My Adventures with Titles by Pauline Chandler

Friday, March 21st 

What’s in a Title? ‘A Rose By any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet…’ Well, .No, Actually it Wouldn’t..

It can take ages to choose the title of your next book. All writers know that the process can go on for months, with traditional publishers usually making the final decision.  I always have a title for my work-in-progress, a ‘working title’ that's useful when approaching publishers. Then, if all goes well and the book reaches the publication stage, there has to be some serious thinking about the final title. Some titles, I must say, are quite mysterious. 


                           They don't reveal much, do they? Perhaps that’s the point!

The title is important to me from the moment I put pen to paper. It’s a sort of seal on the deal, a promise that the work will be a proper book one day. As such, it has to be both inspirational and associated with the heart of the work.  

For months, my first book, ‘Dark Thread’, was called ‘Through a Glass Darkly’. That just about summed up the process of writing it, a sort of feeling my way in the dark, and the plot did hinge on a mirror, which acted as a doorway into the past. When I approached a publisher, the title and the magic mirror were soon discarded.‘Cliché!’ the editor cried.



As the story is about spinning and weaving, real and figurative, I came up with the title ’To Weave the Dark Thread’, which I thought had a certain gravitas for quite a serious book, but, on the fine principle that ‘less is more’, the publishers and I finally decided on ‘Dark Thread’ and I'm very pleased with it. 

My second book, now available as an ebook on Kindle, is simply called 'Warrior Girl'. That was not the title I chose, but the one decided on solely by the publisher. The book tells the story of Joan of Arc through the eyes of her friend, Mariane, who accompanies her on her campaign to save France from the English.

I wanted to call the book ‘Jehanne’, the name Joan of Arc used for herself and how she signed her name. She was illiterate and could only haltingly write her name. You can see her signature reproduced on this postcard I bought when I visited her birthplace, Domremy in France.

Writers have all kinds of reasons for choosing their titles; I simply thought 'Jehanne' was more respectful, really, to a major historical figure. But I do agree that from a marketing point of view, 'Warrior Girl' says more of what's in the tin. 

By the same rules, the publisher preferred ‘Viking Girl’ for the title of my next book. (Also now available as an ebook on Kindle).  I wanted to call it ‘Winternight’, the name of the Viking festival, which features in the climax of the story, but the final title was chosen to match ‘Warrior Girl, and so help build up a series.

For my next book, set largely in ancient Britain, I chose ‘At the Back of the North Wind’, which I loved. It was a description given to Ancient Britain by the Romans, some of whom were quite afraid of going there!  Then I discovered that there was another book by that name, so it had to be changed. Boo!  The title I finally chose was ‘The Mark of Edain’ which refers to the tribal tattoo carried by the two main characters, and the publisher liked the suggestion. Hooray! 'The Mark of Edain' is also now available as an ebook on Kindle.

Finally, I'm in the happy position of being able to choose my titles for myself. Do other writers choose their titles with an eye on the market? Do you consider the reader when you're choosing titles? Do titles matter? 

Pauline Chandler  March 21st 2014


Chris Longmuir said…
I think you're quite lucky in having a hand in your titles. In my experience many publishers decide the title. My Dead Wood was initially The Screaming Woods which I quite liked. The publisher consulted me (went through the motions) with a couple of titles, although it wasn't a case of 'did I agree', and when the cover was finally made I found they had used none of these and the title was a complete surprise. No consultation whatsoever. I experienced the same when I was writing short stories and articles, the magazines never used mine, they always had something different.
Dennis Hamley said…
I've been lucky, I guess. Only twice was a title, each time very acceptable, suggested by my editor when I'd failed to come up with something suitable myself. The rest of the time my title was accepted at once. Only once have I thought of a title and then written a book to fit it. The title was 'Haunted United' and guess what it was about. There's one exception to this. My 1914 novel is called Ellen's people, for the simple but adequate reason that between 1914 and 1918 Ellen meets a lot of people. The US publishers wouldn't have this. They said that in America 'People' suggests 'I'll have my people meet with your people'. While I was trying to think of something better than the 'Ellen's Story' which they first proposed, they announced that they were going to call it 'Without Warning' and by the time my protest at something which seemed to me meaningless had crossed the Atlantic it was too late.
Lydia Bennet said…
I've been able to choose all my titles, luckily for me, of books and of plays. Sometimes the working title that got me to the end then seemed wrong and I changed it. it's always fascinating to hear other writers' stories of their titles and cover images so thanks for an enjoyable post!
Pauline said…
Yes, I think I was lucky to be consulted, Chris! It must be very hard to have your work re-titled without being asked, though once your book's on its way through the publishing machine, there's not a lot you can do.
I love the title 'Haunted United',Dennis! I agree 'Without Warning' seems an odd choice, but then US publishers seem to have their own approach to marketing. On the US cover of 'Warrior Girl' Joan of Arc has long blonde hair!
Thanks for your nice comments, Lydia. I'm still feeling my way with this blogging lark, so it's great to get such positive feedback.
Jan Needle said…
i originally called one of my thrillers 'Underbelly'. HarperCollins refused to use it and insisted on something quite unmemorable. (I can't remember it). Then it was bought for TV and I was too busy to adapt it myself (a big mistake, although the loot was still very good). The title they used on TV was excellent, however. Underbelly...
Jan Needle said…
(Oh, and a PS. The adaptor took credit for the 'new' title, which everyone thought was excellent!)
JO said…
Oh how important they are - and how difficult to get them right. I've given up trying to please everyone but that doesn't stop me waking in the night trying to think of them!
Dennis Hamley said…
Yes Pauline, you are right when you say the American approach to marketing is different from the UK's. The trouble is that they are both useless.
Pauline said…
Love your 'Underbelly' tale, Jan! How galling for someone else to take the credit. It's a shark pool!
Jo, I'm struggling with the title for my present w-i-p. It never ends!

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