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A working title by any other name...
(First seen in the Romance Writers of Australia magazine, Hearts Talk)
I cannot begin a new book without three things: hero name, heroine name and working title.
As I scoot through the story the hero and heroine names may well change as I get to know them. I mean a man named Charles would have a fairly different take on life and love than a guy called Rocco. Right?
But once my working title is in place it’s not negotiable. My whole story hinges not only upon the story within those two or three well-chosen words but upon the very mood it evokes. My working title is my touchstone. My beginning and my end. It’s sums up the theme, the feel, the tone, the hidden secrets, the very essence of the tale. Heck, I even agonised over what to call this piece before I wrote a single word of it!
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a few choice words. So, figuring it might be healthy to find a modicum of balance on this issue, I asked some of my nearest and dearest writer friends what kind of importance they place on their working titles.
And I have been mightily surprised to find that not everyone in the romance writing world shares my perfectly reasonable view…
we have the 'working title is everything' mode of writing
Some romance authors agree that working titles are a crucial part of the writing process.
Harlequin Romance and Modern Heat author Nicola Marsh says, “For me, choosing a title before I begin the book is essential! I use the title to try to capture the essence of the story: a mood, a concept, a tiny fragment giving insight into the bigger picture. In all honesty, I don't think I could write the story without the title first, which is crazy considering I haven't had a keeper yet!” That said when her ‘Male For Sale’ became ‘Purchased for Pleasure’ she was all too happy with the final choice. “Both have a certain 'ring' about them :),” she said.
Jenna Bayley-Burke, fabbo Modern Heat author agrees. “I always have to have a working title. Can't start until I get it just right in my head.
Allison Rushby was as surprised as I was to find out that “People really work with a title that's just the heroine's name? I could never do that! I always find that having a title I really love and think that fits gives me focus. Something to aim towards. I could never write with just a name as a title, or a 'working title' that would just 'do'. I at least need a 'proper' working title, that I think is the perfect fit (and will generally be up for discussion with my editor later on!).”
Bestselling Harlequin Romance author Liz Fielding used ‘The Journey Home’ as a working title for her recent Harlequin Romance, ‘Reunited: Marriage in a Million’. “It completely encompassed everything that I felt about my heroine’s story and kept me focussed on the heart of the book. That, for me, is the purpose of a working title.”
Harlequin Romance author Jennie Adams makes a valid point I would not dared have said aloud; that having such avid dependence on a working title can be as much of a hindrance as a help.
Her biggest struggle naming a draft book so far? “My March 08 release which I think I renamed about five times before settling on the working title of 'Corporate Millionaire, Country Girl'. I wasn't happy with that working title, either, really, and maybe this book was just a tough one all 'round to label, because I ended up tossing around a lot of title ideas later, too, until my editor and senior editor finally came up with 'To Love And To Cherish' which I adore, and it really, really suits the book. I wish I'd have thought of it when I started the draft. Maybe it would have made the book easier to write.”
And Allison Rushby once have a story in progress she had titled ‘Possums in the Sunshine’. She says, “It became... nothing. It is, to this day, too hideous to publish! Too hideous to even give a proper title to!”
Perhaps Jennie has a fair point after all. Hmmm… Must investigate further.
then there's the 'working title schmorking title' school of thought
Others again find coming up with a title all too hard. Or – gasp! – irrelevant to writing a good book. Shocked and dismayed by this rejection of all things I hold sacred I questioned them endlessly about how this could be.
Our Paula Roe who now writes for Silhouette Desire works along these crazy lines: “Most titles I think of on the fly - they're just something to put in the header so the editor can refer to it as something other than "book title" <vbg>.”
Bestselling and beloved Harlequin Presents author Anne McAllister says, “After 60 books I have given up trying to come up with titles. I just use the hero's name.”
Our own beloved Prez, Berkeley author Anne Gracie begins the same way, “I rarely start off with a title in mind -- I usually name them after the characters, so my computer files are called "Sebastian" and "Gabe and Callie".
Aussie Medicals author Fiona Lowe actually detests the process I love so very much. “Titles send me into a blind panic,” she says, “and make me think I am the most unimaginative person every put on the earth. It takes me forever to think of one. Before I was published I always gave my books well thought out titles. Then I discovered they discarded your gorgeous title that summed it all up eg ‘Labour of Love’ and gave it something like 'The French Doctor's Midwife Bride’.
Actually Fiona has made a great point there too! Even after all the angst of coming up with a working title, when you do sell a book there is a verrrry good chance you won’t get to keep your title anyway.
Making the best of both worlds the fabulous and entirely clever RITA and RuBY winning Barbara Hannay says, “Even though I call my document names like Nell and Jacob, I usually try to think of a title as well e.g ‘The Cattleman's Baby Surprise’. This way, at least, I can make sure I have hooks. Every so often I forget to do this and I end up with a non-hooky book that is hard to market.”
success! of sorts...
Liz Fielding says, “I try to go with the “it does what it says on the tin” titles, although when I used ‘The Best Man & the Bridesmaid’ it never occurred to me that it would end up on the book. I couldn’t believe no one else had used it.”
Liz has also put her foot down when it came to title changes. “I resisted, with all the breath in my body, ‘The Family He Deserved’, a title so bad that it deserved to be taken out and shot. It was changed to ‘A Family of His Own’ and yes, it was worth it.” As a side note ‘A Family of His Own’ went onto win the Romantic Novelists' Association "Romance Prize". Did the title help? I guess we’ll never know…
Jenna Bayley-Burke had a different experience. “’Driven to Distraction’ had to become ‘Drive Me Crazy’. Someone else snagged ‘Driven to Distraction’ before I had the contract!” Ooooh, so close to the prize!
Anne McAllister said, “I had a Presents I called ‘Finn’s Twins’ because the hero was stuck with six year old twin girls by his irresponsible sister. Strictly a working title. And what did editorial call it? ‘Finn’s Twins!’ (Their addition was the exclamation mark).”
Though another time when Anne did fight to keep a working title the results were a little different. She fought for ’Gibson’s Girl’. She says, “It was worth it to me because the title they wanted was dire. But the sales were mediocre, so my title obviously didn't sell the book. Still I am happier with it than the other option.”
Newbie Harlequin Romance author Donna Alward says, “I am so new I don’t tend to fight for anything! LOL. I think my mantra is “just keep selling”."
Anne Gracie found a way of keeping her chosen titles, lucky duck! “With my Berkley single titles, I named the first book ‘The Perfect Rake’ and my ed liked it and it stayed. She also wanted a series, and for every book to have "perfect" in the title. They were all my titles, though, except for the last one. I can't recall what I originally chose, but she didn't like it and asked me to come up with something more romantic-sounding. I came up with ‘The Perfect Kiss’ and she was happy.”
Sigh… If only it was always so simple.
This girl usually spends a fair amount of time, which she’ll never get back, muttering under her breath about how perfect her working title really was and that she imagined readers the world over going nuts for the book on the working title alone as let’s face it she is the best title comer-upper-wither on the planet ;).
Liz Fielding has her fiftieth book out this year and still finds it hard to let go. “The trick is not to get so attached to it that when marketing choose something completely different it doesn’t break your heart. I don’t think I’ve ever got over a book that was, always will be in my heart, called ‘Sacrifice of the Heart’ was renamed ‘The Three Year Itch’, a title that was wrong in so many ways that I still can’t bear to think about it.”
While Donna Alward was so excited to sell her first book, changing her working title was the last of her worries! “’Hired By The Cowboy’ was initially ‘Wedding at Windover’ and I loved, loved, loved that title, though I expected it would get changed. And honestly I was happy enough to sell that I didn’t care much what they called it! And I trust editorial know what they’re doing!”
And as our Paula said: “For some, titles can be a major sticking point. But it's important to remember that just like covers, it's all about selling the book.”
so kids, the moral of the story is...
If the working title gives you something solid on which to hang the spine of your story, hang on tight as you write.
But when it comes to the crunch this is big business. Getting people to read the story you love is about more than writing a good book. It’s about doing whatever it takes to get them to choose your novel up from amongst the masses bombarding them the moment they step into a bookstore. And if ‘The Magnate’s Indecent Proposal’ translates in title speak to, ‘Pick me!’ Pick me!’ then learn to love a hook!
I’ve never been able to keep a working title though I did once come up with the final title in a brainstorm with my editor post sale. ‘The Billionaire Bachelor’ became ‘How to Marry a Billionaire’. Close right? But Harlequin Romance is a heroine driven series therefore the title had to allude to the heroine. See, clever.
Though I must add as an indulgent note, that ‘How to Marry a Billionaire’ has been my best selling book to date. I’d like to think the title has something to do with it ;).
Ring a Ding Ding
The Beautiful Stranger
The Voyager and the Mermaid
The Sweetest Thing
The Next Best Thing
Sunsets Over Sorrento
Come Fly With Me
Wanted: Outback Wife
Something About Her
Loving Mr Irresistible
Love, Italian Style
The Billionaire Bachelor
Grounds for Marriage
Wishin' & Hopin'
All articles copyright © Ally Blake, not to be reproduced without permission.