What Was That, Again?

Got thinking about titles. Titles of Books. Short Stories. Murder Mysteries. Fantasies. Poems. Lyrics. Just how important are they? Then I ran across this on Mental Floss: “What 10 More Books Were Almost Called” C so I’m supposing they’ve run series like this before. But I liked and was familiar with the ten they listed in this version. Which ones have you read? How many would you have read if they’d carried the “original” title?


ORIGINAL                                                                           AS PUBLISHED

They Don’t Build Statues to Businessmen       Valley of the Dolls ~ Jacqueline Susann

Kingdom By the Sea                                                       Lolita ~ Vladimir Nabokov

HarryPotter & the Doomspell Tournament or
Harry Potter & the Triwizard Tournament      Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire ~ J. K. Rowling

Goodnight Room                                                               Goodnight Moon ~ Margaret Wise Brown

James and the Giant Cherry                                        James and the Giant Peach ~ Roald Dahl

A Week with Willie Worm                                           The Very Hungry Caterpillar ~ Eric Carle

Second‑Hand Lives                                                         The Fountainhead ~ Ayn Rand

Strangers from Within                                                    Lord of the Flies ~ William Golding

Something That Happened                                          Of Mice & Men ~ John Steinbeck

The Mute                                                                               The Heart is a Lonely Hunter ~ Carson McCullers

The titles changed for a variety of reasons, with occasional suggestions from various sources.

Jacqueline Susann went for a “snappier” title, while Nabokov wanted to pay homage to E. A. Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” the nickname Humbert gave his first teenage love.

J.K. Rowling’s working title (the first listed above) was leaked before the book was ready; she “kicked around” the other possibility above, but decided to go with Goblet of Fire to get the “cup of destiny” feel about it.

Brown’s title changed to give a more “ready to drift off into dreamland” feel to her story and Dahl felt a peach was “prettier, bigger and squishier.” He sure got that right!

Ayn Rand explained her “new” title on the dedication page of her manuscript: “To Frank O’Connor, who is less guilty of second-handedness than anyone I have ever met.”

There are those (possibly William Golding among them) who thought the original title may have had something to do with the reason it was rejected… SIX TIMES. (So, don’t give up: try, try again!)

Steinbeck’s original title would supposedly show, for better or worse, sometimes things just happen. And that’s the way life is. (It still needed a better title.)

Eric Carle’s editor, Ann Benaduce, suggested he make a slight change to the book, and Carle had no clear ending in mind. Switching the story to a caterpillar gave him a natural conclusion ‑‑‑ and is much more appealing, in my “book” anyway.

The sales manager at Houghton Mifflin suggested the changed title to Carson McCullers. Guess we need to look at anyone’s, everyone’s suggestions.

TITLES: make ’em snappy; pertinent to your story, or its mood or purpose; try out various possibilities on your critique partners and/or friends; lend a touch of magic, or inevitability, or warning where you can; consider your eventual target audience and appeal to that child, woman, guy’s guy, etc.

Listen to advice from ALL sources, but make up your own mind in the end. And if your manuscript is turned down, try something new and send it out again.