Don’t miss Fiona McGier’s terrific guest post and #giveaway at the bottom of this post!!
Titles–or “I’ve written a great book, now what the heck do I call it?”
When I wrote my first book, over 10 years ago, I did what I always tell my students: barf it out quickly, clean it up later. As an English teacher with an emphasis on teaching writing, this is the only way I know of to avoid writer’s block. Any English teacher or editor can help you to clean up your work, making it grammatically correct. But no one else can reach into your head, ala the pensieve in one of the Harry Potter books, and pull out your ideas. You have to do that yourself. For most people that’s the hard part. So that’s why I make a joke of it when I talk to teenagers. They like to make gagging noises and show me just how they’ll barf out their ideas.
So there I was, with my first-ever book done, and I started looking for publishers to submit it to. Then I looked on the submissions guidelines for a few, and to my chagrin, the first thing they asked after who the author was, is what’s the title? I blinked a few times in surprise. Title? I don’t need no stinkin’ title! Isn’t that someone else’s job? Alas, it isn’t. Especially in the world of e-publishing, which is the only publishing world I’ve had experience in, the author must come up with the title. And despite looking around on-line, I didn’t find any website with helpful hints about how to do this.
I tried talking to my characters, but discovered that once I typed The End, those particular characters stopped speaking in my mind. The minor characters were getting noisy, demanding that I give them a romance of their own too, maybe in my next book. But none of the voices in my head had helpful suggestions. So I sat and thought about the story I’d just written. My very first book was about a woman about to turn 40, divorced, with 2 pre-teen kids, and a part-time business she runs with her best friend, also about to turn 40, also divorced with 2 kids. The heroine thinks she’s too old for romance. Since she uses music by Santana to dance to, I thought of one of his songs, and named this book, Never Too Old for the Game of Love.
My second book was about her best friend, the chef. She opens a small cafe to supplement their party-planning business, so I called the second book Recipe For Love.
I wrote 4 more books in this series so far, and all of them are like the second book, in that they have the occupation of one of the main characters in the titles. Love by Design is about an interior designer, Analysis of Love is about a therapist, Prescription for Love is about a doctor(and is a free download on Smashwords), and Love Therapy involves a physical therapist. All of these books feature members of the Reyes family, a large, loving Hispanic family living in a Chicago suburb.
When I was writing my female spy novels, which are unfortunately, temporarily unavailable since my publisher closed, I thought of titles that had words related to agents. Secret Love was such a great title for the first book! It wasn’t until after it was published that I went onto Amazon and found out just how many other books have that same title. Then the second book involves a female spy and two agents who want to romance her, so I called it Undercover Lovers. This title is also used by others, though not as many.
I wrote a couple of stand-alones, with titles that reflected the plots. Then I wrote what I thought was a stand-alone book with a romance set up in Grand Marais, Minnesota, a favorite camping destination for my family. The hero is an actor with a drug addiction, who has never felt a real emotion in his life. He’s sent up to Grand Marais by an indie director who wants him to star in a movie, but only if he can stop getting arrested for partying too much. He gradually falls in love with the director’s cousin, and discovers that in order to win her love, he has to save himself. For the Love of His Life is the title, and it’s a pun, because she is the love of his life, but also unless he changes, he won’t have a life to love. I used puns in the next two titles in this series as well. I have to self-publish these this summer, because they were with the publisher that closed also.
My latest book to come out is a werewolf book. The heroine, Saoirse, is first generation American, born to parents from Ireland. She’s a biology researcher who keeps getting fired for not being willing to produce the results that the clients specify. She says if even science is going to lie, there’s no truth left. Her best friend suggests she apply to a high school academy that’s looking for a biology teacher. She’ll have to live on the premises, since it’s in a remote area of Maine. The only teaching she’s ever done is when she was working on her masters, and she was a TA (teacher assistant), but she gets the job. The principal, Diego, doesn’t have a degree in education, but he’s great with troubled kids, since he was one. His inner wolf is attracted to her scent the first time they meet, and impatient with him because humans take so long to court. It’s so much quicker and easier with wolves! She likes the remoteness of the place, and even enjoys the nightly howling of what she’s told is the local wolf pack that lives on the grounds. Of course, she has no idea that the sexy principal has a secret, as do many of the other people she works with. I call this one, When a Wolf Howls. I’ve already submitted the sequel, and keeping with the wolf-alliteration in the first title, I call it Worth the Wait.
So what advice can I offer to writers? You know your plots and your characters better than anyone else. You spend lots of time with them, as you write down their life stories. If they won’t help you with the title, think of what readers will want to know about the book. Are there shifters in the book? The kind of shifter should be in the title. Vampires or other paranormal creatures? Reflect their existence in the title. For contemporary romance, which is usually what I write (unless some rogue paranormal characters hijack my muse), I usually put something involving an occupation, or something that has great significance to the main characters. If you’re lucky enough to have beta readers or an author group, maybe run some ideas by them. But whatever you pick, you might want to do a cursory search to find out if it’s a much-used title. That makes it harder for readers to find your book with that title. You’re a creative person. Just create a few more words!
Here’s an excerpt of When a Wolf Howls:
Saoirse and Diego have gone on a run in the woods. When they stop in a very private place, they both sit on the grass, eating cookies he liberated from the dining room, and drinking from water bottles. They chat about how she’s adapting to life in such a remote place. Diego asks her a question about age, knowing she’s just turned thirty-five.
“How old do you think I am?”
“About twenty-five? I know you’re younger than me.”
“Not by as much as you think. I’m thirty-one.”
“I can only hope moving here is as healthy for me, as it obviously is for all of you.”
They were both quiet, for a few minutes, drinking more from their water bottles. Diego asked another question.
“How do you feel, personally, about living here? Are you adapting okay to the silence and the isolation?”
She grinned, “I don’t get much silence when I’m in class with the kids. They’re noisy all of the time. I wish I could bottle their energy…I could make a fortune selling it! So when I do get time off, I enjoy not having to interact with anyone, unless I want to. I mean the meals are communal, but I usually enjoy that.”
“You can always ask for something to be sent up to your room, if you don’t feel like talking to anyone. That’s why you have a dining area in your suite.”
“Thanks. That’s good to know, if I ever feel like eating by myself. I have a lot of solo hobbies, like reading, and I like to do yoga in my room. Plus now that I have access to some art supplies, I’ve been doing some painting again, which I haven’t been able to do for years. So yeah, I’ve been enjoying living here.”
“I know we don’t have much in the way of night life. There aren’t any clubs for attractive young women like you to go partying the night away. The closest town is Bingham, and they roll their sidewalks up after dinner and turn out the lights.”
“I never did get much into clubbing. I mean I went with Freddie and Jorge when I was living with them, since their friends were all into that. But it’s not really my scene. Don’t get me wrong, I do like to dance and party, but not as much as I did when I was in my younger, more rebellious days. Ten years ago, I’d have thought this place was too remote. Now I like the peace and quiet.”
He was sitting right in front of her, and she saw a quick upward curve of his lips as he heard her answer. He looked away for a moment, and she sensed a hesitation on his part.
“Is there anything else you want to ask me?”
He was silent for just a heartbeat, then he turned to her and looked into her eyes.
“Would it be alright with you if I kiss you?”
She returned his gaze. “I wish you would.”
He leaned closer and she closed her eyes as their lips met.
She was surprised by the tingle that she felt from that tiny connection with him. It was like an electric jolt that traveled down her throat and made her nipples tighten with excitement. It traveled lower, warming her abdomen, to zero in on her clit, newly alive and throbbing. With a low moan, she leaned forward into the kiss, wanting more.
Diego was fighting a battle for control, with his wolf. It was fully awake and making demands in a language that only he understood.
Take her now! She belongs to us!
No! She’s not pack. She doesn’t know what that would mean.
No matter. She will learn. She will be pack.
Hear her? Smell her? She wants. Take her!
They were startled by the sudden noise of branches being trampled nearby, and a growling sound.
Diego pulled back from the kiss to turn his head in the direction of the sound and inhale deeply. Instantly he reached out and covered her mouth with his hand. He shook his head, silently asking her to not make a sound.
A mama Black Bear with two cubs emerged from the brush only a few feet away from them. The family lumbered by them, heading for the stream. Once she was downwind from them, she turned and saw them. She regarded them gravely, growling a warning to her cubs as she took a step nearer to the invaders.
Diego made a low growling sound in his throat, and the bear stopped. She turned back to the cubs and headed up the stream, herding them along with her, to quickly put distance between them and the humans.
When Diego was satisfied that the danger was over, he took his hand off Saoirse’s mouth.
“Are you okay?”
She nodded weakly.
“I’ve never seen a bear up close before. I’ve never even seen a bear not in a zoo before. That was terrifying, and exciting, all at the same time!”
He stood up and offered her a hand to pull her up.
“The danger is over, for now. Just the same, it’s getting late, and we want to be back in time for some dinner.”
“How did you do that growling thing that convinced her to leave?”
He shrugged, “You live around here long enough, you learn ways to convince the locals to leave you alone. We were intruding on her home territory. I tried to let her know we were leaving. So we need to make good on that promise. Are you ready?”
“Wow. Just, wow. Maybe you can teach me that someday?”
But he had already turned back to the path they had come on and was walking quickly towards the woods.
Saoirse glanced back at the stream the bears were in, then followed the man who knew how to get them back to the area of this wilderness that humans had claimed for themselves.
Do you have any advice about choosing titles? Or have you ever been attracted to a book just by the title? Or have you ever been turned off of a book just from the title?
Leave a comment, and I’ll pick one winner, who can choose which one of my books you want to read. Go visit my website, http://www.fionamcgier.com, and figure out which one you’d like. I’ll pick a winner in 2 weeks, on the 20th of March, since I’ll be out of town next week.