Sunday, July 15, 2012

Titles

I remember reading an interview with Michael Stipe,the lung bustingly voiced and enigmatic lyric scribbling frontman ('I'll be pounce pony/Phoney Maroney/Pony before the cart' - yes of course you will Michael) of REM a few years back. At the time of the interview he and the rest of the band hadn't actually settled on a title for their upcoming album, and he joked he would be calling Bono for advice later on.

REM had a bit of a track record of finding it difficult to decide upon album titles. Back in the early 90's, they were agonising over the name of their album right up until the very last minute. Their previous two albums were entitled 'Document' and 'Green', so perhaps they felt like they needed to make more of an effort this time. But they were struggling. Until Mike Mills, melodic bass man extraordinnaire, said 'looks like we're out of time.'

The rest is history. For the 'Out of Time' album happened to feature this little number:



There is definite consolation to be had from learning that such a prolific, talented bunch of artists (well, in my opinion anyway: on a rock music forum I remember someone telling me that they were 'an overrated bunch of c***s') struggle with something that afflicts most writers.

Now, there's a school of thought that says you shouldn't get cut up or dwell on deciding on a title for your book. Someone told me that the one you came up with, either alone or with your agent, could get changed by the publisher anyway. But to me, just as your thumbnail synopsis has to ensnare your publisher, so does your novel title. Publishers want to take on something that is as near as possible to 'readiness' to be published: which is why agents do so much editing these days. This potentially applies to titles as well.

OK let me put it this way: which novel sounds more interesting to you? A novel called FALLING OUT OF REACH or a novel called AFTER SHE LEFT US?

If you picked the latter...well you're wrong. Come on, that title is rubbish! But it was all I could come up with for a long time. Yes, that's right it was the working title for my novel. How I cringe at the thought. But the two titles are for the same novel. I managed to come up with FALLING OUT OF REACH mere days before I subbed it to my agent.

Unfortuately, I can't share with you how and why the novel is called this, but suffice to say my agent would've been completely unimpressed with its original title. So yes, titles do matter. They're the first thing your reader will see as they're browsing the book shelf: even before the all important book cover. Maybe once you're an established bestseller you can give your novel any old crappy title, but would you really want to do that?

Even REM, global megastars that they were for the last two decades of their careers, made the effort to come up with the bonkers title of 'Collapse Into Now' for their last album.



5 comments:

  1. Actually - I did think Falling out of Reach was a better title, even though they say titles should be short and snappy. But FooR is memorable and that's important too. (I love REM)

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  2. Well, for my WIP I've managed a shorter title. My personal favourite title was for my second novel, which my agent has told me to put on ice. Ah well. Glad to see a REM fan commenting on my blog! :-)

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  3. Interesting post on titling! I get a lot of fun out of inventing titles, but it's true that sometimes the inspiration for a good one doesn't come. The novel I'm editing now in preparation for another round of query letters was originally called, 'Blind Passion.' It was a highly misleading name and rather cliched sounding, too. Then, after submitting it to a contest and not being chosen, I decided it needed to be spiffed up and suddenly I had the real title: 'The Art of Dying.' I hope that if a publisher ever picks it up, that title will stay, because I'm very fond of it.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. I definitely agree that titles really matter!

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  4. Well, I prefer 'The Art of Dying' too. Sounds like it could be the evil twin of 'The Art of Fielding'! Or maybe not. Good luck with it :-)

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  5. I like REM too! I'm not good at the title thing, but all my favourite YA's this year have been short and snappy titles. Although I do like the title for "The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight"

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