Today’s Ask A Wench answers a recent question from Penney Wilfort:
“I was wondering about Authors' book titles. I see so many books from different Authors with the same titles. I was wondering if this is breaking a copyright law? Like with crochet patterns, knit patterns. they have so many copyright laws. So I was just wondering about the Authors’ books?”
The simple answer is that titles cannot be copyrighted or trademarked, so there is nothing illegal about having the same title. (Though any current writer who entitled her book Gone With the Wind would need a sanity check since that title is so identified with Margaret Mitchell’s classic novel.)
But Penney’s question was a good trigger for all kinds of information about book titles from the Wenches, so read on!
Titles are important. A great title can hook a reader's interest, but if it doesn't represent something about the book, the reader will feel cheated. Sometimes a title comes to me early, but often one doesn't, which is a shame because a good title can even shape the book a bit. A good title comes naturally out of the book, but then will feed back.
One of my good ones is Something Wicked, which came to me early in the book when Lady Elfled is longing to do something wicked for once. One of the bad ones, in my opinion, is Forbidden. I know I had some ideas that were rejected, in part because one word titles were hot right then. Not only didn't Forbidden have much to do with the book, but there were three other books with that title that year!
I think one of the reasons so many titles are similar — or even the same — is that buzz words in the title sell books. So words like "Bride," "Wedding" and so on, will always help the sale of a book.
The other thing is that the title is usually chosen long before a book actually hits the shelves, and sometimes several books with the same or similar titles might be coming out at similar times, but none of the titles are in the system, and by the time the publishers and authors find out about the identical titles, it's too late because the books are printed.
For my first series with Berkley, I named the first book The Perfect Rake and my editor and marketing loved the idea of "perfect" in the title for all the others in the series, so that was pretty easy. I chose all my titles for that series.
For the next series, they wanted to get away from using the same word in each title, and that's when my experience pretty much merged with everyone else's — I put in a bunch of suggestions, but other titles are decided that vaguely fit the story, and which marketing is enthusiastic about. It's usually a combination of "buzz" words, though the impression they leave doesn't necessarily describe the plot.
So. . . The Stolen Princess (She wasn't stolen — she ran away)
His Captive Lady (She wasn't a captive)
To Catch a Bride (He was actually fleeing a bride)
The Accidental Wedding (There was an accident, but the wedding was deliberate)
Bride by Mistake which was pretty close.
Luckily, the titles and covers are usually finalized before I finish writing the stories, so if I can, I'll write in some reference to the title so it almost fits. And while I don't always love the titles, I do have approval. Mostly I shrug and hope marketing know what they're doing. *g*
Marketing has already dreamed up the titles for my next series without even knowing the actual stories. The first one is called The Autumn Bride. Expect to see more seasons and brides in the titles to come.
I do remember one title. It was the second book I had with Berkley. My working title was Jessamyn, which is the name of the heroine. I'm not very creative with my working titles, I'm afraid.
When it came time to Name That Book, I had a number of suggestions. I mean, I had just a whole raft of wonderful titles, every one more beautiful and appealing than the last.
So the conversation goes something like this:
They say, "How about My Lord and Spymaster?"
"Ummm ..." umms I. "There isn't a Lord in it anywhere. It does have a Spymaster, but he plays what might be called a very peripheral role."
"Well ... Marketing really likes this title."
And the rest is history.
Most of my book titles are my own, with only a couple so far decided by the editor and/or editorial committee. Titles evolve in discussion, with suggested titles going back and forth between author and editor and committee. Sometimes they're decided and then changed through the months of book production, so that an ARC title may differ from a final book title. Here's an example -- the title evolution of Lady Macbeth went something like this:
1. The Last Celtic Queen -- my original proposal title. She was exactly that, after all. Following acquisition, my editor reports that editorial committee thinks that's too long and readers won't get it. What else do you have?
2. Lady Macbeth, A Novel - my next suggestion. Editorial committee says, we don't want to mess with "that Scottish play" superstition so we don't want Macbeth on the cover. We'd like something literary and poetic. Whatcha got?
3. Rue of the Sorrows -- a phrase from the book that my editor and editorial committee like a lot. I suggest that the reader won't get it or may even think it's a French setting. This title goes on the ARCs anyway.
4. Editorial committee decides they don't like Rue of the Sorrows, no one gets it, it sounds French, and now they'd like something that's strong and directly to the point. They suggest Lady Macbeth: A Novel.
I gave up whining about book titles long, long ago. Apparently Indigo Moon was the last title any editor ever liked, and it came out of a phrase I misremembered from The Shrew I put names on my computer files that tell me what book is in them: California Girl is called "road trip" in my computer, Merely Magic is "Bewitched." Try finding an old book later with file names like that.
When the Day Arrives and I must title the manuscript, I make suggestions and editorial committees reject them. Editors make suggestions and I gag and am forced to make new suggestions. At some point, I simply give up and concede to whatever doesn't have a million similar titles already on the market and might vaguely resemble the book. But right now, I wish I could invent another "marketable" word for "magic." I'm heartily tired of inventing new ways of using it.
PS: And just as a side note, I just received a note from a reader today that she bought The WIcked Wyckerley because the title was different. (She was rather tired of titles like Twenty-five Reasons Not to Chase a Duke,)
Oh, don't get me started on titles. (insert long-suffering sigh here) It's not an easy process. I always have a few ideas . . . but they rarely have the editorial cover meeting afire with enthusiasm. A list from on high will then come back, which in turn renders me a little green around the gills. I scribble a few alternatives. Still no joy.
What usually happens is a even shorter list comes back from my editor, accompanied by the statement that "marketing is really excited about these." Which means, "pick one and we're done." So I do. The fact that the choices might not have much in common with the actual story or characters isn't as worrisome to marketing as it is to me. Occasionally, a little whining and sniffling can win a few last tweaks, but for the most part . . . c'est la guerre.
Titles! What a contentious subject that can be. I have lots of good ideas for titles but the marketing people seldom agree with me. Usually what happens is that I labour long and hard over a list of ideas, send it to my editor, a completely different list comes back with suggestions about which marketing are particularly enthusiastic and we settle on a compromise candidate somewhere in the middle.
The last time I got to choose a title for one of my books was for The Confessions of a Duchess three years ago. I have had some beautiful titles although there are a couple of books where the title doesn't bear an enormous resemblance to the story. Mistress by Midnight springs to mind - there were no mistresses and nothing in particular happened at midnight.
I do think that titles can be very influential on whether a reader is intrigued enough to pick up the book so it's important to get the right feel to them. With Forbidden, the title was chosen before I had even started the book, so that gave me a theme to work around(!)
MJP: The fact that Jo also has a Forbidden is another indicator of how the title business works. Repetitively. <G>
Nicola: I'm afraid so. Someone else also had a Mistress By Midnight out at exactly the same time as mine and I've just seen another of my titles repeated this month. I'm with Pat's reader who wants some originality.
My fellow Wenches’ comments pretty much cover the topic of titles! I’ve been luckier than most in that a good number of my titles are my own, though usually not until much agitas. Sometimes a great title will just pop into my mind. Other times, we struggle and struggle to find something that’s catchy and appropriate.
In my current Lost Lords series, I didn't come up with Loving a Lost Lord, , but Never Less Than a Lady, Nowhere Near Respectable, and No Longer a Gentleman are mine. Nowhere Near Respectable in particular is one that just appeared in my mind. And then I had to write a book to fit. <G>
It never gets easier because, as Anne says, there are certain key words that say “Romance” (bride, wedding, love) just as there are others that say “Mystery.” (Dead, death, blood.) The trick is to find a title that reveals the genre, something specific about the book, and is appealing. Not easy!
I am feeling cautiously optimistic since it looks like the working title of my current book, Sometines a Rogue (September 2013) will be kept. But I always avoid printing bookmarks as long as possible in case the name gets changed again!
Penney, for your question, you’ll be a book from me.
For everyone else—are there titles that made a book leap into your hands? Titles so awful that you couldn’t believe they’d made it into print? And others that are so generic that they make no impression at all?
Here’s a little game from Anne:
Let's have a little straw poll — which book would you buy by title alone — and why?
1) The Bride Wore Black
2) Boots in the Bedroom
3) The Convenient Bride
So what would you put on the list??!