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A Rose by Any Other Name

It’s a well-known phenomenon that writers, artists and other creative types alike are, at the very least, incredibly close to their work. The tiniest change in detail, a spot of color there, a preposition change here means a great deal to the creator. It should only rightly follow, then, that the title of a book goes under a great deal of change and scrutiny and causes much consternation. Visual artists can get away with calling everything “Untitled #__,” but writers have this dilemma of having to use words. And we all know how hard it is to get words exactly, 100% beautifully right!

Despite all of this, it’s hard to imagine old favorites or tried and true classics ever being called anything else. I came across this article in Publishers Weekly yesterday (okay, Lauren showed it to me) revealing what the working titles for many old standbys were. Of course James Joyce would be super secretive about Finnegan’s Wake, and though I’ve never read more than 3 pages of the book before throwing it across the room, I can see where Work in Progress would have been applicable. The book does start in the middle of a sentence…

I love that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? had to be changed to Who’s Afraid of Franz Kafka? in Prague for contextual and political reasons and I really, really, really wish that The Great Gatsby was called The High Bouncing Lover. Alas.

Could any of the “great books,” or even just famous books do with a better title? How many titles do you end up going through before settling on the perfect one? Can someone please write a book and call it The Terror of the Monster?

6 Responses to A Rose by Any Other Name

  1. Jim Hofer says:

    I’m still amazed that the 1st Harry Potter book had to have a name change for the US. Would American children really not read about the philosopher’s stone?

    BTW – There was a popular hash tag on Twitter last year – #LessInteresteringBooks – where people were playing names with book titles, like “Call of the Mild” or “Harry Potter and the Order of Cheese Sticks”

  2. ryan field says:

    I usually do a collaboration with the publisher. And I honestly don’t mind if they have the final say. Choosing titles is frustrating at best when so close to the work.

  3. Lance Parkin says:

    Ian Fleming thought of calling Live and Let Die ‘The Undertaker’s Wind’ at one point.

    I think the thing with titles … it probably matters, but ultimately the name of the author or the quality of the book can over-ride that. ‘The Corrections’, ‘Middlesex’ or ‘The Help’ aren’t terribly exciting titles, or rather they could be the titles to pretty much any type of book.

    It’s not so much that the title has to be amazingly fitting or sharp, it’s more that you get a buzz of ‘yes … heard of that’ when you’re going through a real or virtual bookshop.

  4. M.E. Anders says:

    It’s nice to have a title for any work in progress, but I do not find it necessary to have my final title until publication. Collaborating with the publishers and editors are vital components to the end product.

  5. Joelle says:

    My first book was called Handsome Molly (after a song in the book & my character’s name) through all the revisions, but Michael thought it sounded like historical fiction, so for 3 months I tried to think of something new. The day before it went out on submission, I came up with Restoring Harmony, which I only sort of liked. It stuck though, and it’s grown on me. Although, sometimes I do still think it sounds like a self-help book!

    I used the working title of The Right & the Real for my second novel, and this spring it will be released as…The Right & the Real. And the title, which I was sure would be changed, ended up with an EXCELLENT cover which uses the title in an interesting way.

    I have three “secret” titles that I hope to write books for someday because I love them so much, and no clue what the title of the book I’m working on right now will be.

    It’s a tricky part of writing!

  6. Nuku says:

    I know it can’t be helped, but I find it super mean that you can’t always keep the title you come up with for your book. When I choose a title it has deep meaning and connection to a story, I think I’d be heartbroken if the publisher wants to change it!
    I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about this, and I’ve even seen books where they chose a random sentence in the book as the title. This one book was a Christian romance and it had something with ‘green peas’ on the title. It turned me off immediately.

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