Thursday, January 06, 2011

Title Time


Publishing houses seem to have two speeds: the proverbial molasses-in-winter mode and the we-needed-this-yesterday frantic rush. When an author is waiting on them (such as, ahem, to cut a check), they typically go into molasses mode. But when they need the author to do something, for some bizarre reason it never seems to occur to them to contact the writer until the last minute. I can't tell you the number of times I've been given literally one hour to revise cover copy or come up with a tag line. Usually I'm given a day or two to come up with cover art suggestions. I was once given an hour to rename my heroine after the Powers That Be decided her name was too long. (Seriously. The book was Midnight Confessions, but I don't at the moment recall my heroine's original last name. All I know is that I really hate the substitution. Character names should never be rushed.)

Cover copy revisions obviously depend on having something from the copy department to revise. But the other stuff--tag lines and cover art suggestions--are things authors know ahead of time they're going to have to come up with. So I've learned to give some thought to those things on my own calendar rather than waiting for the inevitable rush email. I have the suggestions for the cover of the book I'm currently writing (Sebastian Book Number Seven) all ready and will simply send them off as soon as I get that we're-cover-conferencing-this-book-on-Wednesday-so-if-you-have-any-suggestions-get-them-to-me-by-morning email.

So you'd think I'd have been prepared for the message that greeted me when I got around to checking my email on Monday afternoon: We need a title for Book Number Seven by Wednesday morning! Silly me. I somehow imagined I'd have until I actually finished the book to come up with the title. Nope. I was caught titleless. I did go through a period last summer when I tried to come up with something; those of you who've been around the blog that long will remember we spent a week or so thrashing about and brainstorming possibilities. But I then pushed the whole title thing onto the back burner, thinking I'd just let it simmer.

Great titles, in my experience, are gifts from the ether. They come seemingly out of nowhere, instantly captivating and awe-inspiring in their inherent rightness. I've never come up with a title that I sweated and fretted over, and ended up really liking. In this instance, I sent the entire long list of suggestions from you, my blog readers, to my editors, along with a half-dozen suggestions of my own. All were knocked back. I came up with some more suggestions; my editor came up with some of her own. We settled on one we thought we could live with. Her boss nixed it. We went down to the wire, with the final decision being made on Wednesday morning.

Titles are so important, I don't think they should simply be grabbed on the fly. On the other hand, sometimes inspiration never strikes and a decision must be made. Or sometimes inspiration strikes and The Powers That Be nix it and come up with a title of their own (What Remains of Heaven being the prime example; I named that book What Hell Marks, referencing a quote from Shakespeare that I actually took out of the book's final copy in the hope that I can get them to use the title for a future book.)

But all this is just buildup to telling you what the title of the seventh book is. Drum roll, please....

Why Maidens Mourn.

Like it? Hate it? Feel free to be honest. I'm not exactly in love with it myself. But I like it much better than What Remains of Heaven (yeah, I'm still cranky about that one).


neurondoc said...

The evil part of my brain starting singing (to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas)

10 maidens mourning
9 remaining heavens
8 serpents sleeping
7 mermaids singing
6 angels fearing
5 dying gods

Clearly the cold medicine is making me punchy. I am looking forward to March and the next book.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I can't find it in myself to like it. Perhaps, because I am in my 70's, maidens kind of bore me. I remember when you asked for titles, and I thought some of those were very clever. Too bad, none would fit well for the publisher. Almost any of them would be better than what they chose, in my opinion. But, of course, no matter the name, I will look forward to reading the book when the time comes. Diane

Beth said...

You may hate me for this, but I think "What remains of heaven" is a much better title than "What hell marks".

"What hell marks", imho, is not a good title for anything, it just doesn't scan well on its own like that.

This title is ok. They seem to have a pattern -- three words, with the middle word having two syllables and the other having one each. The syllable pattern isn't always followed, but adding more syllables is better than not enough. Maybe "What hades marks"? ;-)


cs harris said...

Neurondoc, thanks for the laugh. I don't think I'll ever look on those titles quite the same again!

Diane, I thought there were some nice ones, too. But the final decision could have been worse, believe me.

Beth, that's funny! I've learned that titles are like covers-what one person loves, the next person hates. I never thought of the titles scanning in that way. And here I thought I could perhaps use a variation on the quote ("Sin, death, and hell hath set their mark upon him") by using sin, but that's one syllable, too.

I was aware of the need to keep the final verb to one syllable, which is not easy, because most short verbs are rather boring. I will never again start a title run with verbs; adjectives and nouns are much easier.

Kim said...

I'm not crazy about the new title. Since "why" is in the title, it almost sounds as if its commonplace that maidens always mourn. I know that sounds too literal, but that's how the title strikes me.

Anonymous said...

Well, NAL wants to attract more female readers, correct? ;-) Never mind the story being told.

I'm predicting another cover with a woman (or women) on it for #7!

*continually amazed at NAL's marketing strategy*

Note: I'm female

Pax Deux said...

Happy New Year, and glad to read that you are in good spirits.

you must share the name of that cold medicine! STAT! I need to acquire a clever sense of humor like that.

Dare I say I like this title? I know that if you attempt even the must superficial of hermeneutic readings, it becomes problematical (indeed, why should maidens mourn? perhaps they should rejoice in their virginity :lol:)

But there is something to it... maybe the alliteration, maybe it is simply a vague feeling of tragedy about it, Greek or Shakespearean, I am not sure.

orannia said...

Hmmm, I'm with Beth - I prefer 'What Remains of Heaven" is to 'What Hell Marks', you said, everyone is different :)

As for Why Maidens Mourn....I'm sorry, but I'm not a fan. I'll still read it though :) I have to say, I thought some of last year's suggestions were brilliant!

@neurondoc - LOL!

cs harris said...

Oh dear, Kim; I'd never thought of it that way.

Anon, blame the success of Mistress of the Art of Death and The Other Boleyn Girl.

Pax Deux, thank goodness SOMEONE likes it!

Orannia, okay, I'll quit complaining about What Remains of Heaven. And another thumbs down on Maidens! Sigh. I guess I need to start thinking about the title of the NEXT book right away.

Charles Gramlich said...

I like it. Nice alliteration.

Steve Malley said...

Honestly? For me it's one of those titles that makes no impression at all. It reminds me a bit of Janet Evanovitch's Stephanie Plum series: Three to Get Deadly and Four to Score were awesome titles, but at a certain time the numbers were just sort of... there.

I think this one's going to sell on the strength of the series, the reviews, and whatever NAL decides to spend on co-op.

And given that, I really do hope it sells like hotcakes! :-D

le fleur said...

I like it! It seems as if I'm in a minority, but I do. :)

cs harris said...

Charles, someone else likes it! Whew.

Steve, to be frank, I'm getting seriously tired of the pattern myself, but now there are forces in motion that keep me to it. NAL, as usual, will do ZERO coop, but the advance orders are strong, which has motivated them to up the print run 20% over Heaven--a good sign.

le fleur, another one! A good sign. I wasn't wild about it, but I admit I didn't think it was THAT bad.

Suzi said...

I don't really care what your titles are, but just wish for lots more Sebastian books as fast as you can,
Suzi Love

orannia said...

The thing is, a title is part of a book, and the book is...your creation, so...if you don't like the title you have every right to say so. AND IMHO you're not complaining but expressing your thoughts :)

And although I'm not a huge fan of the title for Maidens I will definitely be reading it :)

Keira Soleore said...

With a title, book #7 is coming closer to becoming a reality. Looking forward to reading #6 and then #7.

As far as the title goes, I hope the story has some relevance to the title, otherwise it's a meh kind of title by itself. The other titles stood by themselves.

@neurondoc: You're hilarious.

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

It's not my favorite and it may well depend on what the final cover art winds up being (for me, it's kind of a package deal). But it certainly could've been a helluva lot worse, so there you go.

As far as "What Hell Marks," I really love it and hope you do get to use it at some point.

Anonymous said...

"..blame the success of Mistress of the Art of Death and The Other Boleyn Girl."


Pax Deux said...

For some reason, I have not been able to stop thinking abou the title "What Hell Marks." At first I was like "Whaaa?!!!" but then it certainly grew on me. I imagine "What Hell Marks" would a dark book, pitting Sebastian and Co against a doomed, flawed villian, one who may be predestined to commit his crime? But I get ahead of myself. I am suffering severe Sebastian and Hero withdrawal.

Levica said...

I am in the minority and like the title. It flows with the other titles. Like some of the others I prefer What Remains of Heaven over What Hell Marks, (though as someone mentioned Hades would sound better if you had wanted that title :) )
I'm so excited about the upcoming books. I'm constantly nagging my sister to read your books as she likes Tasha Alexander and Deanna Raybourn. Do you think you could get your publisher to allow loaning on Kindle? Please, please, please

Anonymous said...

You know I'll read it regardless but the mourning part makes it sound kind of depressing...

Anonymous said...

Don't hate me but I found "The Other Boleyn Girl" when I was in high school...probably junior year or senior year I think and I loved but I think the first one of PG's I read was The Queen's Fool and then found Boleyn Girl and her other Elizabethaney ones. I just discovered Mistress of the Art of Death last year and love those too.

cs harris said...

Suzi, thank you!

Orannia, it's funny because out of all the title changes I've endured in my career (not a single one of my romances went to print with my original title), for some reason the Hell to Heaven change is the one that rankled.

Keira, the editors actually came right out and said they thought going with a title they liked was more important than an accurate title. So that tells you something! Since it's still being written, I'm trying to work it in somewhere.

Barbara, my suggestion for the cover will be a variation on the Lady of Shalott painting, but we'll see how far that goes.

Levica, ah, another one likes it! And you mean they're NOT on Kindle? I'll look into it.

Melody, good point. I'm told it can still be changed if I can come up with something they like better. That "if" is the catch. And I'm not saying there is anything wrong with those books, only that their success has inspired putting female nouns in titles.

Barbara said...

I am simply excited that another Sebastian/Hero book is about to be released and oh, so glad for your prospects that more are wanted. A question, however - are editors writers themselves? That's never been clear to me so I thought you might be the one to ask ;0

(BTW, I bought 'Babylonian Codex' as soon as I could and l-o-v-e-d it. Thank you!)

Lainey said...

Why Maidens Mourn gives me immediate visions of John William Waterhouse's paintings and I can hear Loreena McKennitt in the background. I like it!

And yes - I've read all of Arianna Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death books and Tasha Alexander's and Deanna Raybourn's.

As for What Hell Marks - it has a strong punch. Works for me. Maybe you can get approval for the title of the final Sebastian book.

Firefly said...

A very happy, healthy & prosperous new year to you & yours Candy.

Mmmmmmmmmm, the title, like the maiden bit, not too sure of the mourns part of it.
However, having said that & REGARDLESS of the title, it will sell & I personally cannot wait to read book 6 & 7. I really do hope there will be several more Sebastion St Cyr books to be published in the future!!

Levica said...

The books are all available on Kindle, but Kindle added a new feature where you can loan books to other kindle users. It's up to the author/publisher on which ones are allowed to be loaned though. It's like a library loan but through Kindle.

Anonymous said...

I like it. It is evocative of. . .something. :)

Anonymous said...

Breaking news!!!

Harriet Klausner (of the Amazon Classic Reviewer Rank No 1, currently No 782 overall) has put up her early review of one of the most anticipated books of the new decade namely Where Shadows Dance (pub. March 2011) on the web. In her review, she has revealed the answer to the most challenging mystery/puzzle in the Sebastian St Cyr series that has been plaguing readers for some years now. Klausner's review should bring lots of relief because readers can now stop worrying until their hair threaten to turn white and go back to fully concentrate on doing other things that have been partially (if not fully) abandoned while trying to figure out the answer.

The review is not recommended for those who prefer their future reading experience spoilers-free. *wink* For those who can't wait anyway, please don't break the Google Search or B&N website as a result of this news *sweating* The review won't run away!

Anonymous said...

In my hurry to bring the news, I forget to congratulate the Winner and her team! So Congratulations! Come on, how can there be any other winner?

Anonymous said...


After all those hints, I thought they're gonna go for a threesome!

This next book better explains the purpose of that necklace

off to be in a sulk somewhere else

Sarah McShane said...

I agree with Kim. "Why"makes it sound like maidens a)mourn all the time and b) all more for the exact same reason. It's funny that you said you did not name What Remains of Heaven. I don't hate the title, but I remember thinking that it didn't sound like one of your books when you announced it.

Anonymous said...

*frowning at fellow Anons above while hands trying to hold sides from splitting*

It's not nice to bait people like that you know ;-) After all, Where Shadows Dance is a most highly/gleefully/anxiously anticipated new book in a beloved/need-it-like-fresh-air/absolutely-cannot-live-without literary series. And a super whodunit too! Just the thought of that makes the historical-fiction-thriller-mystery reader in me high, akin to the experience of listening to the preview of Rano Pano on youtube. Where Shadows Dance and Mogwai's upcoming new album within 3 weeks of each other. Ah, Bliss!

If you can spare time from your vacuuming/cleaning/washing/cooking or any other tasks that you've recently picked up back, what say you to some, er, lampooning sessions at a certain popular internet venue, say, 1st March 2011 onwards? :D:D:D:D:D:D:D

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