How do you decide on titles for your books?
This question is lifted from author Sahar Sabati's informative Ask an Author series, which ran from 2015-2016 and included responses and reflections from English-speaking authors from around the globe. Since I'm often asked these questions by readers, I have republished my answers here with Sahar's kind permission.
Wow, good question. It’s really made me think about my title process. I usually start with a working title, and then, as the story progresses, come up with something more concrete and relevant. My book, Into the Mist was originally called Global Blockbuster. It gave me such a kick to see that very flippant file-name because it reminded me of my intent to write something explosive and compelling. As the story evolved, and the misty mountain ranges of the Urewera Ranges became more significant ‒ almost a character in itself ‒ then the name Into the Mist emerged. I didn’t check to see how many other books already had that title because it was right for the story. (Luckily, Stephen King hadn’t already used it).
My YA novel, Misplaced, was Story for Florence, since it was inspired by my dear friend who went missing in France over a decade ago, and who has yet to be found.
The first scribblings of my middle grade novel Battle of the Birds were entitled The Mound Rising. It’s an odd title, with odd beginnings. Living in Madison, Wisconsin, many years ago, I was missing home. I had this crazy idea that an effigy mound ‒ an actual one, shaped like an eagle which occurs on a Madison campus ‒ might be a secret portal back home. The eagle would throw off the leaf-litter, emerge from the ground, and fly me back home.
A Dash of Reality is a play on words, since the novel is a fun romp about running and reality TV. The story began with the lacklustre filename: Novel. A Dash of Reality’s first cover was a disaster. It involved a piece of original art commissioned from a talented local artist who knew the setting well. The resulting cover was fun, full of colour, quirky, and, to those in the know, gave visual cues to the setting. I loved it but, being sensible, I carried out a focus group study of local readers who knew the story. Everyone said it was perfect. They were wrong. That first cover did not sell the book. Oh, it worked well locally, but international readers thought it looked naïve and unprofessional. I did not learn this for a long time ‒ people were too polite to tell me ‒ but when I found out I had the cover redone by a professional designer. The revised cover is still quirky and fun and colourful, but now I hope it has wider appeal than just my hometown.