As well as titles being tricky, another well-known fact is that writers are terrible at making up titles for their own work. This is why it is usually somebody in the publishing house who decides on the final titles for books, rather than the authors. According the the blog of Publishers Weekly and Flavorwire many famous books have undergone title changes:
- Of Mice and Men might have been merely Something That Happened (I actually love this original title for its statement about the apparent insignificance of the lives of migrant workers, but I'm biased. To me, John Steinbeck can do no wrong).
- Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift was originally published under the name Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts.By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then Captain of Several Ships. Snappy, no?
- Peter Benchley's father suggested that his book Jaws should be called What's That Noshin' On My Laig, which, if nothing else, makes me want to know Mr. Benchley Senior.
- More famously, Austen's Pride and Prejudice was originally entitled First Impressions.
- Joseph Heller was worried his novel Catch-11 would be forced to compete with recently published Ocean's Eleven and so he doubled up to Catch-22.
In recent years there has been more of a trend for quirky titles. Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is doing the rounds and, even though I read little horror beyond the occasional Stephen King, I am tickled by the idea of reading John Dies at the End by David Wong. Then of course there is Booker shortlisted A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka. Are there any titles that have caught your eye enough to make you want to read a book?
Sometimes I struggle with titles, sometimes one hits me straight away. My titles are occasionally words or lines from the story, or sometimes single word titles which have a double meaning. It's not something that comes easily to me. In no particular order, some of my titles have included: The War of the Last Rolo; Handrails and Parachutes; When All This is Over; The Missing Signs and Wonders; The Last Illusion; Waiting for the Green Man; Doreen and the National Trust Trickster; A Dollop of Mother; The Final Observations of George Postlethwaite. Would any of these make you want to read more?
My novel-on-submission had the working title of Thousand-Word Things - a title which I loved. Several of my readers liked it too, but my agent asked me to change it to something more commercial, and so it became The Art of Letting Go. A couple of years ago I also read a draft novel called All the Night a Song by Andy Stewart, which is now on submission as The Ecstatic and the Thief in the USA. Which is a neat segue into casually mentioning that this week and last Andy is running a two part interview with me on his blog. Why not pop over and take a look?
How do you pick titles for your stories?