Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Anatomy of a Book – The Title Task

So far I’ve talked about where story ideas come from, naming characters and dramatic story situations. Scroll down for more of this blog series on how I put a book together.
The right title can make a book, while the wrong one can sink it. Finding something worthwhile is a guessing game, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
To begin with, you can’t claim exclusive ownership of a title under the copyright laws of the United States.
Case in point: Back in 1978, I wrote a historical romance with a working title of "Tender Betrayal." My editor liked it and let it stand for the published book. Several other authors have liked it over the years, too, as there have been at least four other romance novels with that title!

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So let’s break it down to see why it clicks:
  •  The word “Tender” has a soft sound appropriate for the romance genre. It’s also a word with built-in appeal for most people.
  • Pairing it with a contrasting word like “Betrayal” sets up immediate tension.
  • The two words together imply a story with strong conflict between the main characters.
  • They hint at a moral dilemma, which is always a plus.
  • One-word and two-word titles are favored in traditional publishing because they show up from a distance when physical books are on display.
So how did I arrive at this title? Using the story I had in mind, I made two lists. One included words that sounded romantic and beguiling. The other used words that were appropriate for the dramatic events in the story. When the two lists were done, I make a third that randomly combined words from the first two. “Tender Betrayal” was the combo that worked best.
A side note here: Titles are included in the copyright protection for most books published outside the U.S. That’s one reason books from the U.S. that are sold in foreign markets are given new titles – they can’t legally have the same title as a previously published work.
Being a fairly organized writer, I still like the “two lists” system of title selection, but there are other methods. Biblical, literary and poetical references have always been popular. Themes work, as do sudden inspirations. Some writers go with whatever is popular at the given moment; as an example, title variations on the words "Shades" and "Gray” have been sadly overused lately. Other words that romance readers seem to like are Bride, Cowboy, Duke, Fiancé, Fiancée, Groom, Highlander, Highlands, Kilt, Mistress, Pirate, Prince, Seduction, Sheikh, Stolen, Taken, Wedding, and so on. Infinite variations on these can be found in romance titles on Amazon.
As e-books have gained in popularity, a different title trend has surfaced. Since these covers are viewed up-close-and-personal on computer, tablet or reader, they are no longer limited to one or two words. It’s still a good idea to make the title easily readable in thumbnail size, but that criteria can be trumped by a longer title with a better sense of story.
Harlequin has been experimenting with longer titles for some of its category lines for a couple of years. The result is books called “The Cost of her Innocence,” “One Night with the Sheikh,” “The Return of Her Past,” etc. As this romance publishing behemoth does nothing without copious and expensive research, these longer titles appear to have proven their worth.
When I set out to write a series of shorter romances as an experiment in independent publishing, I saw no reason not to benefit from Harlequin’s research dime. The titles for the first two books in my Italian Billionaire’s series, then, are “The Tuscan’s Revenge Wedding” and “The Venetian’s Daring Seduction.”
So what’s the title choice for my WIP? Good question!
I’ve been going back and forth on the best way to indicate that the hero is from the Amalfi Coast of Italy. I mean the Italian for that is Amalfitano, and I like it, but will an American audience recognize it? On the other hand, is the Americanized version, Amalfian, any better? Doesn’t Amafitano just sound more Italian, not to mention more heroic? Or will readers recognize the word either way?
Ah, well, I’m seldom sure of a title until I put “The End” on the final page of the manuscript, so I have time to decide. For now, the working title is (Drumroll please!): "The Amalfitano’s Bold Abduction."

Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.

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