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.