Sunday, 3 February 2013

Naming a book

Thank you all so much for your positive response to the cover and the excerpts! The punctuation in the EW excerpt still needs smoothing out a little, but I'm so glad you enjoyed them. Big round of applause for Mr Mann.  

The more I think about books, the more the process of writing one seems like raising a child. You keep it in the comfort of your own home, nurture and guide it to the best of your ability, and send it out into the world. You also have to give your book a name, which will be today's focus. 

Naming a book is always hard work. The title has to establish what the book is about without being too obvious. It has to be clear, concise and attention-grabbing, and it has to look good on the jacket. Trying to squeeze all of this into one title is no easy task. 

I came up with two different titles for the book before The Bone Season, none of which I particularly liked. The working title was Third Eye Blind, which I abandoned after realising [a] it sounds a bit like a spy film and [b] it's the name of an American alternative rock band. Then it was Flux for a while, named after a substance used in the book – but when I took a peek at Google, I found out there was a sci-fi film called Æon Flux. So Flux was off the cards (and, in retrospect, really didn't suit the book). It was also briefly titled Luna Moth, when I was first trying to develop a story after Aurora, but that didn't quite suit the final, fully recognised manuscript. The title page on the WIP remained empty for a long time. And then, one day, I suddenly just got it.  


Eureka!

I woke up one morning determined to tackle the issue of The Title. I was starting to get myself into a sweat over the darn thing, so I sat there for hours, twiddling my pen, getting more and more annoyed with myself. I went through the manuscript and started to pick out important words that could be used. I also noted down the word season, with reference to a period of change. I'd already found the word bone as part of my research into Victorian slang, and it also featured in the MS as part of the clairvoyant underworld. After toying with my list of possibles for a while, I put bone and season next to each other  and, eureka, I'd done it. THAT was my book's title. It also gave me the perfect name for a very important something that happens in the story: the Bone Season itself. I also see it as Paige's 'season'. Seasons are inevitable; you can't stop them changing. Paige has little choice over her fate in the book, and must do her best to adapt to harsh conditions, just as we have to adapt between summer and winter. Fortunately, Bloomsbury didn't ask me to change the title. 

It's difficult to advise you guys on how to give your book a name, as it ought to suit the book's content. What I'd suggest is playing Title Scrabble with yourself. Go through your WIP and think of the major symbols, themes, characters and occurrences. Write down words that suit the tone. Think of what kind of title you want. Check the titles of books in similar genres and decide whether you want to mimic them or deliberately subvert them. To help you out, I've picked out a selection of successful books and explored how they came to have their titles, and the ways in which those titles link to the stories. 

  • I, Robot (1950) – This is probably my favourite book title. I've been taken with this title since I first saw the film, even more so since I read the original collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov. I like its confessional tone and the assignment of a personal pronoun to a machine, which is appropriate to the various interactions between mechanical men and their human creators. Interestingly, Asimov wanted to name the collection Mind and Iron, but the publishers insisted on naming it after Eando Binder's short story, which had been a great influence on Asimov. My book is now the more famous,' Asimov said, 'but Otto's was there first.' Don't think publishers would get away with doing that nowadays! 

  • Snow Falling on Cedars (1994) – Did this one at school years ago. The cedar tree is an important symbol throughout the book. One hollowed cedar provides a meeting place for two young people of different cultures to come together; cedars are also mentioned sporadically throughout the narrative. The snow refers to a snowstorm that grips the fictional island where it's set during the trial that forms the centrepiece of the book. I've never particularly liked the title, or the book, but it won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Most likely I just hate it because I had to sit there studying it for week after week after week. 

  • A Game of Thrones (1996) – This links the novel clearly to its genre, indicating medieval fantasy or historical fiction. The playful connotations of game and the serious weight of throne work well with the political and sexual intrigue of the narrative. GRRM keeps this up throughout the series; we see dragons, swords and kings as well as thrones. It's also linked to quote from one of the characters: 'When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.' 

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997) Quest title. To me, this title establishes the book as primarily aimed at children, particularly boys, and gives a subtle sense of genre. It gives the name of the main character and the obstacle or issue with which he or she will be dealing, i.e. their quest. This means it falls into a similar category to Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (2005), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), and James and the Giant Peach (1961). HP's title was changed in the USA to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, as it was thought by the publisher that American children wouldn't pick up a book containing the word 'philosopher' in the title. JK Rowling later said she regretted allowing this to happen, but felt she wasn't in a position to change it.  

  • Twilight (2005) – Single-word titles are common in YA, possibly based on the popularity of this book. They may give some sense of the main character, usually a quality, or establish a particular atmosphere. All the Twilight books draw on sky phenomena: a new moon, an eclipse, dawn. The book ends with Bella and Edward observing the twilight over Forks: 'Twilight, again. Another ending. No matter how perfect the day is, it always has to end.' The original title of the book was Forks, named after the town in Washington where Bella meets Edward. Meyer's agent advised her to change it, and they brainstormed ideas. Twilight was on a list of 'words with atmosphere' that Meyer liked. Read more here.    

  • The Hunger Games (2008) – What-does-it-mean. Does what it says on the tin: makes you grab the book to find out what the title means. The Hunger Games is a mysterious, attention-grabbing title that doesn't make sense until you read the blurb, although you can make some reasonable assumptions. Hunger with games indicates sadism; it blurs the lines between pleasure and death, which suits the storyline. As far as I can tell, Suzanne Collins has never explained how she came up with this particular title for her reality TV show, but it was probably to do with the Roman metaphor of panem et circenses, or 'bread and circuses', referring to superficial appeasement.    


  • Wolf Hall (2009) – This one is really interesting. I initially thought it was a setting title, indicating an important place in the story (e.g. The Castle of Otranto and Mansfield Park), but although it's named after the seat of the Seymour family at Wulfhall, none of the action actually takes place there. The title apparently alludes to the phrase Homo homini lupis, meaning 'man is wolf to man', while acknowledging Wulfhall as a place of historical significance.   


  • The Song of Achilles (2012) – This is what I call an inheritance title, i.e. a title that borrows or adapts a phrase from another work. It's taken from the beginning of Homer's Iliad, which translates roughly to 'Sing, goddess, of the wrath of Achilles'. The title suggests classical influence, strengthened by the breastplate on the cover (The Song of Achilles is a retelling of this story). Achilles is a well-known literary figure, so the title is likely to grab the attention of anyone interested in Greek mythology. I also feel it expresses love and admiration, rather like a serenade. This is appropriate to the perspective of the narrator, Patroclus, who falls deeply in love with Achilles and spends much of the novel singing his praises. 



Really hope that's helped a bit, but remember, it's your book  only you can give it the right name. What are your favourite book titles, and why?

24 comments:

  1. Ah I love Gone With the Wind, it's a very nice book title I think, regardless of content!

    I generally love titles that are bits of poems or of famous phrases.

    Great blog post!

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    1. Gone With the Wind is a gorgeous title! And me too, especially if they're very unusual.

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  2. Les Miserables- It's not only an amazing book, but the title also provides insight into the lives of all the characters, as well as the mood of the story that we're about to experience. It shows the state that also results in the many different conflicts and character dynamics that we see presented and developed throughout the course of the story.

    I enjoy all the titles in The Hunger Games series. Each is symbolic of the stage of the story that they find themselves in and the mood of the portion that we're observing, if you will.

    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?- It sums up the atmosphere of the story, as well as the philosophical content that will be dealt with in the story, namely the androids and the sheep. It also parallels the quest of the protagonist to find meaning in the world that he finds himself in, in that it shows a questioning of the norm in the society that we see portrayed in the story.

    That's all I can think of for book titles.

    I'm also a major fan of anime/manga, which, I suppose, kind of count, and quite a few titles effectively deal with either the main characters and their development, the themes that are dealt with throughout the story and how they culminate in the end, and the objects that trigger the action in the story and lead to the philosophical discourse central to the story. I know this is outside of what you asked, but I thought I'd just throw that out there...

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    1. I like all the HG titles, too, although I've only read the first one so I don't know exactly how the other two fit with the storyline. Mockingjay is particularly good, very eye-catching if you don't know what it's about (I'm assuming that one focuses on rebellion, from what I read in the first one about what the mockingjay symbolises). Also agreed on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – I like how it's phrased as a question, very unusual.

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  3. Oh! And I totally agree with what you said for Game of Thrones and for Harry Potter. That's so true!

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    1. Thanks, they're both great titles IMO!

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  4. I'll start by saying that I like the changes to the background of the blog (little late in saying this), as well as that little Scion insignia on the lantern cap.

    Good stuff with the blog today, I'm glad you chose the title you did for your series. "The Bone Season" always feels so chilling and mysterious, good example of a title drawing a reader in.

    All of the Harry Potter books have that "mysterious, drawing in" property about them, but one of my favorite titles has to be "The Silence of the Lambs." I'll also agree with a previous comment, and say that titles that reference poems or phrases are usually pretty good.

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    1. Thank you! My friend Leiana designed the blog header, she's super. Glad you like TBS as a title; I'm so relieved I wasn't asked to change it.

      Agreed with you on The Silence of the Lambs – brilliant, brilliant title. It has a slightly sinister tone, but doesn't give much away about the plot (more about Clarice). And I love the HP titles. My favourites are probably the last three books, particularly the Half-Blood Prince.

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  5. My inner geek had me look up Victorian slang to further decipher the meaning behind your title :) I'm going to be greedy and hope that we get another excerpt soon. Only 196 days to go!

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    1. Always give in to the inner geek. And yes, 193 now!

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  6. Stranger in a Strange Land - I have always loved that title.
    The Road - The title gives us the literal setting for most of the book and the brevity gives me a sense of isolation. Love it.

    When I'm working on novels or short work I use the main characters name as the working title. Plus, I find it keeps me really character focused.

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    1. Just read this article about using your twenties wisely. You seem to be exemplifying this idea.

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    2. I love Stranger in a Strange Land, very clever title. And THE ROAD. Oh, how I loved that book. That's interesting about your WIP titles. Trying to imagine writing the Bone Season WIP under the name 'Paige' now...

      And haha, thank you! HARNESS that brain activity.

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  7. I'm pretty sure suzanne collins mentioned panem et circenses in an interview, as well as in the first book of the series. Panem is the fictional nation where the story takes place. Just thought u might want to know. I am a big hunger games fan, and am excited to see catching fire on the big screen. Am really looking forward to watching the bone season. Is there a chance andy serkis will play one of the rephaim?

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    1. Oh yes, I knew Panem was named after that saying, I just wondered if that's where she got the specific title The Hunger Games from – it sort of paraphrases 'Panem et circenses' without exactly translating it. I'm looking forward to Catching Fire as well. Haven't read the book but looking forward to seeing more Katniss.

      I have no idea if Andy would play anyone, guess we can hope! Won't know for sure until the film goes into pre-production, which could take quite a long time, but fingers crossed we get studio funding.

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  8. They certainly don't compete with those you've listed, which I wholeheartedly agree with, but a few on my shelf that I fancy include: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Grass For His Pillow, The Girl Who Would Speak For The Dead, and The Great Gatsby.

    Gatsby aside, the other three just make me want to read the story because their odd titles with so much intrigue. Regardless of how well a title fits, if there's no intrigue / mystery, then it won't be looked at by readers.

    Gatsby, however, has both, in spades. The title fits so well with the book, about Gatsby's need to be loved, about him needing to be great to woo her (or at least thinking he needs to be) but it has the air of mystery about it as well. Frankly, I hate the original title, Trimalchio In West Egg, but I understand Fitzgerald's motivation; it's just too out there, too complex for my liking.

    Anyway, my tale is done. There runs a mouse; whosoever catches it, may make himself a fur cap out of it.

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    1. I remember reading Grass for his Pillow as a kid and really enjoying it.

      The Great Gatsby is an ingenious title – would have added that to the list if I'd remembered it. I'm sorry to say I've never read it, but I've always been intrigued by it because of that title. I like the alliteration as well as, like you say, the air of mystery. And no, that original title definitely doesn't work as well...

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  9. Happy to know that you're getting published..a little envy though..haha :P
    It's really good and I hope your book sells really well and I'm looking forward to it.
    By the way, can you tell me if UK or US literary agents represents oversea writers..say India..would they?
    It'll be really helpful...

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    1. Thank you, that's very kind of you. And yes, they do represent writers from overseas! My agent (based in the UK) represents many Indian writers. :)

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    2. Can you suggest me anything about writing queries..cause I'm kind of confused as to how to write a good one, I searched through net but they just confuse me.
      Please tell me how much time should I expect in getting an agent cause I'll start sending queries in summer when I'm ready..I'm really freaking out about it, your advice will be precious..thnx

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    3. I did a full blog post on agents and queries here: http://www.samantha-shannon.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/getting-agent.html. That should give you a full explanation of everything, but do ask if you have any more questions!

      Time limits are different for each agent; it depends on how many clients they have, how busy they are, and how many queries they get. They tend to get several queries each day (more after Christmas and other vacations), so you should expect to be waiting between 4-6 weeks for a reply from each agency, if not more. If an agent is immediately grabbed by your work, it may take less time.

      Hope that helps!

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  10. Really interesting post on titles :D
    I must say "The Bone Season" is a fantastic title, and very memorable. It's intriguing, a lá "The Hunger Games", making one check the blurb to see what it actually refers to.

    On the whole "Quest" thing - has JK Rowling sort of monopolised the "FirstName LastName and the QUEST GOES HERE" sort of pattern?
    I mean I'm a huge Potter buff and if I hear a book, like "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" I immediately think - this is sort of based on "Harry Potter and the X Y".
    Is that just me or do many readers (especially Pottermaniacs) think that "FirstName LastName and the QUEST GOES HERE" is like Potter? I mean I'd love to use that sort of pattern for a book I might write some day but I'd be afraid that it would be unnecessarily referred to as being like "Potter".

    In your opinion has JK Rowling unintentionally monopolised that pattern?
    Thanks :D

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  11. Big score with The Hunger Games title, I agree.
    ...Other great titles..
    Grapes of Wrath (Intense)
    I am Legend
    The Time Keeper (Simple but intriguing)
    And Then There Were None (Chilling!)

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  12. Great post, this is something I always struggle with, i tend to keep a list going in my journal. It's really hard to let go of the initial title, even when it's terrible though. I love the way you have broken down the process and used examples.

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