June 29, 2010


A couple of interesting posts about titles this month (links below) reminded me how important it is to choose the right title for your book, something I learned the hard way.

Although my query indicated the plot involved a quest, I called my book "The Mermaid's Daughter", not realizing it would lead agents to think the story was about mermaids and nothing else. In fact, one agent rejected me in four minutes: "Sorry, I already have a mermaid book. Best of luck!"


So what do I call my new and improved version?  Apparently titles that follow the format "The Somebody's Something" are less well-received than others. Sure, there are dozens of examples that contradict this, such as "The Time Traveler's Wife", but as a debut fiction author, I want my work to stand out from the crowd.

For now, the working title is "Zakret", the tree of power my main character seeks. I think it adds a bit of mystique that goes well with the story's adventure.

How about you? How do you decide on your book's title? Ever started with one and changed it?

Dystel & Goderich Literary Management's post: http://dglm.blogspot.com/2010/06/what-to-title-your-book.html
Pimp My Novel's post: http://pimpmynovel.blogspot.com/2010/06/rose-by-any-other-name.html


  1. Titles are truly important, Kathryn. Like you found out, agents can reject you on the basis of the title alone.

    A good title is the hook that will snare an agent's attention.

    Think with the mind of an agent, of a customer. A strange one word title might confuse rather than entice.

    I am writing a historical fantasy set in the 1920's in Vienna. I mulled over : "Vienna is for Vampires," "An Aria for Hitler," and "Death Never Forgets."

    Which one would arouse your curiosity as an agent? I chose "Death Never Forgets."

    The Aria brought to mind "Springtime for Hitler" from the Mel Brooks comedy. Vampires are being overdone, and my book contains more supernatural dangers than just vampires.

    DEATH NEVER FORGETS teases without being too specific.

    I hope this helps, Roland

  2. Titles are tricky. My original book title was The Dead Cats Society. Catchy, but after several revisions, the 'dead cats' were minimized to subplot status and the Guardian Cats prevailed.

    If I might comment on your title, I agree that 'Zekret' might confuse rather than entice. You can always keep a 'working title' and play around with others as you are so inspired. It's such a brutal world out there in agent-land, isn't it?

    Keep on writing!

  3. Mystica: Thanks!

    Roland: One of the reasons I love the blogosphere is the feedback. What I saw as exotic, you kindly pointed out as confusing. Thanks!

    I think you were wise to abandon "An Aria for Hitler", since it does remind one of Mel Brooks. "Death Never Forgets" is much more compelling.

    Rahma: I'm so glad you switched to "Guardian Cats". It's a better fit for your story.

  4. Never underestimate the power of a unique title. Zakret certainly is memorable.

  5. I was instantly intrigued by "Zakret", but then I'm terrible with titles.

    My 1st book started out as "Lurking Within", became "The Dead Don't Bleed", then "I Bleed" and finally "Blood And Thorns". Each title change reflected a huge change in the book. While "Blood and Thorns" is the perfect title, like my book, it is not high concept.

    My 2nd novel is called "Art and Ashes", again an appropriate low-concept title. I'm now in the process of changing it. It's difficult because I think "Art and Ashes" is a good title for a story about a painting and the Holocaust. It was meant as an homage to Langer's AMAZING compilation "Art from the Ashes: A Holocaust Anthology".

  6. PS: May I borrow "Whatchamacallit?"

  7. Stephanie: Yes, it's memorable, but I do think Roland and Rahma have a point about confusion. Also, it's a soft "a", and the MG audience I'm writing for might pronounce it with a short "a" which sounds awful! Hmmm, now that I've noted that, maybe I should change what I'm calling the tree of power. ;-)

    VR: I like "Blood and Thorns", but "Art and Ashes" doesn't move me. Would "Ashes to Ashes" work?
    I don't have a claim to the word "whatchamacallit" so of course you're free to use it. ;-)

  8. I was actually thinking about your title last night. I kinda' like The Mermaid's Daughter and I'm wondering if you might have overreacted to that agent's rejection.

    Knowing a wee bit about your story, the girls are descendants of a mermaid and the whole story revolves around them and the consequences of the choice Jurata made.

    I wouldn't be so quick to throw your title out. There are implications that go with the Mermaid's Daughter (it's a very female story) that seem more true to the story than what someone might assume from a book named after the Tree of Life.

    Other possibilities I thought of: The Mermaid's Secret and Daughters of Jarata.

    Just a thought.

  9. See, I think it's highly unfair that a book would be dismissed based on the title alone, since I've read more than one book where the title has been either misleading, or just plain silly. So yes, I'd try and find some way to keep your existing title if that's what best fits your work. Hopefully some other agent will consider it as a whole project, and not just a title on a cover.

  10. Rahma: Actually "The Mermaid's Daughter" was for my first book, not the one you've read. Funny, though, one of my titles for that one IS "The Daughters of Jurata", but since the story will center mostly around the relationship between Nadya and Perun, I doubt it will stick. I've plenty of time to decide.

    Icy: Yes, it's unfair, but that's the nature of the beast. TMD is still in my stable of titles, but I think there's bound to be one that better encapsulates my story.

  11. The agent who rejected you in four minutes because of the title is a loser. *grin* In my (hopefully) future years as an agent, this is the last thing I hope to do (reject based on a title).

    I've got to say, though, that the title does make a difference only in that it can either add a level of professionalism to a query. Some agents will care; others will jump straight to the pages and judge upon those. But titles are an exercise worth spending some time on.

    Good luck - I like the mystique edge to your title! Nicely done.

  12. Weronika: Nice to see you here! "Zakret" was my original title, and I still have a fondness for it, but there's plenty of time to compose and consider others. I'll keep everyone posted. ;-)

  13. Rahma and Icy: I don't know what happened to my earlier responses to your comments. Must be lost in cyberspace!

    Rahma: "The Mermaid's Daughter" is a story you haven't read. The one you're familiar with had a working title of "The Daughters of Jurata" but I switched because even though Nadya is a descendant of Jurata, the story mainly revolves around her encounters/relationship with Perun.

    Icy: Yes, rejection on the basis of a title is annoying, but now I know to avoid this agency. Live and learn.


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