Thursday, September 13, 2007

What's in a Name? In a word...everything!


You’ve seen the titles. You know. The book titles that cause you to engage in serious head-slapping for not thinking of them first. Wonderfully clever book titles that make use of wicked word plays, delightful deviations on movie or song titles, or dynamite double meanings that compel you to pick the book up and read the back cover copy. Maybe you’ve even come up with more than a few of your own.

While a great cover can attract a shopper’s eye at the supermarket checkout or draw one’s attention to it among the shelves of books at your favorite bookstore, the importance of crafting a catchy, creative title to grab that prospective reader’s attention has never been greater.

Which brings me to my blog topic this week--and, sadly, to a weakness I must own up to. Most authors have areas they struggle with (and only their critiques partners know for sure). For some writers, it’s pacing. For others it’s point of view. Still others find writing sex scenes challenging. For me, it’s titles. For the most part I suck at titling books. And while I realize I’m not alone here, (I’ve seen some ‘gag-me’ titles that had me going ‘what were they thinking?’) this shortcoming frustrates me just the same.

The first ‘hairball’ title I produced still causes twitters among my children. A short category romance, I titled it Chance for a Lifetime. A little sappy but not too terribly bad -- until you found out the hero’s name was ‘Chance.’ See what I mean? Bleah. The next book I wrote--a romantic comedy with a divine touch--had what I thought was the perfect title. Apparently so did another author who gave her book the very same title. Unfortunately for me she managed to sell her book first. So it was back to the drawing board for a new ‘perfect’ title. It took me another year to come up with FiancĂ© at her Fingertips. I eventually learned to love the title. It’s a good thing, too, as this book recently sold and will be my first non-Calamity Jayne release for Dorchester Publishing.

And now we come to Calamity Jayne. First off, I love the title of the first book. It totally fits the story. You’ll like it more, too, when you hear my original working title for this project.

Ahem. Clang, clang! Hairball alert! Butt ugly title ahead!!

Okay, here goes. I originally called the book Ditz. That’s right. Ditz. Hey, I warned you it wasn’t going to be pretty. You see, when I’m writing, I must have a working title. Thankfully I lost this gem about four chapters into the book and never looked back. Next was Calamity Jayne Rides Again. That was my working title and I was okay with it. It fit the theme of the book and had the nickname recognition going for it. Then came, Ghouls Just Want to Have Fun, a fitting, yet fun, title. Book four of the Tressa Jayne Turner series, Calamity Jayne Goes to College (a play on the old Ronald Reagan Bonzo Goes to College flick), brought back the now familiar Calamity Jayne moniker. And with Tressa and the Grandville Gang heading to the southwest in the upcoming fifth book in the series, I figured a working title of Calamity Jayne Heads West would work. It worked well enough I got to keep it but now I find myself wishing I had dug a little deeper to come up with something a bit more compelling. Less ho hum.

Which brings me to my sixth Calamity caper. It features a truly inspired title. Anchors Aweigh! Yep. That spelling is correct and the only other thing I’m saying is that it’s dead on, folks. Hehe.

After ten books you’d think I’d develop a knack (a trick even) for crafting cute, clever titles, wouldn’t you? I have been practicing though. The final Saturday of RWA National Conference this past summer after the Awards Gala I spent a number of hours in the Hyatt Regency Hotel lobby in Dallas with friends trying to come up with ideas for a series in development. Things got a little out of hand. Too little sleep combined with too much chocolate, I’m afraid and the results were--suspect. But what happens in Dallas, stays in Dallas. Right, ladies?

So what do you like in a title? For those of you who write, how do you all generate titles? Do you always have a working title for each project? How often are your titles keepers?

Looking down the road a piece my seventh Calamity Jayne book involves a cross country bicycle ride, a tandem bicycle, spandex --and, naturally, more than a few potholes.

I’m already experiencing title trauma.

Help!

~Kathy ‘Bullet Hole’ Bacus~

26 comments:

Christie Craig said...

Love the post, Kathy.

So far, I've been able to keep all the titles on the books I've sold. Now, this doesn't mean that I don't have to bang my head on the desk for say...six, seven or eight months, before my brain gives up the ghost and hands me a usable title.

And hey, I do like your titles, so just keep going.

Crime Scene Christie

Mendy said...

I'm a reader and I love catchy names. I also like ones that play on a common phrase or use the character's name cleverly. I don't think that Calamity Jayne Heads West is ho-hum at all. I think ho-hum is the single word titles that don't tell me anything. One that comes to mind is Thanksgiving by Evanovich. Blah!

Jana DeLeon said...

I think titles are one of those things that either hit you or don't. But I'm still laughing over Ditz. You're right, that one was truly awful. :)

Leslie Langtry said...

I know EXACTLY what you mean, Kathy! My first title came to me and now I'm stuck mangling song lyrics for the remainder of the series! Fortunately my editor is a whiz and came up with the second title. I'm still working on the third one.

Keep up the good work - I love your books!

The Assassin

MsHellion said...

I love catchy titles. Puns. Things that play on common phrases--and I agree, I don't think Calamity Jayne Heads West is boring at all.

I do like single word titles at times--sometimes I think they can convey meaning--but usually they convey "darker" or more serious themes. Like "Redemption" or "Vice" or "Virtue" or "Thanksgiving" 9as the example was)--I'd think the first three would have to do with "bad boys" who have a long way to go to the light side. *LOL* I'd be intrigued. Thanksgiving would make me think, "Women's fiction. Family. Probably coming to terms with chaos." I would not pick it up thinking it was a light read.

But I prefer picking up catchy titles because they signal that "I'm fun! I'm happy! I'm sitcom hysterical!"--and I know that I'll enjoy it for exactly the reason why I want to read: fun escapism.

Laura said...

Titles!! I can't even begin to say how unfair I think it is that authors are expected to come up with catchy, memorable, and marketable titles too. Isn't it enough that they write a catchy, memorable, and marketable BOOK?? Someone else should have the responsibility of titling. GAH!

Virginia said...

I think the title is kind of catchy, which is important in selling books.

Nathalie said...

I am a reader and titles are not so important to me, because I read a lot of french books, which are traduced. The most catchy thing for me is the cover, and sometimes when a cover has a horrible cover... well I don't buy it!

Lily said...

I like catchy titles too... and it must be very demanding just to think about one... so I feel with you authors!!! You have to think of something that talks about the book but still it should entice the reader to buy the book :)

Estella said...

Great post. I like the title Calamity Jane Heads west.

alpha kitty said...

I lkov kooky titles. They make me stop and pick up the book just to see what it is about.

Kathy Bacus said...

I'm glad you like the titles, Christie. On one level it's good to have that consistency and title recognition with the Calamity Jayne reference, but it can also be somewhat restrictive.

I do like it when the perfect title just comes to me without the handbanging precursor. It doesn't happen very often.

~Kathy~

Kathy Bacus said...

Thanks, Mendy!

I have noticed a number of books with just one word titles. I agree. It's difficult to reveal much about the book if you've only got one word to do it with. I'm naturally long-winded so I can't imagine ever having a title of just one word!

~Kathy~

Kathy Bacus said...

I still cringe over the Ditz title, Jana. Eeow!

~Kathy~

Kathy Bacus said...

Thank goodness for wonderful, creative, genius editors, right Leslie?? Or agents, for that matter. Recently my agent assisted me in renaming the psychological thriller I just finished. The title was perfect and it not only gave me ideas for titles for the next two books, but also lended itself to a great overall theme for the series.

My original title was a mile long.

~Kathy~

Kathy Bacus said...

You're right on, mshellion. I really love a clever, catchy title that promises a good, fun read.

Give me a great cover, a killer title, and compelling blurb and I'll generally get me to buy the book.

~Kathy~

Kathy Bacus said...

I never dreamed I'd be able to keep all my book titles when I started out, Laura. I've always made it clear to my editor that their input is extremely important and if they felt a title change was appropriate, go for it.

Thanks, Estella! I'm glad you like the title. I really love the bright, bold colors on the HEADS WEST cover, too. And come winter I'll wish I was somewhere in the great southwest.

SOOOO not looking forward to an Iowa winter.

~Kathy~

Angie Fox said...

I like your titles too, Kathy. What I don't like are the ones who try to be overly dramatic and end up trying too hard.

Coming from an advertising background, where changes are par for the course, I find myself wanting to change my titles too much. Same for the books themselves. No word is sacred. As a result, I changed the title of my mystery three times while entering it in contests and sending queries to agents. It got to be so confusing. I swore I'd never do it again. So when I wrote my new paranormal, I brooded over a bunch of title changes without changing anything, which was pure torture because my crit partner kept suggesting title changes like she was waving yummy, gooey chocolate cake in front of a girl on a diet.

Now with this second paranormal in my series, I can't think of a thing to call it. The title obsession has fled. Right now, it is merely called Book Two. Perhaps I need to borrow Christie's desk and do a bit of head banging.

Lucy said...

I like the title to fit the book. For example, if it's a light fun book, I want the title to reflect that. It's frustrating when I buy a book because of the title (usually thinking it's going to be a funny book - and it's not) and it doesn't live up to its impression.

Good luck naming your books. :-)

Kathy Bacus said...

Book Two? Ohmigosh, Angie, I don't think I could stare at that on my header line through an entire book. It's like when I had my triplets and one of the nurses suggested if I wasn't sure about their names yet I could wait a day or two to decide. I couldn't imagine holding those babies and cooing, "Hey, Baby A (B or C) I'm your mommy!" :)

~Kathy~

Kathy Bacus said...

Thanks, Lucy! I'm still struggling with the bicycle one. I'll have to post the hairballs I've come up with so far at a later date. Hmm. Maybe I should run a contest later on for helping me select book titles...?

Thanks for posting!

~Kathy~

CrystalG said...

I like titles that are catchy and reach out and grab me and make me want to know what the book is about.

Kathryn Lilley said...

There's a great post, "Do you have the title gene?" at Cabbages and Kings, http://pjparrish.blogspot.com/2007/02/do-you-have-title-gene.html

I like to think I have the title gene. But then, I'm only two books in, lol!

RachaelfromNJ said...

I like catchy titles too. Something funny and unique that makes you look twice.

Jennifer McK said...

Um, I have been officially banned from title generation by my crit partner.
I've come up with some ugly ones too. "Hidden Grief" was probably the worst. Although there were some others that made my crit partners groan.
Now, they all have "working titles" until someone with a knack for a title gives me one.
You are not the only one. I do NOT have the title gene.

Anonymous said...

What is remarkable about "Rebecca"? It's just a woman's name, but it says it all. Who can ever forget her, or think about that name the same way again?

What about John D. MacDonald "The Deep Blue Goodby", "The Dreadful Lemon Sky"...titles remembered years after plots have been forgotten.
Erle Stanley Gardner...all the Perry Mason's start with "The Case of the..."

Most of Rex Stouts titles are unhelpful, ie.,"Please Pass the Guilt". He did occasionally knock one out of the park: "The League of Frightened Men".

Some people read books in a series, and cannot wait for the next book to come out--regardless of the title--be it brilliant or stupid---I will be first in line to read anything Stuart Woods writes about Stone Barrington...most of his titles are phrases repeated throughout the text...such as "Reckless Abandon" ...I also follow the Baxter family, 12 books down and 2 to go, by Karen Kingsbury. "Summer" is the most recent title in that series---I guess because the action takes place in the summer.
I always liked prepositional phrases as titles: "On the Waterfront", "From Here to Eternity"
Remember, Margaret Mitchell came up with "Tomorrow is Another Day"; I think it was an editor who came up with "Gone With the Wind".
I think the author's name is more important than the title---and the cover art. If I don't like the cover, I won't look at the book unless I already know and like the author.