The agony and the ecstasy of choosing a book title

I think I may have sprouted a few grey hairs.

My editor had to hand in my final book title today. Our past two working titles had been thrown out, and a sudden deadline gave us only three days to come up with a great title.

You would think that it would be fun coming up with a book title. Or maybe you have more sense than me, and realize that distilling a book’s essence into a few carefully chosen words is not exactly a walk in the park.

I pictured myself being struck by inspiration whilst relaxing over a picnic in Prospect Park. Instead, my brain melted in New York’s tropical heat-wave and I drove myself slightly insane trying to dredge up an idea.

On Friday I made lists of titles as the AC buzzed next to my ear. Too vague, too passive, too literal. I threw them in the bin and started again.

I formed towers of non-fiction books around my desk for inspiration. Look Me in the Eye, The Glass Castle, How To Be A Woman, Me Talk Pretty One Day…

book titlesI liked strange titles, titles that surprised me in some way, titles that made me laugh. I left the house, attempted to go for a swim (every pool in Brooklyn required a 3 block sweaty wait and the promise of Lycra-clad hoards) and came home hotter and more disgruntled.

I looked at my tower of books again.

One word titles started to stand out. Some of them were too vague or too grand. But others were bold and memorable and perfectly concise.

LIT, MIDDLESEX, WILD, QUIET…

They stuck in my mind and followed me around all weekend. I thought about them as I danced to a funk concert, as I drove north of the city and as I watched Jeremy coaching little league.

My editor and I exchanged title ideas whenever we thought of something that we didn’t hate. Emails were shot back and forth and, finally, this morning, hours before the deadline, we decided on a title. At least, we think we did. It still needs to go through the hurdle of our publisher’s approval.

While I wait, I’m keen to hear what you think….

What makes a great book title? Do you love or hate one-word titles?

2 thoughts on “The agony and the ecstasy of choosing a book title

  1. Oh wow Katherine this is so funny and so amazing – I have been going through the same thing! I TOTALLY sympathize! I just put my civil war novel ‘Best of Friends’ up on Amazon Kindle, only to find there are pages of books with the same title or subtitle…. You have absolutely distilled the essence of this agonizing process!

    I’ve been trying out this and that one too: how much should it try to convey, how unusual should it be in order to be memorable vs weird; how much I dislike other people’s suggestions who don’t get it and haven’t even read the book… how impossible and contorted or precious or vague each new idea seems by turns! All they have in common is that each is more hopeless than the last. And all the obvious titles are already taken.
    Bless you dear girl for hymning my experience yet again! Good luck with your choice, looking forward to hearing it!

  2. Alison – how frustrating that Best of Friend has been nicked already. Still, I’m very glad to hear that I’m not the only writer who is losing my mind over a title. Good luck and I’m excited to hear what title you decide on!

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