ON TO TITLES (bugle blaring in the background)…

Last week, I closed by saying we would talk about titles and how they come to be. So I’m simply going to describe my own experience. I’m not speaking for anyone else. I’m sure every author has a different experience.

“What’s in a name,” we ask. Well, if you’re writing books or songs, the answer is, “A lot.”

I always stick some kind of name on whatever I’m writing. But that doesn’t mean that’s what I will finally call it. But you have to have a way to identify the file, if nothing else.

I sold my first book in a 3-book contract. I had titled it “For the Love of a Cowboy.” I had this notion that the title should perhaps reflect something about the book. Since the book was Dahlia’s story (the heroine), I wanted it to say what she did because she fell in love with a cowboy.

Well, it took only about 30 seconds for the editor to inform me that for marketing reasons, they had changed the title to THE LOVE OF A COWBOY. I did not know at the time that the marketing department has almost as much sway as the editors.   …..  Granted, they hadn’t changed it much.  So, I said, “Fine.” Because I didn’t really care what they called it.  …..  Nobody in publishing tells you much. You sort of have to ferret out information on your own or learn it by accident. So it took me 3 books to learn that most of what happens with books is decided by committee, of which the marketing department is a large part.

I titled my next book “Out of Ashes.” The story had a fatal fire in it, which played into my thoughts at the time. But I also thought about Doug and Alex, the hero and heroine building a relationship out of the ashes of their troubled lives. Melodramatic, huh?  …..  I did not know at the time that a book about Saddam Hussein had the same title.  😦  …..  Although, thinking back, I don’t know if that would have mattered.

At that point, I had a new editor who didn’t like the story or the characters and who was a bit more heavy-handed than the editor who bought me originally. She and my agent got together and renamed the book, THE LOVE OF A STRANGER. Again, I didn’t care. But I learned something.

I didn’t even put a title on the 3rd book. I just called it Book #3 and waited for them to name it. And they did. They called it THE LOVE OF A LAWMAN.

In the end, all 3 of the books were appropriately named, I thought, though they were not titles I chose. All 3 of the stories are set in the same small town in Idaho, and the play on the phrase, “The Love of,” seemed like a good marketing idea.

My next experience was with SWEET WATER. My title for that book was “The Mayor of Agua Dulce.” The book is set in the West Texas desert and a well for drinking water was an important item. Marisa (the heroine) is the de facto mayor and agua dulce is Spanish for “sweet water.” The marketing department thought the title was too long and too many people wouldn’t know what it meant, so they changed it….I liked *my* title, but again, I just moved on.

I had absolutely no idea what to call what finally became SALVATION, TEXAS, but I knew they would come up with something. Imagine my surprise when they decided to call the book the name of the town in the book.

When SWEET RETURN rolled around, my editor was about to leave on her 2nd maternity leave and just wanted to get a title on the book. She asked me for some ideas (shock) and I sent a long list. They decided on one that wasn’t even on my list. I think they took it from a sentence toward the end of the book. I protested slightly because of already having a book out called SWEET WATER and I even whined to my agent. But the editor said, “Look, do you really want to wait a week or two for a title and have my assistant go through another meeting on this?”  ….   I didn’t, so I acquiesced.

With LONE STAR WOMAN, I was hoping for the title to say “Texas” loud and clear. I asked for that and they worked with it. It was the 1st of what was supposed to be a 3-book series, all set in the same small town in the Texas Panhandle. MAN OF THE WEST followed, which seemed logical, although that’s also the title of an old Gary Cooper western movie. But hey, I could be in worse company than Gary Cooper. 🙂

Those 2 books were written as Sadie Callahan, which is another long, boring publishing story. I’ve got the rights back now to “Lone Star Woman.” Suffice to say, this book will be re-issued by me as an ANNA JEFFREY book.

The same applies to “Man of the West,” although I don’t know when, if ever, I will get the copyright back. If and when that happens, I will probably re-write the ending, as a lot of readers have hated the ending. I wasn’t fond of it myself, but I ran out of time and space.

Obviously, the 3rd book, Cable’s story, never got written and I have no idea what the title would be. I might write it yet and self-publish it. Then I’ll have to start the title search all over again.

So that’s how it works with titles. I don’t know if everyone in the publishing house committee gets to vote on it or what. But since an author no longer owns the book once it’s sold to a publisher, it’s purely a courtesy if an editor uses a title an author wants or likes. My sister had a great title idea for a Dixie Cash book, we thought, but it was completely ignored for several books and never did see the light of day.

Is it any wonder that indie authors are enjoying this new-found independence?

Although book content is copyrighted, the titles are not. Nor are the titles to songs. That’s why you see titles repeated. If one sold particularly well, then the publishers have no qualms about using it over and over again, whether it relates to the story or not. It’s all about sales and money, you see.

Now, for the first time, I’m dithering over the title to my new series and it’s going to be solely my decision. I’ve had a dozen ideas float through my head, all of which I’ve rejected up to now. Maybe I need that committee.

So far, I’m settled on  THE LOCKHARTS OF TEXAS – DRAKE  for Book #1. Sort of like Linda Lael Miller has named her McKettrick and Creed series. But by the time I’m ready to publish it, I might come up with something I like better.

It’s one of my typical Anna Jeffrey mainstream angsty romances. Sort of. But I’m trying to make it a little meatier. You recall the TV show, Dallas? It has that flavor. Big, old, rich, Texas dysfunctional family and their trials and tribulations.

If you have any title ideas, folks, by all means, throw them out there. I consider *everything.*  ….. In fact, I believe one of you gave me the name of this blog.  🙂  And I thank you.


Filed under Books and Publishing, Writing

13 responses to “ON TO TITLES (bugle blaring in the background)…

  1. I’m really glad you started this thread because I struggle with what to call my short stories and my books. (The next blog might be on to chacter names, bugles blaring again.) If the ereading public is now going to be captivated by titles rather than covers, some of us less creative authors may have a problem coming up with captivating titles. But fear not, Anna, we shall be your committee if you will let us.


    • LOL Believe me, Mary, I need all the help I can get. I did put it out there in the newsletter and I got an interesting response from a Canadian reader. At the time, I was considering “Texas Prince” for the title. She wrote me and said that title might be offensive to Canadian readers because in Canada, they already have a negative opinion of Texans. …. I did not know that. But then, as a Texan, I’m used to be made fun of, ridiculed and criticized in general and I’ve grown accustomed to ignoring it. LOL Who is the brunt of jokes more often than Texans?


      • Hi, Kerstin…..We meet again. 🙂

        Publishing has never subscribed to “fairness.” But honestly, once they’ve bought the books, they own them. So they can do whatever they want to with them. The impression they always left with me is, “you’re lucky we bought your book, so don’t complain.” But then I don’t deny I’m cynical. 🙂

        My series I’m trying to get out the door is a trilogy, the story of a dysfunctional old Texas family, rich in oil, ranching and farming and the three youngest sons. Each of the series books will be about one of the sons. The main plot will be about the romance of each son, but a sub-plot will run through each book about the parents, their stormy relationship and how it affects their children. Also, an additional sub-plot, which is a small mystery related to the spoiled youngest daughter’s barn fire. … Son #1, Drake, the first son, is a successful businessman who has left the ranch and owns his own investment business. Son #2, Pic, has stayed at the ranch and helps his dad run it. The 3rd son is a reputed cutting horse trainer. So that’s it in a nutshell. At present, I’m calling the series “The Texas Lockharts” and Book #1 entitled “Drake.” (mimicking how Harlequin has marketed those LLM books) And I’ll let the cover art tell the story. I’m trying to brand my pseudonym ANNA JEFFREY.

        I guess you have to call it a western romance although all of my books are about a little more than the romance. I’m trying to put together the cover now, which is turning out to be a challenge. But then, they all are. Based on what comments I’ve received, I don’t think I’ll go for a majestic landscape, although that’s what I personally like. I think I’m going to opt for sexy lovers on the cover.


  2. I thought MAN OF THE WEST was one of your best covers. Hope the Lockhart sagas sell a gazillion. Being in full control of the publishing process is empowering. You and I have been sold down the river, but now we are steering the boat. Much better, don’t you agree?


    • Hi, Caroline… Thanks for posting. I have to agree. Having been self-employed for most of my life, I like the feeling of being in control of my own destiny. I knew both failure and success at various enterprises before I ever got into book-writing, so I know what entrepreneurship is all about. If “sink or swim” is going to be the philosophy, which was how my Anna Jeffrey publisher treated my books–for that matter, that’s how all publishers treat *most* books–then I’m happy to sink or swim on my own. If I sink, then I can look in the mirror and say I did the best I could, but if I swim, I can take the credit. That’s just me. I’m well aware that others haven’t had my same experience and do not share those feelings.


  3. Kerstin

    You give us such great insights into the joys and pains of publishing! I have a much better appreciation of what it takes to bring a story to readers and how in traditional publishing your work gets “hijacked” once an editor buys it. There are a lot of issues concerning basic fairness here.
    As for titles, where are you going with this series? Are you thinking of a trilogy or an extended series? Could there be a future intertwining of trilogies or is it stand-alone? What is the focus, a family, a community, a geographical setting, or combinations thereof? In addition, would you like to emphasize certain attributes, play on words, etc.? In other words, how much flexibility do you need to give yourself with book AND series title in order to pen what pours out of you. Yes, these titles should give the reader an idea of the setting, but that can also be accomplished with font and cover art. Since you mentioned Linda Leal-Miller’s “McKettricks” series, on its own the series name doesn’t tell you much other than the implication of the story of a family with an Irish name. It is the cover that tells you it is a western setting, and the author writes romances, so it is a western romance. What Linda (and her publishers) and many others have done well, is making this whole package the “trademark” or “brand,” so to speak. Another great example is Earlene Fowlers “Benni Harper” mysteries. Each title has the name of a quilt pattern. We, the readers, instantly recognize this brand, look for it once we’re hooked, and can’t wait to get lost between the pages how these new stories twist and intertwine and reconnect us with old friends.


  4. Donna

    Love the title of the new book. I think it tells us everything we need to know, Texas family and more to come. WhooHoo! I can hardly wait! As for the blog title, thank YOU for choosing it.


  5. Anna,
    Interesting story on how book titles come about. But I do have to say I loved all of the books you mentioned, and their titles drew me to them 😉 Because I had already read your books, I would have checked them out anyway. I think the title and premise of your new trilogy sounds great. I also loved the cover of Man of the West. I like covers that don’t show the entire face of the hero or heroine. I like to imagine them on my own as I would think most readers would.


    • Hi, again, mtcarrie….NAL, the publisher of MAN OF THE WEST, has a wonderful art department. I never had a serious complaint about the covers except that I always wanted hunky guys on the cover and they always came up with women. Half-face, or no-face, or shadow-face cover designs are popular right now. If you stroll through the book store romance section lately, you’ll mostly see either bare-chested men or cottages with flowers in pastel colors. Or on some of the erotica covers, you might see something you can’t even identify. LOL ….. Just like everything else in publishing, covers follow trends. For several years, it seemed like every cover Avon came out with had women’s legs. Now they’ve moved on to something else.
      Anna J


  6. Pingback: HECTIC, HECTIC, HECTIC… | Anna Jeffrey: I'm Just Saying…

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