October 22, 2019

How to Get the Book Title You Want

How to get book titleThe new movie starring Helen Hunt is now on its third title, “The Sessions.” Before that, it was called “Six Sessions,” but that was too hard to say. The movie producers actually wanted to use the title “The Surrogate,” but that title was already wrapped up and unavailable.

Turns out, according to the Wall Street Journal article, that more than a few movies have similar stories:

  • Charlie Chaplan’s The Great Dictator was “The Dictator”
  • Casablanca originally was “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”
  • Annie Hall was “Anhedona”
  • Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was “Teeny Weenies”
  • Pretty Woman was “$3,000”
  • G.I. Jane was “In Pursuit of Honor”
  • Tangled was “Repunzel”

Probably every author who has had a book published through a commercial or academic has also experienced this. Authors’ cherished titles are changed into something else that is shorter or more flatfooted. Setting the title is one of the duties assigned by authors to their publishers.

So, how can you get the book title you want?

  1. Establish for your fiction or nonfiction work a short working title.
  2. As ideas for titles come, jot these down.
  3. While doing your re-writing, identify the core question or issue of your work and keep (or generate more) titles that point to that core.
  4. At the proposal writing stage, especially while doing peer (or competition) research, consider how the like-type books are titled; some of your titles should reflect this same approach.
  5. Include a list of the best titles in your book proposal; often times, editors and marketing staff will pick one of these or produce something prompted by one or more of these.
  6. Live a day or two with the publisher’s proposed title before reacting that you really wanted your cherished title.
  7. Ask your editor how the proposed title will be featured on your book’s cover and in the publisher’s marketing materials (two other things about which you can some influence).

Some wags, of course, will note that my strategy is about lowering an author’s expectations. But that misses my point, which is to broaden an author’s list of possibilities, on the one hand, and indicate some confidence in the selection process by the author’s editor and marketing staff.

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