Working At The Title

Whether you’re perusing books at a bookstore, visiting your local library, or scrolling through B&N.com or Amazon.com, there is one thing that makes many people stop and read more about that particular book.

The title. It’s said you can’t judge a book by its cover, but nothing else catches your attention so fast as the title of a book. It’s the first thing you see if you’re in a library or book store, and they’re shelved with their spines facing out. It’s the first thing you see online, since the title is positioned above the cover and printed in bold eye-catching letters.

As a writer, we angst over this. We know that when we send out our query letters to agents or publishers, this is the first thing they’ll react to. We type the title in all-caps in the letter (italics are used for already published books). It stands out.

But one thing to remember: when a writer labors over the title of their masterpiece, and even if the first reader to the agent or the publisher likes that title, it can still be shot down and other titles bandied about if and when the book is going through revisions before publication. Therefore when a writer sends off his or her query, happy in the knowledge that the manuscript is polished and ready for the eyes of the publisher or agent, that title is referred to as a “working title.” (The best bet for a title is one that is anywhere from one to four words.)

With books, the writer is always included in the decision during revising, so the title will be one that everyone is (hopefully) comfortable with. A title that will attract the attention of potential readers. For my most recent e-book, the publisher agreed with my working title: LOONEY DUNES. An apt description of the quirky people who inhabit Dune Island.

With short stories or essays in magazines, this isn’t always the case. One time I had a nice, three word title that I felt succinctly enticed a person to read my story. It was published with an entirely new title that was (count ’em) seven words long.

But I had to accept it, since I knew from all my years of writing, submitting, and getting my work published, that this will happen. What was done, was done.

And I move on, creating more working titles to go along with my polished gems.

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