I: What’s in a book cover? Book Titles

now all we need is a title
A book about titles

I love journals.  No, not those academic-type “journals” that I have to refer to weekly for academic-type research (although I’ve come up with several incredible fiction ideas from reading journals – but I digress).

I’m talking about those journals that you write in.  I’m talking about those journals that have covers but no titles.  Then, as I considered telling you about all those journals I have in my office right now, and I looked at the book proof winking at me from my computer screen, it occurred to me that the issue of book titles was actually on the top of my mind. Book covers have titles written on them; journal books do not.  Journal books have no titles because they don’t need them.  Books, on the other hand, do.

How important is a book’s title?  Is a book’s title important to you?

I’m just about finished a proof round for my next book.[1]  But this has been a bit of a different experience for me this time around.  Unlike Ernest Hemmingway who evidently said:

“…I make a list of titles after I’ve finished the story or book – sometimes as many as a hundred.  Then I start eliminating them, sometimes all of them…”[2]

…I am unable to write anything longer than a letter without a title firmly fixed in my mind.  I absolutely must have it in front of me as I move forward, as if I can somehow see the finished product and it’s beckoning me toward it.  And the truth is that I rarely change that title. It may require a bit of a tweak here or there, but those tweaks rarely result in a marked difference.  This rule holds true for me regardless of the genre of the piece of work:  creative non-fiction, business books, or fiction.  It is this latter category into which my upcoming book falls.

So, this upcoming book, whose galley proofs (if you can call them that in these days of electronic proofing) I have before me on the computer screen, has been a bit of a different journey for me in the title area.

This piece of historical fiction required several years of meticulous background research on the 12th century, Roman Catholic mysticism, the Benedictine Order and ancient music.  And all through that work the book had a title – a title I liked.  It was called The Woman in the Shadow and it represented for me what the book was about.  Enter the editor.

The editor liked the story, the characterization, the theme, even the literariness of the writing (not the hallmark of most of my writing).  The editor did not, however, like the title.  The editor said, “As it stands, the title doesn’t tell much about the content of the book.”  Hmm, I thought.  Maybe the editor is right.  This got me thinking about book titles in general.

For example, did you know that Peter Benchley had a number of titles for his now-famous book before he settled on a final one?  Great White, Shark, The Jaws of Death and A Silence on the Water to name a few.[3]  Do you know the final title?  Jaws, of course.  Would a different title have  made a difference?

What difference would it have made if Steig Larsson had called his first book The Swedish Girl, instead of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?  Doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?  So, it seems that in these days of online book-buying at the very least, the title of a book does make a difference.  Titles do matter, so what was I to do with this title I was so attached to?

Before the second editorial review I thrashed it out with my trusty reader – the person who has suffered through every single book manuscript for every type of book I’ve written over the years.  My long-suffering husband.  Genius that he is – and with a more objective view of the story than the author who has lived with her characters for several years – he suggested the new one, and I went with it.

The book has a new title that the editor and I both love and that will be proudly displayed on the fabulous cover – if we can just come to an agreement on the book cover design…


[1] A proof round is the step in book production (after the editor has had a go at the manuscript, after you’ve rewritten, after the designers’ of the book’s interior has laid it out) when you are presented with the book as it will look laid out and printed and you have to do a final edit, checking for last minute issues.  The first proof round is usually on the house.  If as the author you want to make further changes, a publisher will usually charge you a fee – you have to let it go sooner or later!

[2] Quoted in André Bernard’s little book Now All We Need is a Title (Norton Publishing, 1994).

[3] Bernard.

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One thought on “I: What’s in a book cover? Book Titles

  1. Pingback: What’s in a book cover? (Part 2): The Whole Damn Thing! « Backstory…

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