which should've been a hint right there that it was a cumbersome title.

By the time we went out on submission, Sarah suggested taking "The Slave King" out of the title. I get that descriptor for him in the story, but she was concerned that it would be possibly offensive as an email subject line out of context. She proposed

Throne of Flowers, Throne of Flesh
Throne of Flowers, Throne of Fire
 Throne of Thorns, Throne of Fire
 Crown of Thorns, Crown of Ore

I came back with (inspired by her) "Throne of Flowers, Throne of Ash." She polled everyone in her agency and they voted for that.

And sold it to St. Martins! (along with two sequels to be named - literally, as we still haven't titled those...)

Once we signed the contracts and started digging into what my editor, Jennie Conway, envisioned for the series, she relayed that the SMP marketing thought that my title would get lost in SEO. (That's Search Engine Optimization for the lay people - and means that they worried my "thrones" would get lost with all the other "thrones" terms people might type into Google.)

She suggested:

Book 1: A Throne Veiled by Orchids
Book 2: A Throne Bound in Shadow
Book 3: A Throne Carved from Embers

Sarah riffed on that, coming up with:

Book 1: A Throne Masked by Orchids
Book 1: A Throne Hidden in Orchids
Book 1: A Throne Built by Orchids
Book 1: A Throne Shadowed by Orchids
Book 1: A Throne Covered with Orchids
Book 1: A Throne Disguised by Orchids

Book 2: A Throne Bound in Shadow

Book 3: A Throne Carved from Embers

Marketing came back with a No on anything starting with "Throne," because of how SEO works, and also avoiding the words "ice," "fire," and "ash," as they're overused with "throne."

After a lot more brainstorming, we all finally settled on THE ORCHID THRONE as the title for Book 1. You can no doubt see the evolution of that. As for Books 2 and 3, we decided to wait until I wrote more of Book 1 and saw how the story was developing.

So there you have it! My answer in this case to "How do you come up with your titles?" is "over months of effort and with a bunch of really smart people weighing in."