Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 23, 2009

Working Titles

I often struggle with titles for my works. Perhaps this is because I have an obsessive need to title them before I can properly work on them. I am not a writer who can simply call her work Opus #1,456,345 and then have at it. If I waited until I finished writing the work, I most likely would be much less angst-ridden about the title, because the completed work would give me a much finer palette to work with for title ideas. But that would be doing things the easy way, which is not my forte.

 

My need to title before I write does not mean I can’t write without a title, or with a title I am not satisfied with. I can, and I have, and I do. But the process never feels right unless I have a title I am comfortable with. I have also changed the title after I finished, even if I was happy with the working title. So I got to wondering why I feel such a need to pre-title, to have a working title that speaks to me.

 

My answer is that a working title that clicks with me means I have a good grasp of what this work is essentially about. It means I understand the focus of the work, and where I want to take it. In the cases where I re-title after I am finished, the work has taken me somewhere unexpected, and therefore the working title no longer captures its essence. That is fine—I am not married to the working titles I choose. But a working title, to me, brings clarity to the work as I am writing, and I find that a necessity.

 

Titles are also, of course, vital to selling the book or story to an agent. A title that is not intriguing, or that does not encapsulate some central tenet of the story, will not grab the agent or editor’s imagination. This does not mean that the publishers will not rename your book for you before they’re through. Hopefully, though, they can come up with a title that still retains the soul of the book while appealing to the target audience. But that first title, the one you come up with, is the one that will sell the book to an agent.

 

So that is why I have such angst over my working titles. For me, they are both a writing tool and a selling tool. I have heard other authors say that they do not worry over-much about their titles, or that the titles come easy for them. I am happy for them—for me, it will always be an ordeal, but one which I find ultimately rewarding, when I have that title that resonates with me.   

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