Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why titles are a bitch

I’ve been thinking a lot about book titles lately.

This is probably because I’ve had to come up with a buttload of them in recent weeks, some for books I haven’t even written yet. I think this may be my agent’s attempt to kill me.

Because the truth is that I hate coming up with book titles. I’d honestly rather take a carrot peeler to my forearm and spritz the wounds with grapefruit juice.

In my mind, every book I ever write or consider writing is titled by combining some element of the book’s theme and the word “bitch.” It’s quite simple. The book I sold to Silhouette Bombshell staring a ski patroller was “Snowbitch.” The follow-up starring a heroine competing in the Iditarod was “Sledbitch.”

My most recent projects include “Psychicbitch” (BELIEVE IT OR NOT) and “Dumpbitch” (GETTING DUMPED). I think it startled my agent the first time I accidentally referred to one of my manuscripts this way, but she now shares my habit of forgetting a manuscript’s actual title in favor of the simplified bitch-version.

Unfortunately, my bitch-titles don’t work in the real world.

Fortunately, I’m very lucky to have some excellent tools at my disposal for developing real-world titles. By “tools” I mean friends and family (not that I’m calling you guys tools, but hey – some of you kind of are).

My loved ones have been amazing contributors to the process, sometimes offering terrific ideas and sometimes offering abysmally bad ones that morph into ideas that are actually quite decent.

When my agent asked me recently to conduct a quick poll of friends and family and their feelings about a list of potential titles, I was stunned to have nearly everyone – about 30 people in all – reply within a matter of hours. I was also a little stunned by some of their preferences, which indicate that in addition to the tools, I know a surprising a number of perverts. Apparently several of them feel it’s vital to my writing career that my name someday appear on the cover of a book with the word “booty” in the title.

Another secret weapon in my arsenal of titling strategies is the winestorm. The winestorm is pretty much like a brainstorm except for the obvious distinction of including wine. Lots of it. I have a handful of friends who will gleefully participate in a winestorm regardless of whether they have any notion what the book is about. Or whether they’re literate. Past winestorms have yielded some terrific ideas for book titles, as well as a number of titles that will be useful if I ever decide to enter the adult film industry.

But probably my most treasured resource in the titling warefare is my friend, JJ, a woman known to me as Her Royal Majesty the Title Queen. JJ isn’t a writer. She actually works in the technology field, and to my knowledge, has no aspirations to write a book. But I can give JJ a one-paragraph synopsis of any book and she’ll come back to me with half-a-dozen potential titles that are roughly 1,597-times better than anything I could possibly come up with on my own. When I made the switch from writing women’s action/adventure for Bombshell to writing quirky comedy, I wasn’t certain JJ would still be up to the task. To my delight, she kicks ass at quirky comedy even more than she kicked ass at kickass action/adventure. (And yes, for those of you paying attention, I did in fact name the heroine in GETTING DUMPED for her).

The funny thing is, as much effort as we put into coming up with titles for my books, it’s a fact that publishers will often scrap an author’s title in favor of something they’ve come up with on their own. I know this to be true, which is why I try not to get attached to any of my titles. Even so, it’s crucial for an author to put her best foot forward. No sense giving an editor reason to reject a book based solely on a title that makes her want to beat her forehead with a shoe.

So bottom line, I do my best with titles. And since my best tends to suck, I do my best to absorb the combined wisdom of my friends, family, and all the tools and perverts I know. Isn’t that what writing’s all about?

6 comments :

Minta said...

I miss winestorms. Sigh.

Michelle Wolfson said...

From what I can tell, the poll worked better than the winestorms, though the winestorms are more fun I'm sure.

Laura Fenske said...

Tawna, I updated my blog based on your guilt and shame comment from forever ago. Then I went to your website and saw you are blogging. Hooray! So, I'm now a consistent reader. Adam and I need a Bend fix soon, so I think we'll try to plan a spring trip over the mountains (stay tuned). In a world with kids that could range from "we'll show up this weekend" to the last weekend in spring.

Linda G. said...

Winestorm? Oh, man. *slaps forehead* THAT'S what I've been doing wrong.

I thought it was whinestorm, and I've been annoying my writer buddies with my whimpering and sniffling for help.

Off to find a good Pinot...

Xuxana said...

So my book would be titled 'Devilbitch'. Ha! I love it!

Can I post a link to this post of yours on my blog?

Tawna Fenske said...

Minta, I miss having you be a part of the winestorms! I really think you need to forgo the whole pregnancy/breastfeeding thing next time in favor of supporting my writing career with your drunken behavior.

Michelle, well the titles we polled had to come from somewhere. Trust me, there was wine involved :)

Laura, our door is open anytime! The new dog likes kids, and has only bitten three or four of them (kidding, kidding).

Linda G. I've found it works best to combine wine with the whine. Cheese goes well with either one.

Xuxana I like Devilbitch! Feel free to use it, as well as any links to anything of mine you feel like linking to.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

Tawna