Titles are a funny thing. The good ones intrigue book browsers, grab attention, and are memorable. The best ones describe a whole book in a few words. (Some, on the other hand, are not as clever.) And so it’s normal that writers spend a lot of time stressing over giving their manuscript the very most intriguing, grabby, memorable title.
However, from this side of the table, I gotta say, titles are about the least important part of the work I’m considering. Yeah, it’s nice to be catchy in a query. But I’d estimate about eight times out of ten (four out of five, then), a title changes, sometimes multiple times, before it hits shelves. In at least one case, I’ve seen a title change after it was published.
Even if a title doesn’t change, it’s almost always part of a discussion at some point in the editorial process. So when writers and clients ask me what I think of their title, the truth is that I generally think of all titles as “working titles” until they are printed on jackets. It’s not something I focus on in critiques or edits, unless I think it’s wildly inaccurate or misleading. But as part of the query process, it’s not a make-or-break aspect. Make it as good as you can, but also know it may change a dozen times, and then a couple more.
I adore metaphors. They are the wind beneath my wings. I love descriptive writing. The sparkling dialogue reverberates through the whole history of my being like a breeze through the Redwood forest.
Know what I don’t like? Eyeballs. Specifically ones that fall on things.
You know what I mean. “My eyes fell on the hot guy in the corner.”
Eyeballs are always getting up to mischief, and it’s time we stopped them!
“His eyes slid down my dress.”
“Her eyes followed me as I backed out of the room.”
“Sharon’s eyes landed on the fruitcake behind the centerpiece.”
“Marta’s eyes glided around the dance floor.”
ETA: “Her eyes flit around until finally resting on what she was looking for.”
“Juan’s eyes lingered on Patrick’s new cleats.”
There are so many different and arguably better ways to say these things that don’t involve squishy spheres leading independent lives. Let’s try those ways and then decide which sounds better. K?
Share your favorite abuses of this one in the comments.
I recently read something with the insult, “A girl would do better.” And before that, this same week, I read a scene with a bunch of kids competing, and it was specified, “There is only one girl.” The girl did not have a name, nor was she given any discernible characteristics.
Please, come close. Take my hand. Lean closer. IT IS TWENTY FREAKING FIFTEEN. We are five minutes away from 2016, and we still have writers using girl as an insult and begrudgingly including them in crowd scenes.
Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home and a million other things you should read, first included the test (which she attributes to her friend Liz Wallace) in her comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. The test is simple: A movie must have 1. at least two women in it who 2. talk to each other about 3. something other than a man.
The same should go for books, and I shouldn’t even have to say that. I’m shaking my fist in the air right now! Most of you do a great job including all kinds of different humans in your manuscripts. But I do read plenty of “boy YA” (and for the record, I love YA that features boys as MC. Often, I prefer it.) which is about a boy who loves a really flat girl (character-wise…usually she has other non-flat attributes) for no better reason than she smiled at him and is hot. Or the girl is there to be the nag. Or the motherly type. Or the tomboy. It doesn’t really matter how boy-centric your story is, it’s really, really not too much to ask that it has two girls in it who talk to each other about something other than a boy. If you have to force yourself to include two girls, GOOD. DO IT.
If I catch any of your work not passing the Bechdel-Wallace test, you can count on an automatic delete. I just don’t accept any of your excuses. (Obviously there are exceptions based on concept, like Maze Runner, but concept shouldn’t be used as an excuse to not have girls. Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.*)
*Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
Welcome to the first in a series, the No Frills Book Review. This is where I basically repeat here what I’ve been saying to people in real life about books I’ve read.
Have you read The Nest by Kenneth Oppel? Holy crap. What a weird and great read. I can’t tell you much about it without giving it all away, so just trust me. I’m not sure it’s truly a book for kids, but it is creepy and wonderful and you’ll read it in about an hour. Everyone in the office totally devoured it with the same response. This is the kind of book you’ve never read before, but it also feels like it’s always existed.
See? No frills.
Oh, good, you must be thinking, another blog! Way to be late to the party, Heather. Better late than never, say I! Welcome, everyone. I’m glad you’re here. My intent with this page is to share my opinions alongside some information about the publishing world, and maybe some other things I find interesting, like the latest Prada collection, or kimchi tacos, or how I’m easing toward the life of a sneaker-head. I may include some book reviews, or interesting etymology, and maybe even, if I’m lucky, some guest posts.
So come one, come all, and leave your comments after the beep.