Thursday, July 24, 2014

My nemesis: Titles

I'm bad at coming up with titles.

My first published short story was pitched as "Hope Came Out" and published as "Your Terms."

My recently sold nonfiction piece for The Toast was pitched as "Have Fun Dying Alone In Your Houseful of Cats: The World Reacts to an Asexual Woman." (Wow, what a mouthful.) They published it as "'Enjoy Your Houseful of Cats': On Being an Asexual Woman."

My nonfiction book on asexuality was pitched as So You Think You're Asexual: An Introduction to the Invisible Orientation. It was acquired and will be sold as The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality.

I like all the titles other people picked for me better than I like the ones I came up with. My title will probably get changed on everything I ever sell because I think I'm Really Bad at this. It's a little weird for someone whose life revolves around picking the right words to say she sucks at doing it in one particular situation, but I guess this is a symptom of my broader difficulty in being concise.

Summing up the essence of your piece while making it appealing to your audience is very difficult. It's a rare talent.

And now I'm struggling with naming one of my short stories and I just can't do it. I named it something silly at first. Then I named it something even sillier because I was exasperated. Now I just kind of want to find a title for it that isn't too ridiculous, and I probably need help again. Anyone want to read a 10,000ish-word short story and help me name it? General fiction, queer characters, commentary on relationships.

The first book I ever wrote, at age fourteen, was called Double Vision. There was no reason for this. The "double" part had an obvious tie to the plot, as the action focused around nine pairs of twins. I have no idea what the "vision" part was supposed to be. I probably just thought it sounded cool.

The second book I began to write and left unfinished never got a title. I call it the "Skyler Stories" book because the protagonist's name was Skyler Stories (yep, that was her last name), but it also makes it convenient in talking about it as a story, haha. What a nerd.

The third book (which ended up blending into book four, five, six, seven, and eight for me) was a fantasy series about a telekinetic teenager named Ivy, and the series literally got named by a drunk guy in a chat room. I was basically doing then what I am doing now--complaining about my inability to name my work--and this dude started throwing out ridiculous and funny titles to "help" me. My friend and I were in the chat room goofing around with him and then all of a sudden he said "The House That Ivy Built!" and my friend and I kinda "looked" at each other because, well, actually she built a house in the book. It stuck. I later thanked the drunk guy for naming it and he didn't remember the experience at all.

I couldn't think of good individual titles for the books in the series so they became THTIB books 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, with a prequel I titled Book 0. Then when I started writing a webcomic based on it that covered the events before Book 0, I just called it Negative One. Yeah, that's the ridiculous reason behind my webcomic title. It's not profound or anything. It's just me being bad at titles.

Then came Bad Fairy and, well, it's an awfully cutesy title for a book that's not friggin' cute. It's a series too. I haven't named any of the individual books in it, much like with THTIB. When that sells (hehehee, I love saying "when"), I bet the publisher will change it. They probably should. Or at least add a subtitle.

Then I started (but didn't finish, yet?) a book about a kid with divorced parents and wow, the originality must have been leaking out of my pores when I decided to call it Joint Custody. Subtle, eh? And it's sad, because the protagonist is really an interestingly complicated little boy and there are so many other things his story could be called. But then I go and pick the obvious thing. Shame on me.

Finding Mulligan is probably my best title. Like, it's mysterious and you're like "huh, who's trying to find WHAT now?" and it's totally accurate because the protagonist spends most of the book looking for Mulligan, but I'm not sure if other people think it's a good title.

And then we have my latest, Stupid Questions, which I like because it kind of attracts your attention and makes you wonder what kind of questions are stupid but to be honest I'm concerned about it being ableist (even though it's questions being called stupid, not people).

With a lot of my short stories I just named them after characters because I couldn't think of anything. I have twenty-eight short stories listed on my most comprehensive page. Five of them are just a character's name. Three more mention a character's name. Most of the rest of them are incredibly vague/boring/generic. Like "Goodbye." And "The Escape." And "The Curse." And "The Mother." I actually like a couple of my story titles. "Her Mother's Child" is a pretty cool, evocative title, and since that short story sold to a magazine but isn't published yet, I guess we'll see someday soon whether they keep it. I like the title "Bloom" despite its simplicity. I like "In Love With Love." Kinda.

But for some reason I'm really stuck on this one and I haven't listed it amongst my short story lists anywhere because I can't think of something to freaking call it! And even if it's a temporary title, you can't pitch something with no title, even if you hate the temporary title you picked. Maybe somebody who doesn't suck at titles can help me out?


  1. I owe you one - so send it to me. (Does this Comment thing-y give you my email address?) BTW, I've retitled my own novel recently, no longer Great Wharf but instead: When Mrs. Cook Got Out More.

    1. I still have it from Pitch Wars if your gmail is still appropriate.

  2. Ahhh, titles.

    I mentioned Bad Fairy to a friend once. She incorrectly assumed it was a light-hearted children's book rather than a YA trilogy o-e So maybe for marketing reasons the publisher might consider changing the title, since it is a bit cutesy? I guess we'll see.

    I don't know if my titles are any good >_> I think I've only gotten better because I, like, borrow/steal from other stuff >.>

    Even though Redemption was named as such because it's the super explicit theme of my first sci-fi, I only got the idea because it was the name of this kind-of-famous piece by my favorite photographer, Zhang Jingna.

    With my latest sci-fi book, I kept coming back to the different ways the main telekinetics accessed their powers, and I thought about calling it Serenity or Equilibrium. But I couldn't do it. Because I knew I was just stealing the titles from other sci-fi >.> I didn't want to have the same name as the movies, so I looked up synonyms, and came across ataraxia. Originally, it going to be Equanimity but I liked Ataraxia better (as a word and concept.)

    So I just worked in a conversation about Epicurean philosophy and A TITLE WAS BORN.

    I keep doing around the same. (Named a short story, The Way Out Is Through, after my favorite NIN song. Named my latest novel because I remembered this movie I saw called Millennium Actress, and knew I could use the Millennium bit Dx Ahhh, so lame).

    1. Interesting history. ;)

      Bad Fairy isn't even a YA trilogy so that's even worse. It's for grown-ups.