As Shakespeare wrote: What’s in a name?
For Juliet, Romeo Montague symbolised her enemy and a forbidden, undesirable relationship but mention Romeo and Juliet and modern readers understand you refer to one of the best-known love stories of all time.
Titles have to earn their keep. They not only catch the browser’s attention but also set up reader expectations about content. Effective titles should also provide a good idea of the type of writing. Given that the title is often the first contact potential readers have with your work, it is important to get it right.
When my son was born, we felt the weight of naming him and the need to get it just right. Nurses kept asking us if we had named ‘the baby’ yet and we shook our heads. After three days and several attempts, we were finally able to answer Yes. His name felt right.
Authors are like parents with a newborn, crooning over their creation and in love with their ‘baby’. And like parents, we have the difficult task of naming our book baby. Titles are generally chosen by publishers, which can be a good thing. Consider how different our perceptions of To Kill a Mockingbird could be if Harper Lee had published it under the earlier working title of Atticus or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby had emerged as Trimalchio in West Egg. While the first might have worked I suspect the only egg might have been on FSF’s face!
As authors, we are so involved in creating our stories that it can be almost impossible to step back, assess our writing and encapsulate it within a brief phrase. Publishers have marketing staff who understand what resonates with readers and the ability to consider our book baby objectively.
Suggestions for titling a work include listing key themes and characters and playing around with combinations of these. This site offers twenty tips for creating a title: http://writing.umn.edu/sws/assets/pdf/quicktips/titles.pdf
My next release began life as a work-in-progress called "Merger in Melbourne". I liked the alliterative effect but was told to aim for a more 'high concept' title so renamed it "Besting the CEO". This made use of the gerund (-ing form of the verb) and the hero’s occupation. Then my publisher, Escape Publishing, came up with "Betting on the Boss". (same pattern but with alliteration added!) My editor suggested a change after first round edits and finally we have ENGAGING THE ENEMY!
It's clever on so many levels, not least of which is that it picks up on modern Romeo and Juliet elements! And that’s how my next release gained its moniker.
Hope you enjoy it.
Engaging the Enemy – available 1 August 2014.