Sunday, November 1, 2009


I'm very bad with titles. They almost always are the last thing for me to think about and I usually end up in a stew about it, but thank God for music. My last novel, Girls in Trouble, actually came from a song by the Waitresses (A Girl in a temporary thing)--a group I loved for their snarky know-it-all renditions, plus I have a soft spot for waitresses in general. And the title fit perfectly for a book about open adoption and women making all the wrong sorts of choices. The novel before, Coming Back to Me, about a single father and his mysteriously ill wife, was another song--The Jefferson Airplane--and it was given to me by my husband who was finishing his prize-winning book, Got a Revolution about the band and the era. And it fit.

This new one, coming out from Algonquin in August of 2010, isn't quite named yet. About a mysterious car crash and the lives of the three people involved, about dark secrets, photography and loss, the book was originally called Traveling Angels. Traveling Angels is a screenwriting term coined by John Truby (and yup, he said I could use it) about someone who comes into town and seems good, and messes everyone up and then leaves. I thought it was perfect!

No one else did.

Then I called it Breathe. (The novel grew out of a prize-winning story of the same name.) I loved it, my editor loved it. It fit in with one of the characters who has asthma so terrible, he's in and out of hospitals.

But it wasn't quite right.

Right now, my novel is being called after a Clash song (I love the Clash! I love the song!) Pictures of You. I really, really like it, but it may not be the final title.

Do titles matter to you? Have you ever not picked up a book because of the title? Or been drawn to a book because of what it was called? Personally, I tend not to hold titles against a book-- I know how hard it is to find the right one.


Donigan said...

I take titles seriously, both in some measure as an early determiner of what I might pick up at random from a shelf or table, as well as how I feel about my own books. I have had titles changed by a publisher (Bantam changed 3 of mine), and I have been encouraged to change the titles on all 8 of my books, giving in about half the time because I could see the point. And half of those times I think it was a mistake. I think an interesting question is why publishers so often want to change an author's title? Could it be another way to make sure an author knows who is in control ultimately? Of course, sometimes it's not an editorial decision, but something crawling up from the marketing dept.

As for songs generating a title, that has happened to me once, the novel I am writing now. It is called "And It's Only Love," from the chorus lyric in Anna McGarrigle's "Heart Like A Wheel."

Of your titles in the post, I would pick up "Traveling Angels" randomly before "Breathe." I also quite favor "Pictures of You." "Girls in Trouble" would not pull me to it randomly because I would, probably from prejudice, suppose it was YA or chicklit.

Mary Q said...

The gut response a reader has to a title, I'm realizing, is extremely unique and impossible for the author to predict. I can see how difficult that makes the final decision for you and others integrally involved. I can only speak for myself. I LOVE the title "Breathe." You've written for quite a while now that that'll be its title, and that's felt so right to me -- like it couldn't possibly be called anything else. Besides being immediately drawn to one-word titles, "breathe" is a beautiful, emotional word to me. From MY point of view, keep it in the mix of possibilities!

Clea Simon said...

This is a hard one. I think sometimes when you get the right title, you just know it. But I also know that to some extent you're at the mercy of your publisher. (I have one AWFUL title thanks to an otherwise lovely publisher.) So... um, keep churning tillyou find one you like? Ultimately, I don't think it matters to the reader as much as to the author!

By the way, "Girl in Trouble' was Romeo Void, not the Waitresses.

Caroline said...

Ack! You're right! Romeo Void! How could I have gotten that wrong! The waitresses is " I know What Boys Like."

io saturnalia! said...

I contributed the title of the Mike Lowell autobiography "Deep Drive." The co-author rewarded me with a VIP pass at the official book-signing, where I got to party behind the velvet ropes with numerous Red Sox -- including Lowell and Big Papi.

That may not mean much to non-Sox fans (especially the NYC-area readers of your blog), but it was a super-cool perk for what turned out to be not too much work.