Tuesday, June 29, 2010

When Preciousness Gets in Your Way

One of the hardest things an author does is let go of something personal – like a title of a book. For many, many months, I’ve stuck to one working title: God Doesn’t Like Sweet Cornbread (and Other Things She Told Me).

The title comes from my favorite chapter in the book. I became so attached to the title, the words became precious and sacrosanct. I think I became attached to its differentness, its cleverness. God and cornbread? God’s a She?

When I thought of changing the title before, I became defensive and sought out opinions that mirrored mine. This doesn’t have anything to do with God being part of the title (although an earlier fear was that someone would think this was a religious book).

The issue is capturing the public’s attention and reflecting the book as a whole, not just one chapter. I perused the New York Times Bestseller Lists for the past several years. The vast majority of titles are two, three or four words.
The Overton Window
The Help
Low-Country Summer
Naamah’s Curse
Fever Dream
The Mermaid Chair
Vanishing Acts

This isn’t about wanting a bestseller (but what author doesn’t). This is about having a fighting chance to at least pitch the book and Cissy’s story without having an agent shut down because of the title.

What book titles have attracted you in the past? Do you agree about the brevity in today’s titles?


  1. Just finished Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna. The title reflects an actual thing/place and also works as a metaphor that runs throughout the book. A bit intriguing to do that, I thought. It is about an author, oddly enough, whose agent changes the titles of his novels. They become best sellers! I love your title, too, but a rose by any other name... Maybe these agents really get it.

  2. Cecilia and the Enchanted Teapot, which is NOT brief. LOL I'd have to admit I'm more of a cover art girl than anything. Saw you on Agent Query and thought I'd pop in. :)

  3. Lovely post. I have had so many unsuitable titles. But sometimes I find it refreshing to change the title; somehow it rejuvenates the manuscript once I have come a long way with it. I'm tweeting this!