Background artiste from 'Better than Stars'

Monday, 24 October 2011

'The Vampire Angel Syndrome' - on the naming of books

I made that up. Just to catch your eye. Another one I like is 'The Skin is Sweet but the Flesh is Bitter.' I overheard someone say it once - they were describing the experience of eating a kumquat - and I've always known exactly the kind of story that would go with it, if it were the title of a book.

How important is the title of your novel? Very, very important, once it's published. I imagine the reasons are self-evident, and because of that everyone wants a say: editors, marketers, sales reps ... So is it worth agonising over the title of your unpublished MS, given that it's almost bound to be changed if you get a deal?

I think yes. After all, it has to do the same job on your behalf in the slushpile, as the final title will on the bookshop shelf: say to someone who might otherwise pass it over: "Pick me up! Me! Me! You know you want to."

My titles could be improved. The second one, Better than Stars or Water, has been in place since the book was conceived. It's a line from the poem which inspired the story, and as such I'm rather fond of it and like the reference it makes. It's performed quite well getting the novel a first audience, but I doubt it would survive the critical eyes of a marketing team. It's too long. The giveaway is that even I tend not to use the full title. I shorten it to "Better that Stars," or worse still "The Venice book."

The titles for my first novel have been pretty dire. I never use them when talking about it. I've had plenty of better ideas. They must have been good, because I check them online, and find they're already out there attached to published books.

There wasn't much left, as you can see from this selection of working titles:

Peregrin Zefyr and the Alloid Invasion (sounds like a West Country book about World War II)
Peregrin Zefyr and the Ratsnatcher (sounds like something from the Victorian slums) 
Peregrin Zefyr and the  Cosmic Ratsnatcher (too cumbersome)
Peregrin Zefyr and the Timesnatcher
Peregrin Zefyr and the Timehiker

... getting there, but you must be able to see the theme that's holding us back. Peregrin Zefyr (usually shortened to Zeff) is a central character, but it's a mouthful. Eoin Colfer can get away with Artemis Fowl, but, well, he's Eoin Colfer ... and you've got to worry when people keep spelling it wrong.

I finally sent the sample out under the shortened title Timehiker, and got a request for the full MS. And - here's the fortuitous bit - it was referred to in error by the agent as TimehikerS.

Timehikers. Brilliant. I think I'll go with that ... for the time being at least.


Peter said...

I'm terrible with titles as well. My current novel's been sitting under the manuscript title of "Hole story" just because I needed something to call it and I couldn't be bothered to expend my usual flailing efforts on finding something passable.

I do like the "Peregrin Zefyr and the..." format. It's a memorable name that has a nice cadence to it and people associate "X and the" with good childrens books since Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl engraved it into the world's brain.


Sue Sedgwick said...

Thanks Peter. I think I am going to change the (working) titles tho' - for the time being at least. And that 'working' is the point: the job they're supposed to be doing at the moment is attract someone who will put them on the road to being published. I think the whole 'PZ +' format may be a bit off-putting to anyone who has yet to buy into the idea that the book may be the first of many (all the advice I've had says don't pitch a series - the first book should stand alone)!