Wednesday, April 09, 2008
I'd like some help with titles, but first I'd like to share part of an article I recently read in The Week. The focus was the stories behind the titles of a few classic novels and was adapted from the book Why Not Catch-21 by author Gary Dexter. Since the article was already pared down, it's almost impossible to completely paraphrase it, so I am using lots of quotes.
My favorite one was the title story. I was under the impression that Catch-22, an expression used to describe an impossible bind, existed before the title was given to the book but just the opposite is true. It is the book that created the saying -- think about it, there are no catches 1-21 and no Catch-23 onward. "Its very uniqueness," Dexter writes, "meant Heller had to think carefully before naming or numbering it. And his choice was --- Catch-18."
Heller was a bomber pilot during the Second World War and so was his character in the book. When he submitted it (three years later) to the publisher, it still had that title. But then Leon Uris came out with a book the same year called Mila 18 also about the war and so Heller got the job of renaming his book. "It was thought that Heller, a first-time novelist, should be the one to blink."
In a 1975 interview, Heller said, "I was heartbroken. I thought 18 was the only number." Dexter says, "A long process of of numerical agonizing began in which the author and his editor, Robert Gottlieb, worked their way through the integers looking for the right formula. Catch-11 was one of the first suggestions, but was rejected because of the film Ocean's Eleven. Heller at one point settled on Catch-14 but Gottleb threw it out for being too nondescript. When 22 came up, Gottelieb felt it had the right ring, and Heller acceded two weeks later. 'I thought 22 was a funnier number than 14,' Gottlieb said in 1967.'"
Now, I understand I am not writing a classic, but I also understand a title can be a big selling point. In my corner of the world, hooks are used as title bait. Thus my next release, named by my editors, "The Lawman's Secret Son." My title was Shot In The Dark, but I was warned it was too mainstream and that it would hinder sales. I don't want to hinder sales. So my title has the secret baby hook and the policeman hook and it's okay with me. Try getting snotty about these things and see how far it gets you. Plus I've grown to like it just fine.
I'm currently working on a book about identical triplet brothers. I would like to submit with titles that reflect the fact there are thee of them. I've been mulling it over and have come up with zip. With the twin women I did a couple of years ago, they named the "series" Dead Ringers, and then the books had their own titles, so maybe that's where I should get in the three part. Any bright thoughts?
I'm not exactly in a Catch-22, but I could use a little brainstorming. Of course, this is the cart before the horse as I only have twenty pages of book one and seven pages of synopsis and a general idea of book three and very little for book two, but I thought I would throw it out there. Plus, a week or so ago, Paty mentioned titles so maybe she'll chime in.
Do you have a method? Do you use a phrase from your book? If you've published, have you kept your own title? I've been about half ad half.