A Good Title Is Hard to Find



Lest one think being a published author is all bubbles and brownies, consider all the work author Drew Perry  put into nailing down the perfect title for his just-published novel. Kids These Days takes aim at the two sides of a man’s impending fatherhood: abject terror and unconditional love.  In an irony that probably wasn’t as hilarious to Perry or his editor, Kathy Poriesa lot of effort went into naming this particular baby.


Drew: The title used to be something else, something like The Ice Machine Mogul’s Daughter or The Endless Causeway of Truth, and my editor took it away from me. Which was fine—I was mad, but she was right. The problem: Then I had no title, and I went through hundreds of possible titles before I could even find the two dozen or so SONY DSCthat also ended up getting rejected. This was my life for a week or six: Thinking of a title, loving it, writing it down, and then slowly coming to hate both the new title and myself. Kids These Days came to me driving to Florida, actually, on the interstate while, for one miracle moment, the kids and my wife were all asleep, and I took it as a sign.

Kathy: There is no escaping the dreaded title discussion. There is nothing quite like the silence you encounter on the other end of the phone line when you tell an author that the title of their book, which you loved so much, “isn’t working,” that it’s “missing something,” or feels “blind,” or too reminiscent of another book, or not reminiscent enough of other books. Or, it’s good, but couldn’t it be better? Silence ensues. You think it can’t get much worse than this, that the worst part is over. You’ve told them! There! But no, then you have to ask them to take a few days and send you a big list of possible new titles. Which they do, as they’re feeling bad, but still feeling mostly good about their editor. And then, inevitably, you get to tell them that, um, actually, none of the new titles work either.

Perry_Kids_pbk_Jkt_rgb_LRWe don’t enjoy this torturous part. Truthfully, a good title is hard to find. Often, the best ones are right there, staring at you, embedded in a line in the book.

When Drew came up with Kids These Days, it struck us all as that Perfect Title: In the novel, there is nothing that terrifies Walt more than the prospect of having his own kids. Then, when he meets his reckless adolescent niece, it’s as if all his fears about raising a child are realized in one fell swoop. And then, of course there is no denying that Walt himself is still in many ways stubbornly holding on to his own kid self, refusing to step up to the plate for all that parenthood must entail.

What I hope, each time, is that the author will forget that that whole episode ever happened. Wishful thinking, on my part: They are, after all, writers, with strong memories–and documents of how it all happened!

5 Comments On This Post:

January 23, 2014
5:40 pm
Carolyn Lincoln says...

Love this blog! I never thought about that part of editing. Tough job! I have the book in my hot little hands and it is next on my reading list. I can already tell that I will love it.

January 23, 2014
5:55 pm
Aline Ohanesian says...

Great post. Every step of the writing & publishing process is a labor of love. Can’t wait to dive into this book.

January 24, 2014
6:40 pm
Carolyn Jourdan says...

Wow! I can’t believe I got my title by you on the first try. : )

January 24, 2014
9:47 pm
This week in writing 1/24/14 | Knitting with Pencils says...

[…] about why agents sometimes want you to change your title. Then there was a post from Algonquin on how awkward editors feel asking authors to rename a book. At least it’s not just […]

January 31, 2014
2:40 pm
Erin Pushman says...

Love this new blog, Algonquin!
I’d like to be a writer who believes in my own titles, but I am not. I’ve always struggled with titles for short pieces. I write creative nonfiction and tend to think of all my titles as working titles until the pieces get published. And even after the titles appear in print, I still have little confidence in them. Trying to title a book-length manuscript is proving even more difficult. I do hope my book will have an editor some day, and already I am wistfully imagining the conversation in which that editor teaches me how find a good title.

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