Reader Question: Titles

How long did it take to come up with the title for your book? Was it something you just knew instantly or did you have to mull it over a long time?

Something I think few readers realize (I certainly didn’t before I was published) is that most books see their titles change at least once between the author initial submission and final publication. It’s not that authors are inherently bad at titling their work (though I know I often struggle with titles), but that they don’t necessarily know all the factors that make a title “good” from a publisher’s perspective, or what books may be out there with the same or similar titles that would be a problem.

My original title for GIVE UP THE GHOST, the one I used when querying agents, was IN MEMORY OF. I liked it because of the association with the dead–you know how tombstones will say things like “In loving memory of…”–and because many of characters in the book are motivated by memories of things that happened to them in the past.

When I got an agent for GHOST, she felt IN MEMORY OF was too vague (no doubt true, and I am sure I would have had to change it after it sold if I hadn’t before) and wanted to retitle it before sending it to publishers. As I mentioned above, titles are not my strong point. Every now and then a perfect one pops into my head for a certain book, but that’s not something I can control. So I started reading through lists of euphemisms for death and dying, hoping for inspiration. The one that jumped out at me was, of course, “giving up the ghost.” I liked that, like the original title, it had that death association, plus it actually had the word “ghost,” and again it seemed to relate to the characters’ issues (needing to give up on old hurts and move on) on another level as well.

So we sent out the book with the title GIVING UP THE GHOST, and it was bought with this title. My editor at Holt loved it, and I assumed we were keeping it. Then, shortly after I finished revisions, my editor told me that the house wanted a new title, because there had been another YA novel called GIVING UP THE GHOST published a couple of years before. I was disappointed, because it’d been hard enough coming up with a second title I really loved, but I offered some alternatives I could live with. After some back and forth, my editor suggested that they’d actually be okay if we just tweaked the title a little, which sounded great to me. Which is how GIVING UP THE GHOST became GIVE UP THE GHOST, as it stands today. 🙂

What will happen with THE WAY WE FALL remains to be seen. So far, though, everyone seems to like it!

Fellow writers: Care to share about a time you had to change a title?


Reader Question: Titles — 5 Comments

  1. That’s interesting how your title changes. I’ve heard that they sometimes do when you get an agent–your agent at the time wrote some good blog posts about that–and after you get a publisher. Sorry I don’t have any experiences to share.

    • No need to apologize! And yep, title changes usually happen with agents and publishers–most often the publisher, from what I’ve seen, since there are so many different people there who have to approve.

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