Over the years I have had to accept my many shortcomings. I'm not good at yard work, can't roll my rrrs (you know like Spanish speakers do) and cannot come up with book titles that anyone likes. (The list of my shortcomings is actually longer but I'm summarizing here...)
One of the first things I was told by one of my writing mentors, Masha Hamilton, was not to get to attached to your title. Like most good advice, I brushed it off as something that wouldn't happen to me but as I finished my novel I decided it might be wise heed that advice. It made sense, considering I had changed the title of my book twice myself. I sent my book out into the world with the title Chasing Venus.
In May of 2007, I was thrilled when I got the call from my agent that she wanted to represent me and wasn't upset when the most substantive piece of feedback I got was that she didn't like my title. When she asked how I felt about changing it I said, "sure." (I also gave myself a pat on the back for displaying a surprising lack of ego.)
In December of last year, we sold the book on the new title and for almost eight months I was thinking I had written a novel called Skin and Bones.
August 2008 brought a second round of edits and discussions with my editors about cover art and the relationship between the images and the title. "We think we might need to change the title," they said during a conference call.
"No problem," I said again giving myself another big pat.
Meetings were held, suggestions were made and suddenly I wasn't feeling so good anymore about titles. In fact I was feeling downright queasy. It was one thing to admit I didn't have a knack for titles, it was another to turn naming my book over to other people. I was left with that feeling of not knowing what I wanted but definitely knowing what I didn't like. (Sound like my previous post?) The one thing I can't stand at my job is working on a team with people who shoot down everyone else's' ideas but have none themselves. This was happening to me over my title. My editors and agent would make suggestions and I would wince like they were trying to feed me brussel sprouts. Still, I could not come up with anything.
Suddenly, the title meant everything and I was shocked at how easily I had let it go. By the time I got queasy it already felt too late.
Although the process of changing the title only took about a week, it felt like a year. In a short time, the title was no longer something that helped me shape the story, nor was it the hook my agent found to help me find a publishing home, it was now a beacon that would lure a world of readers to the story.
It took me a while to realize that although the story was and always will be mine, the title was not mine alone. Writing may be solitary but bringing readers to your story is a team sport. (I'm still getting used to this.)
My team settled on The Last Bridge and although it wasn't the first, second or even third title it is the right one for now (notice how I didn't say it was the final one? I'm learning.) I am happy with it and now think of my other titles as nicknames we used as the story matured.
I'd like to say I've learned the art of "titling" through this process but I recently work shopped parts of my second novel to generally positive feedback. One of the main pieces of criticism was...you guessed it...the title.
A moment of slience for my past titles:
Walking the Plank
Skin and Bones