April 19, 2012
A Book by Any Other Name
How important is the title of a book when sending a proposal? Very important and not at all.
Sometimes a title can be so bad the editor can't get past it and rejects the project before ever looking at the proposal seriously. A proposed title can also be so good that it sets expectations sky high. But often the title doesn't help or hinder, so the editor has to engage the proposal to make a determination.
Once a proposal came to us with a title that was so outrageously bad I hooted and howled. (Sorry, I have to remain mum on identities here to protect the guilty.) With such a title, it was clear to me that the author's agent wasn't serving the book well. But I knew the author so I went further into the proposal. It was actually very solid and had potential. So I told colleagues, "Well, if we call the book ___________, maybe we could do it." That was in fact the title we settled on when we published the book a year later, to good success.
Rarely do titles come so easily or spontaneously. Rachelle Gardner is a literary agent who offers a good process for developing titles. (A coworker recently pointed this out to me here.) Gardner's advice is well worth following. And it is very true when she advises authors, "Think of it this way: the better your title is, the better your chance that the publisher will decide to use it, rather than changing it." That has certainly been our experience at IVP.
Some other tips to keep in mind when titling can be found here. But also remember: Titling takes work. It's one of the hardest parts of writing, editing and publishing. But it is worth the effort.
Sorry, Bill, but a book by any other name may not smell as sweet.