Accepting Responsibility for Your Titles

It’s fairly common for editors to want to change titles. Sometimes a title might be too much like that of another book. For example, one of my novels had the working title of Berserker Prime. I turned it in without realizing that Fred Saberhagen had used the same title five years previous. This kind of thing has happened to me more than once.

Other times, the editor just doesn’t like your title for artistic reasons. Maybe the title is too long, too obscure, or doesn’t have the right resonance. Heck, I’ve known some editors who change your titles for absolutely no good reason. When I was writing for one young adult publisher, the editors always changed my titles—without ever telling me or asking my opinion.

On two occasions I’ve had editors ask to change my titles to something that I thought was blasé. In both instances, my sales in the series fell dramatically.

There is a saying in the book industry that “A bad title won’t hurt book sales on a series.” That may be true, but when you get a bad title, the artist almost always comes up with a lackluster image. Thus, you get both a bad title and a lousy cover.

Don’t do it. If you and your editor can’t agree on a title, ask for a day or two and think about a new title. Come up with a good one. If your editor doesn’t like it, tell him or her to butt out. It’s your book, your career, and your livelihood on the line.

A good title should have three qualities.

  1. It needs to be short, only a word or three, so that it can fit on the cover.
  2. It should combine words or images in an interesting way so that readers will wonder what it is about. I think that my novel Wizardborn worked well that way, but there are plenty of novels on the bookstore shelves that provide good examples.
  3. It should resonate with other books in your genre. In short, if you’re writing a romance, the title should scream “Romance.” If you’re writing horror, it should be appropriate for horror.

So pick a good title for your novel, and then stick with it. If your editor calls you and says, “Hey, I’ve been thinking that you should change this title. . . .” Ask him or her why. In the cases where it happened to me, the editor did it at the last moment, just before the book was going to press, or the catalogs were going to the bookstores. I allowed the changes, but the proper response should be, “We’ve been editing this book for a year. Why the hell didn’t you bring it up earlier? Forget it. The title stays.”

Don’t be pressured into making last-minute changes. Take responsibility for your title.


Quick Start Your Writing Career (Live Workshop)

The average writer takes fourteen years from the time that he or she begins to write until the time that they become a bestseller. As a new writer, I wondered if there was a way to shorten that time. I was able to shave off eleven of those years. In this workshop, I’m going to share some strategies that will hopefully save you years of frustration and heartache, so that you can hit the bestseller list quickly. Learn more or register here.

David Farland’s Fantasy Writing Workshop – 1 Spot Left!


YHA Oxford, Oxfordshire, England
August 22-August 28, 2018
Cost: $1099 for the workshop. Lodging, food, and travel are all the student’s responsibility

Join us for our most magical workshop ever! In this workshop, David Farland will be focusing on writing fantasy—building powerful magic systems, cultures, and worlds, creating fantasy characters, plotting fantasy, and writing powerful prose.

Students will need to bring a laptop, an unfettered imagination, and a strong work ethic. Being half-mad would also be a help.

This workshop will last three days longer than most of Dave’s workshops so that you will be able to focus on writing each day but still have some afternoons free to do some sightseeing. We will spend time visiting nearby sites like Stonehenge, The Eagle and Child Pub (where Tolkien and Lewis met with the Inklings writing group), Warwick Castle, Shakespeare’s home, and we will be within easy striking distance of London.

Learn more or register here.

One thought on “Accepting Responsibility for Your Titles

  1. Amy Keeley

    That advice about titles is good for indie authors, too. Not just the three points of a good title, but deciding on a good one early in the publishing process and then sticking with it instead of letting the internal editor make a last-minute change out of fear.


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