Saturday, 10 December 2016

Ways to Find a Title by Jess Butterworth

My first novel, a middle grade adventure, started out as Fire Walker. I thought the title was punchy, enticing and reflected a theme in the story. My workshop tutors and peers liked it, as did everyone else I told about it. But then my agent, Sallyanne Sweeney, pitched the novel to editors and received feedback that the title made it sound like a fantasy, which it wasn’t.

So I went back to my notebook and brainstormed new ideas. I decided on Meet Me at the Vulture Tree. Sallyanne tested it on a few people and the response this time was that it sounded too grown up, like a book for adults and not for middle grade.

I felt unsure of where to go from there, so Sallyanne helped me pull lines from the story that could be potential titles. For one draft, the book was called How to be a Snow Lion. By the next draft it became When the Flames Roared, then Mapping the Stars, before On the Roof of the World.

It quickly felt like I had a different title every few days and I didn’t know how to choose between them. I sent Sallyanne a list of my favourites and she suggested adding a verb in front of On the Roof of the World. My main character opens the story running through fields on the Tibetan plateau, and Running on the Roof of the World suddenly felt like the perfect fit. It seemed as if it had always existed, fully formed and just waiting to be discovered.  
I’ve just finished my second book and am now searching for its title too. For anyone else also going through this process, these suggestions are helping me:

1.     Unless you know it’s perfect, try not to grow too attached to a title as the chances are it will change.  

2.     Wander around libraries and bookshops to get a feel for the titles that are out there. What hooks you? What doesn’t?

3.     Are there any lines/words/phrases from the story itself that would make a good title?

4.     What are the themes of the book? Are there any key words from them that could be incorporated into the title?

5.     Are there geographical landmarks, like mountains or deserts, that could be suggested by the title?

6.     Could it be a character? Or an antagonist’s trait?  

7.     Does your title reflect the genre of the book?

8.     Will it appeal to your intended readership?

Happy title hunting!  

Jess Butterworth


Lynne Benton said...

Excellent post, Jess! I find that titles either come to me immediately (though that's quite rare!) or take forever as I make lists and lists of possible ideas. I love your suggestion that the right one is waiting in the ether to be found - must remember that next time!

Susan Price said...

I've always thought it was toss-up whether endings or titles were the bigger b**ch. Well done on finding yours, Jess.

Joan Lennon said...

That's a really useful list, Jess - thanks - and your eventual title is fabulous!

Jess Butterworth said...

Thanks, Lynne! It's reassuring to hear that they can sometimes come to you immediately, as I embark on the list stage! Fingers crossed!

Jess Butterworth said...

Thanks, Susan! I agree, endings can be tricky too.

Jess Butterworth said...

Thanks, Joan!

Rowena House said...

Great tips, Jess. And your title sings! I read entire anthologies of WW1 poetry to try to find a new one on advice from my editor, then stumbled across the latest (hopefully final) title in a book I was reading for an entirely different story.