Trouble with Titles

Hi, I’m Susanna, and I have trouble with titles.

Not the aristocratic kind. I’ve spent enough time reading and writing the Regency over the past decade that how to speak of dukes, earls, and their relations no longer mystifies me. No, I struggle to name my books.

I’ve now sold four manuscripts, and I’ve yet to have a single one go on sale wearing the first working title to grace my hard drive’s work-in-progress file.

The first book I wrote (the second I sold) began life as Lucy and Mr. Wright. In its first draft, it was a traditional Regency, and the hero was a wealthy but untitled gentleman. Upon further consideration, I promoted James to baronet and renamed the book Lady Wright. Then I realized I wanted to bump James yet higher on the totem pole, so he became James Wright-Gordon, Viscount Selsley. Unfortunately this meant no more clever puns on “Wright,” so I went with The Inconvenient Bride. Years later, as I prepared to submit it to Carina, I decided the title needed a little more oomph and changed it to A Marriage of Inconvenience.

When I started my next manuscript, I was still hung up on those trad-Regency-style titles, so I called it Anna and the Sergeant. However, I quickly realized it just wasn’t a trad story and switched to Soldier’s Lady. Which isn’t a bad title, but it didn’t say, “Get your forbidden star-crossed cross-class lovers here!” quite as loudly as I wanted it to. Hence, The Sergeant’s Lady.

Carina published both those books under the titles I used for submission–possibly because I’d had so long to think them over that I’d actually come up with something good. With my next two sales, my editor’s acceptance email basically read: “Congratulations! We love your book! Your title? NSM. Here’s a worksheet to fill out so we can work together to find something better.”

My November 5 release began life as The General’s Mouse. The hero, Jack, marries the heroine, Elizabeth, upon minimal acquaintance to fulfill a deathbed promise to his best friend. At the time he isn’t seeing her at her best, and he glumly reflects that he’s married a mouse. The rest of the book is all about proving that his so-called mouse has a mighty roar. Clever? Maybe. Based on the title alone, does it sound like a cute kid’s fantasy book about a talking mouse who befriends one of history’s great commanders? Absolutely.

So I brainstormed with my critique partners and filled out the title worksheet. Carina chose one of my suggestions, An Infamous Marriage, which I fully acknowledge is much better than my first choice.

Just this month Carina acquired my first-ever novella. (It took several tries, but eventually my muse accepted that stories can come in sizes other than 90,000 words.) It’s an interracial romance set in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Vittoria in 1813, where some British soldiers made fortunes by plundering the captured French baggage train. The plot revolves around a particularly fine ruby necklace my recently widowed heroine is trying to conceal from the soldiers surrounding her so she can go home to England, sell it secretly, and use the proceeds to buy a happy, secure life for herself and her young son.

At first, I called it Widow’s Fortune. But I soon decided that was too prosaic and changed it to Far Above Rubies, which I thought sounded particularly evocative. It comes from Proverbs 31:10, “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” I saw it as both a literal reference to how the hero cherishes the heroine and a symbol for the characters’ dreams of a better life and how they’re able to fulfill them together.

The editorial team, however, thinks it sounds more like a fantasy than a historical…and I figure they’re the experts, so it’s back to the title worksheet for me!

I’ve come to a place of acceptance where I don’t expect my first idea or two to work. In fact, my current ideas in various stages of brainstorming or drafting go by Home Run Blast from the Past (time travel!), Hell, Frozen Over (a winter survival tale), and The One With the Battle of New Orleans (which opens at–wait for it–the Battle of New Orleans). Now I just have to think of something presentable before they go anywhere near my editor’s inbox…

Over to you–what makes a title good or bad? What are some of your favorites and least favorites?

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Elena Greene
10 years ago

LOL! I’m Elena and I have trouble with book titles, too.

If it’s any comfort, I like all the titles you ended up with, especially The Sergeant’s Lady. And your working titles are a hoot!

I like titles that are distinctive enough to stand out. Perhaps I’m missing the marketing appeal of some titles that are much used, like all the variations of The Perfect Bride/An Ideal Wife, etc…

That’s why I have put characters’ names in my titles, i.e. Saving Lord Verwood, Lady Dearing’s Masquerade. Although Kensington did in one year put out Lord Langdon’s Kiss (my debut Regency) and Lord Langdon’s Tutor (by Laura Paquet) far too close together. It was a total coincidence that Laura and I came up with the same title for our heroes–we had a little laugh over that.

Diane Gaston
10 years ago

I have given up on creating titles — well, maybe not totally, but mostly. Very few of my suggested titles have made it on to the bookcover and those were ones my friend Julie Halperson made up.

So the last book’s working title was “The Marquess and the Governess” and my editor came up with “Born To Scandal” which I like a lot!!!!

Janet Mullany
10 years ago

Titles are indeed odd, elusive critters. Strangely enough all the titles for my funny Regencies, A Most Lamentable Comedy, Improper Relations, and Mr. Bishop and the Actress, sprang from my head fully formed when I barely knew what the books were about.

I must admit though that I like The One With the Battle of New Orleans. It has a nice succinct ring to it.

10 years ago

I totally liked The Sergeant’s Lady; my husband served 20 years in the Army, so of course I wanted it. I’m glad to find out you have another book coming soon.

Susan in AZ

10 years ago

No comments on titles really other than to say I’m glad I don’t have to think of something that fits genre and still has enough of a hook for readers. I like you Ruby title.

I am also excited to see you have a new novel. I loved your other two. So, off to track this title down!

Susanna Fraser
10 years ago

Elena, I’m with you on much-used titles. It’s hard to keep track of whether I’ve read any given Duke/Earl/Lord of Sin/Wickedness/Danger, you know?

Diane, I’m glad it’s not just me getting sent the title worksheet!

Janet, I really like your funny Regency titles, especially A Most Lamentable Comedy. It has such an unexpected ring to it.

Thanks, Susan in AZ! Just a little over two weeks till the new release.

Dee, it releases 11/5 but I think it’s available for preorder at most of the usual place by now.

Louisa Cornell
10 years ago

How funny you should post about titles!

I recently placed in a contest and got some great comments from the final judge, an editor. However, she said my title just didn’t do it for her.

I had my latest WIP critiqued on Dear Author one Saturday and received many helpful comments and a number of compliments. HOWEVER, a number of commenters didn’t like the title.

0 for 2 !!

So far our of four books (Three complete and one almost complete) only one has a title everyone raves about and that is the one book for which someone else thought up the title.

You are NOT alone! And I can’t wait to read your latest! LOVED The Sergeant’s Lady!

10 years ago

I am not a marketing expert, but as a reader I think “Far Above Rubies” is a wonderful title for your novella!

10 years ago

My working titles don’t survive me. But when I really get down to thinking about them, I think I do a good job. We’ll see what happens when I sell.

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