07 Sep 2006
Ever wonder how a title gets on an author’s book?
My editors, over the years, have always had a good laugh with me because it’s not a problem to write a book. But ask me to give it a great title, and I fall flat on my face! Usually.
A great title does so many things. First, it captures the ESSENCE of the book. Secondly, it snags (we hope) a passing reader’s interest as she walks up and down the book shelf aisles of a bookstore. Thirdly, it must EXCITE the reader (not to mention, the author, too).
Since I’m so bad at titles, my editor can do one of several things. They go to editorial meetings and during it, my editor may give the gist of my book and ask all these creative editors to throw some titles up to her–and she writes them down. Or, my editor may go door-to-door with other editors telling them she needs a title for my book. Lastly,the editor may not consult anyone, but sit there and create a list of titles herself. In the end, whatever titles and however they got created and by whom, eventually are sent to me in either an email or a phone call or both.
I always get a choice of several–sometimes six or seven title ideas. I choose the one that feels best to me–it resonates in my heart–and I also try to choose one that best identifies with the gestalt of the book.
Let me give you two examples here. First, my December , 2006 novel for HQN, BEYOND THE LIMIT, was not called that at first. All authors have what is known as a ‘working title’ on a book they’re writing. In my case, I just called this book, “Pete’s Book.” This book is about Morgan and Laura’s second son, Pete Trayhern. And since I’m so lousy at titles, I just called it “Pete’s book,” for lack of a better one! By the time the book is finished and I send it to my editor, she reads it. And my editor knows how bad I am at titles, so she’s looking and scanning the gestalt of the book for a better title than I came up with! My editor called me one morning and told me she thought she had the perfect title for Pete’s book. I said, “Oh, good!” with relief in my voice.
My editor suggested BEYOND THE LIMIT and explained that the whole book is about two people unwillingly falling in love in a dangerous environment of Afghanistan. Further, their jobs, both as engineers on a construction project forbade any kind of personal relationship or romantic entanglements. Both the hero, Major Pete Trayhern, a heroic US Marine and head of the coal fired electric power plant as the manager, and Cali Rowland, the head of the construction consortium to build it, cannot fall in love with one another. But they do….and they fight it tooth, hammer and nail….literally and figuratively. And so, they go ‘beyond the limit’ of the rules of engagement at a construction site and fall helplessly in love with one another…but of course, neither will admit it to the other or even to themselves….until something tragic and shocking occurs. Then, all bets are off. And we watch both the hero and heroine go ‘beyond the limits’ of their own, personal reality, of their being in uncharted territory with themselves and one another.
It was the perfect title! And I loved it. And I raved enthusiastically about this title and profusely thanked my brilliant editor for her insight and understanding of the book. Dodged the bullet on that one! haha. I was relieved because titles, usually, are just such a pickle for me. I’m too close to my work, to my book, to see the core of it and come up with some catchy, zingy title.
Let me tell you about UNFORGIVEN and how it got its title. The hero loses his family. And he wants revenge. And on a larger, more symbolic level, there is what is known as the Emerald Key. It is a necklace, fashioned by hand, by the Incas thousands of years earlier. Each golf-ball size emerald sphere has a word inscribed upon it. And the first one that is found has written on it: Forgiveness. And so, the first book is about two people, the hero and heroine, who have both tragically lost everything they loved. And each is UNFORGIVEN. Toward their nemesis, as well as to themselves. And so, the greater layer of this book is about what forgiveness is about and how it can free us in the long term. It was easy to come up with a title on this one! And when I suggested to my editor, she agreed. And so, this was one of the few times that I named one of my books!