Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Drowning in the Title Pool

I got a note:

Hi Moonrat,

I'm almost done with rewrites on a novel, getting ready to send it to agents. I noticed recently on Publishers Marketplace that another book (same genre) with the same working title just sold to a big house. I know titles are fluid and by the time it gets to print, the title on the PM book might have changed. Or if I sell my book, the title could change. My question is: should I come up with a new working title before sending it out, if only to avoid confusion from agents/editors who may have considered the PM book? ("Didn't I just see this?") I'm reluctant to do it, because it fits so well with the book, but I don't want someone to pass, thinking they've looked at it already.

Thoughts?


Great question! A variation of this titling issue happens to a lot of people--you know, having the perfect title for your book and then realizing there are a host of outside circumstances working against your using that perfect title.

Honestly, as an editor, I remember stuff like that (if I've seen a book by the same title, I know instantly, even if the first submission was a project that went no further than my desk). I don't think I find repeat titles offputting per se, but I definitely remember. This is relevant in your case because since it's the same genre you might be submitting to the same editors.

That said, I got a book into production that had the same title (same genre, slightly similar plots) as another book at a much, much larger company. We had both announced our deals in PW, and just missed each other through neglect. At the last minute, the big house called me and tried to bully me into changing my title--but we were already close to press, and so we won (they had to change). There is no moral to this story, really; it only proves that it could come about that no one ever notices your title match.

But I think to be safe it would be a good exercise for you to think of a second-choice title and submit under that. Just in case someone is anal (and editors, as a career discipline, often are). Besides, as you point out yourself, retitling is something that often happens for marketing reasons, so if you've already spent some time thinking of second- and third-choice titles before you submit, you'll be prepared to have a great conversation about your options later.

17 comments:

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

I'd not thought to do a title search to see if my title has been used before. I'm almost ready to submit to agents.

Thanks, Simon.

Claire Dawn said...

That's one of the disadvantages of the long road to publication. So many factors can change by the time your book is due to come out, and they can influence how relevant your book, your title, even your genre is.

B. Miller said...

I still haven't even figured out what the title to my WIP is... I'm having a real problem figuring out what it should be. But this is good advice... thanks, MR!

JES said...

Huh -- was just about to compliment you on this post's clever title when I remembered I'd already seen it used. :)

But the post itself: thanks, very helpful! (And B. Miller, not to freak you out or anything, but it took me 15 years to come up with the title to my WIP. Yikes.)

Anonymous said...

A book of mine came out two months after another book of the same title, both from major houses. And nobody had ever used this title before.

I don't know if anyone tried to get anyone else to change.

Anthrophile said...

I've always been under the impression that the title an author gives doesn't really matter much, because publishers routinely change them.

I'm completely mistaken, aren't I. Yikes.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've not had this happen so far, although some of the titles I originally considered for "Write With Fire" were already taken.

JEM said...

Great question! I always wonder about how important titles are when querying, but it occurs to me that they are like the book covers of the submission world; first impressions are everything.

Lisa_Gibson said...

Oh good point. My wip I'm very attached to the title and would be bummed if I have to change it. I guess I should keep it mind now and detach myself a little from it. :)

Lydia Sharp said...

Wow. Great question and great answer. :)

Keith Popely said...

Hey, Moonrat, you bring up an excellent related question: what sites and/or resources should we be reading, in addition to your blog? What is "PW"?
Thanks

Bernita said...

Valuable post, Moonmouse dear.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Or, you could have a perfect title, google it and find there's nothing showing up from the last 20 years .. . get a publishing deal, have a fabbo time, google again just to see if there's anything going on and find COLIN FARRELL STARRING IN A MOVIE OF THE SAME NAME THAT HAS NOTING TO DO WITH YOUR BOOK!

*breathe, breathe*

Seriously. How rare a name is Ondine? I thought I had it in the bag! Before my book, there was one other novel of the same name in the 80s, an opera and a charming disease named after a water nymph.

After we signed a deal, a movie turned up of the same name. Dang and blast. But it was slated for release way early a. . . Then the film's release is delayed. And delayed again. Until it pretty much came out the MONTH before my book.

But we stuck with the name anyway.
And now I have people saying 'They're making a movie of your book and Colin Farrell's in it!'

*facepalm*

Radu Prisacaru said...

Fantastic blog. Keep on rockin, Radu Prisacaru – UK Internet Marketer & Web Developer

Jaleh D said...

I sure hope that when I finish one particular WIP, that the title I have in mind will still be considered clever by people other than me. I'm keeping my lips sealed on it for now. Just in case.

I have an award for you on my blog, Moonie. Have a Happy day.

Whirlochre said...

This is why I decided to title my book

Deliverance!!! Ha — All Dire Slumbering Vestibules In Sin of Quagmire's Wake By Jimimy The Crested Shuriken Pomp Pustule Grizzler Swamp Happening Post-Aurora Smiting THRUST Asphyxia Cruise.

That said — just googled it and got 32 whacks...

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