Sunday, April 22, 2012

T is for TITLES

Today I'd like to welcome Sheila Welch, author of Waiting to Forget (namelos Publishing, 2011) who is guest-posting about titles. Kirkus Reviews called Waiting to Forget, a story about T.J. and his sister's experience in the foster care system told through flashbacks, a 'poignant, realistic tale about child-survivors.' Sheila is also an illustrator and lives with her husband in Illinois. Welcome, Sheila!


Thanks to Dawn for inviting me to do a guest post about titles. My name is Sheila Kelly Welch, and I write, and sometimes illustrate, stories and books for children of all ages --  and every one of them has a title.
Selecting the perfect name for a piece of writing is not easy. But it’s worth the effort to make a good  first impression. We've all heard about the titles that didn't make the final cut. Would you be interested in reading something with the nondescript "Salinas Valley" or "Something that Happened" on the cover? John Steinbeck's working titles became the much more appealing, EAST OF EDEN and OF MICE AND MEN. Kenneth Grahame went through many ideas, including "Mr. Mole and His Mates," "Down Stream," and "The Wind in the Reeds," before the final THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS was chosen. 
My own experience with title trouble  began after I'd completed my first novel but it had no title at all. Sending a manuscript out to publishers like that would have been like enrolling a kindergarten child with no name. I asked my oldest son to read the story. "If you can think of a good title," I told him, "and the book gets accepted, and that title is used, then I will pay you $50." Within a few hours he was back. "Don't Call Me Marda," he proclaimed. It was perfect. Many moons later, the book was accepted and I made the happy announcement. Of course, there was my son, holding out his hand for a 50 dollar bill to be pressed across his palm. After that, I decided to create my own titles.

Author Sheila Welch
When I wrote a picture book text about two princes whose sibling rivalry escalates when each receives a pet, the most accurate, descriptive title was "The Princes' Pets." My editor at Golden Books told me they had a rule: No apostrophes in titles. I suspected no one was quite sure where that apostrophe belonged. (Should it be Princes's or Princes' or maybe Princess'? And by now we 're wondering, "Are these boys or girls?") I could understand the problem, especially since the story had been transformed into an early reader. Finally, my editor said, "How about Little Prince Know-It-All?" and although it's not really his story, that is a catchy title, and it makes a good first impression. Over the years since the book's publication, when I'm visiting schools, I've met several little boys who can relate to that title. They tell me, "That's what my mom calls me!"  
In my early notes, I dubbed my latest novel simply "Adoption Story," then, as I got into it, "Not Timothy." Several months after Stephen Roxburgh accepted the book to be published by namelos, he told me that he didn't like my title. We thought of others, but we couldn't seem to agree. Finally, he settled on "Just T.J." while I was torn between "The End of Then" and "Waiting to Forget." Stephen liked both of my choices but felt that they wouldn't work with kids. Although he wasn't in favor of the idea, he let me go ahead and have several groups of middle school students vote on which of those three titles they thought sounded appealing. When WAITING TO FORGET won, my publisher graciously agreed to accept that decision. Later, I discovered one other book with that title, but it's nonfiction for adults. Still, it's disconcerting to see another author's book pop up on the computer screen. 
The novel I'm working on now was called "Sometimes Island," until I checked Amazon. There are     two books with that exact title, and about five more that mention "sometimes" and an island. I need a new title. Maybe I should borrow the one Jane Austen used initially for PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. And what was that? "First Impressions!"
Thank you, Dawn, for this chance to tell a few title tales.

11 comments:

  1. Sheila, thanks for sharing your insights about titles. How nice it must've been for your son to get a $50 bonus for helping you out!

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  2. Interesting post! It's impossible for me to think of the perfect title. I hate that moment when a permanent decision is needed, but nothing feels right. Sounds kind of like naming a baby.

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  3. I've also had the experience of working very hard to craft a title, only to have the publisher change it anyway! Still, this is good food for thought. Thanks.

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  4. Great post! I usually either have the title come to me right away or else I struggle to come up with one even after the story is complete. There doesn't seem to be an in between for me.

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  5. Hi Dawn, this is wonderful post and I enjoyed it very much.
    I'll read some of your others too.

    Thanks so much for your visit and for following me!

    Kathy M.

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    1. Hey Kathy, thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  6. Fantastic guest-post. As a titles-challenged person I only hope editors read the manuscript and realize the title is negotiable. I’m especially guilty of an abundance of apostrophes.

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  7. Finding exactly the right title is difficult, more difficult than it sounds.

    Sonia Lal @ Story Treasury

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  8. This is a great guest post. I really like the title, Waiting to Forget (as well as that fabulous book cover).
    I'll have to remember the $50 story if I ever decide to wrangle my older son into helping me with my work :-)

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  9. Thanks to each of you for reading my guest post and an extra thanks for commenting! I think it's really interesting how titles can seem so important, and yet, after we come to know and love a book, its name just doesn't matter except to identify it. I'm thinking of Beverly Cleary's titles such as RAMONA AND HER MOTHER. Using a character's name in the title puts a lot of pressure on that character to measure up, and in Ramona's case, she certainly does.

    Thank you again, Dawn!

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  10. And thank YOU, Sheila! Titles are hugely challenging for me, and this post helps tremendously!

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