Sunday, 30 September 2012

Title Horror: Ruth Symes

Coming up with a title:

Some authors don't write a word until they’ve thought up a title for their work, whilst others spend weeks chewing their pen’s end and pulling tufts of hair out trying to come up with just the right one, only to have their publisher announce that they've thought of something much better.

My first children’s novel to be published (back in 1997) was a gritty urban school based story with an extremely elusive title. Whatever I suggested my publishers, Puffin, didn't like. At one point there was a class of thirty or so 10 year olds being read the manuscript and trying to come up with something suitable but my publisher didn't like any of those either.

The Master of SecretsFinally my then editor, the lovely Lucy Ogden, told me they'd decided my book would be called 'The Master of Secrets' and later I found there was also going to be a picture of my anti-hero, Gabriel Harp, on the cover rather than the story’s real hero, Raj.

Much as I loved working with Lucy I found the publisher’s title to be confusing for readers who assumed, quite naturally, that they were going to be reading a fantasy novel.

Do titles make a difference to book sales?

Yup: When 'Dancing Harriet' was about to be published by Chicken House my editor told me the feedback from Scholastic in the USA was that they would prefer it to be Harriet Dancing.
Dancing Harriet'Of course it's up to you... but the potential for thousands of copies...' she murmured.
Harriet Dancing the book became.

'Chip's Dad' was originally ‘Colin's Dad’ until the publisher asked for it to be changed (I really should have realised it was going to be aimed at the US - which is the only place it sells and asked for a larger royalty than the pittance the educational publisher - who seem to have now gone bankrupt - thought was fair).

Little Rex‘Little Rex’ started off as a crocodile with another name not just a title but a whole species change (I think – although crocs and dinosaurs must be related....) Then my publishers in the USA asked for the title to be Little Rex, Big Brother which was a brilliant idea because now I could have Little Rex and the Big Roar, Little Rex and the Big Mud Monster, Little Rex and the Big Egg even Little Rex's Big Day....

Adult BooksAnd finally my 2010 memoir written under the pseudonym of Megan Rix was originally 'The Puppy Mum' (my title) then ‘Puppies from Heaven’ (my agent’s title) before becoming ‘The Puppy that Came for Christmas’ (publisher’s choice). I liked this one – although with it’s pink cover the book does very often get mistaken for a children’s book rather than an adult one.

What title horror stories / experiences have you had?

Poster for ScareFEST 3And speaking of HORROR I wanted to let you know that I am going to be onstage around a cauldron talking about my Bella Donna books at SCAREFEST 3 on Saturday the 6th October at The Civic, Crosby from 1pm. Please come along if you can. It should be WILD. Tommy Donbavand, the writer of Scream Street, is hosting an interactive game show. There’s a budding author's workshop from 10-30-12, an exclusive staging of the 'Spook's Apprentice' and the 'Doom Rider' show from 4-5.30, and a 'Spook-Tacular Extra-GORE-Vanza' in the evening.

More info from the wonderful Tony Higginson at

PS Have just spent all weekend re-vamping my websites so if you have time to click by it’d be nice to see you at or


Joe said...

My agent is happy with all of the titles I've come up with so far, so that's good enough for me. The one she liked best was for the novel she advised me to put on the back burner 'until you're established' (long story). Oh the irony!

But yes, titles do matter. They need to be snappy, attention grabbing and memorable. And by gum, they are difficult to come up with...

Penny Dolan said...

The main thing, as I tell children in schools, is to get the thing done. Just give it a name, a working title.

The final title can be decided - and altered - afterwards. Besides, one needs to be(politely) aware that the publishers version may not actually be the best or any better than your idea. The name in my most recent novel was made into initials which a) gave away part of the plot and b) confused anyone searching for the book online and c) may have suggested a kind of story that the book definitely wasn't. But, in the end, the publishers were the ones who had bought the m/s so had, with a shrug, to agree.

As Ruth suggests, the wording of a title can easily mislead. Well done with all your books so far, Ruth, and good luck with your Scarefest!

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

I agree that titles are so important but it is difficult to know what will work well and what will not. I can spend many hours deliberating over them and even when I have settled on one I'm still not sure... sigh... Great post!

Linda Strachan said...

Great post!

Titles are so important and having a title suggested by a publisher that you are not happy with with is horrible. It only happened to me once and I hate it.
But then coming up with a good, snappy title that jumps out and accurately pitches the story to a potential reader is really difficult.

BooKa Uhu said...

I must admit that as a reader I never really bother with the titles that much. I'm more interested in the blurb and, I hate to say it, the front cover. Sometimes I don't even get why the books was named a certain way, even after reading it.

Incidentally, does anyone know why some books get renamed when made into a film? I'm thinking of 'Before I Die' and 'Now is Good' at the moment but I'd like to know - does the different format change how people will see the content? Even if the content itself doesn't change?

Sue Purkiss said...

Bookahu's comment is interesting. I don't take much notice of book titles either - I rarely remember them. And as a writer, I find them hard. We give them so much thought... I wonder if the average reader doesn't pay them much attention? Be interesting to find out - then maybe we could all stop agonising over them!

Paeony Lewis said...

Interesting, Ruth. I remember a bookseller commenting that they were sent a list of new books each month by Head Office and they only had the title (and author's name) to intrigue them - so the title was influential and needed to grab the bookseller's attention.

By the way, with my ereader I'm always forgetting the title of the book (and author) because I only see it once at the beginning.