Forget blurbs. Forget synopses. Forget even writing a novel or composing the jacket cover biography. The hardest job is finding a title. You’ve written a book to be proud of. You’ve put years of experience, months of work, weeks of revision, days of anticipation into the masterpiece. What keeps you awake night after night? The title.
What comes to mind? Nothing as arresting, compelling, delightful, thrilling as the story. No. What do you do?
Sometimes I search the manuscript for phrases that catch the eye or the imagination. Funny thing. There never seems to be one that meets expectations. Does that mean…? Could that mean the book isn’t as great as I thought? I don’t entertain that thought for very long. That’s just “Title Search Paranoia” whittling down writer confidence.
What’s in a title, anyway? Just about everything, at least according to one of my college professors. Get that right and you’ve put a book in someone’s hands. Get it wrong and you’re overlooked for the catwalk creation sitting next to your wallflower. You need resonance. You need speaks to the heart/soul. What you get in the middle of the night is, well,… not much.
Sometimes, the best one comes to you as a flash of serendipity. Sometimes you agonize. Sometimes, you find a title before you know your characters’ names or written a word.I carry a notebook in my bag. When a title presents itself, I make a note. Too often, the moment of inspiration passes without recognition. Just as often, the recorded title has no meaning when I next open that notebook.
Once in a while, I find myself locked into a title that is exactly perfect. Much more often, the novel is written, the characters ready for their moment to be read but the book is “untitled” or has the first name of one of the characters to distinguish it from all the other works in progress in my computer filing system.
In the case of my first novel for Avalon Books (to be released in April) the title came to me as I was walking to meet my lift to work. I was singing in my head and there it was. Wait a Lonely Lifetime has two significant events or connections to recommend it to me.
You may know it from the Beatles’ song, “I Will”:
Will I wait a lonely lifetime?
If you want me to, I will.
This was the song in my head and is actually a musical reference to a song that always breaks my heart when I hear it and one that both DR and I shared as a favorite when we first met – playing on the jukebox in a bar in Noe Valley – we were on our second date. The music and lyrics are by Stephen Bishop and the song’s title is “Looking for the Right One”:
Will I wait another lifetime,
Keep on looking for the right one?
Art Garfunkel also recorded this song but I prefer Bishop’s original. You decide:
This line, these four words, were and are perfect for the story I tell in Wait a Lonely Lifetime, of two people who find “the right one” but are kept apart for a ‘lifetime’ by the calculated interference of someone they both thought of as a friend.
I’ve always loved that song … of course, I’m a devoted Beatles fan.
Oddly, I’ve never experienced much strain on titles. Plenty of thought, of course. And sometimes title variations will come to me in sleep or near-sleep.
My early working title did not remain … in 6 out of 7 completed novel ms.
But for my 2nd novel ms., the working title was the one I had in mind even before I even began actual writing. And it’s still the one I favor, though some readers have tried to talk me out of it.
And what title was that, Jeff, the one some readers tried to talk you out of?
Today, I had the opportunity to hear some title suggestions from publishers that made the authors cringe. What’s the worst you can think of that never made it to the bookshelf?
Correct me when I’m wrong! Paul McCartney wrote ‘I Will’ 10 years before Stephen Bishop recorded ‘Looking for the Right One’.