Beware of First Titles

The thing about being human is that we have to name everything in order to talk about it, including our writing projects. While I was writing my first novel, I simply referred to it as “my novel,” but now that I’ve written seven that generic title isn’t as useful as it once was.  I think titles are the hardest part of writing something, so I usually put them off, waiting for the “perfect title” to jump out at me. In the meantime, I give them generic titles that reference something in the novel, such as “High Priest.”

The problem is, I’m finding, that it’s hard to separate these titles from the novel ever after. I referred to one of my most recent novels as “Go to Hell,” which I thought was so clever because a) that novel did give me hell and b) it was a companion novel to an earlier one I’d written named Finding Heaven, and when originally brainstorming titles, I was thinking of those that would somehow tie it to the other novel. I always knew that “Go to Hell” wouldn’t ultimately end up being the title . . . but I wrote that novel for over two years, and none of the other titles I come up with are as broken in and comfortable as this one.

I find it’s best when a title comes to me before I’ve even started the novel because then I don’t have to deal with the agony of wrenching that temporary title away from it. This happened with my NaNoWriMo novel, where I had a title before I began, then changed it about four times in the course of writing it, only to go back to the original title–and I’m leaving it at that.

This all comes up because I changed the name of my QueeredFiction submission about half an hour before I mailed it off. The title felt “right” at the time, but when I got the confirmation email today referencing the new title, I had this moment of, “Ugh, that’s not my story!”

Perhaps I should take solace in the fact that publishers almost always change titles. But that’s not completely comforting to one who doesn’t yet have a publisher. 😉 I think I’ll do a future post on tips for titling, and I’d love to hear anything others have discovered.