What’s In a Title? Hooking the Reader Through Collaboration.

Okay, I’ll admit it.  There are parts of the writing process I do not love.  One of them is collaboration.  No, I don’t write with a partner, and couldn’t if my life depended on it.  But I am part of a team, the team that publishes my novels, and they have a say in lots of things.   

For instance?  Covers.  I am sometimes asked why “I” put something on the front cover of my book.  We should straighten that out immediately.  “I” am not an artist.  If “I” did my covers, they would be poorly photographed landscapes or hand-drawn stick figures.  That’s as good as it would get. Even if I don’t always love the covers my publishers come up with, I am never not relieved that professionals are doing the creative work and, for the most part, not listening to me.

So sometimes collaboration is a good thing.

I also have an editor, Leslie Wainger, editor extraordinaire, who has been putting up with me–whoops, putting my books in print–for years.  She understands the way my mind works and works around it.  You can’t ask for more.  She’s insightful and patient.  She deserves a medal.

So sometimes collaboration is a good thing indeed.

Then there are titles.  I am an unequivocal title maniac.  I’ve blogged about titles and the way a title will sometimes be the beginning of an idea, the catalyst for a book.  Those titles are sacred to me.  If my publisher doesn’t agree to use my title, I’ve been known to scratch the idea or save it for another time or place.  Not all titles matter that much, however.   If I don’t start with a title, then it’s a question of just finding one I like and one my editor, the editorial staff of publisher, and marketing agree will work for the book.  That’s a lot of people.


I will admit to looking back at titles I wanted to use years ago and couldn’t, and screwing up my face in wonder.  I still believe that Iron Lace should have been called The Secrets of a Woman.  But while I adored Change of Life and Change of Habit for, respectively, Once More With Feeling and Twice Upon A Time, no one I’ve ever told has agreed with me. 

So, okay, I have history with titles and a couple of cautionary tales to guide me.  When my editor informed me that Mira Books was quite happy about the title of my new series, Goddesses Anonymous, but did not want to call the first novel Goddess Anonymous, I was fine, because I really didn’t want to, either. 

Time to begin a new title search.  And that’s where the fun began.  I liked Almost Home, until I discovered it had been mighty popular with other authors, too.  I gave them three I liked.  No dice.  My favorite, A Path Across Mountains, sounded too inspirational.  Another, The ___(fill in that blank) of Charlotte Hale was popular with everybody for about a minute, until they heard the title of my second book, liked it a lot and decided the first title didn’t go with it.  Scotch that train of thought.

The novels take place in Asheville, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  I wanted mountain in the title, and something hinting at my major character’s struggle.  I fell in love with One Mountain From Home, a title that made my editor scratch her head.  “Huh?” she said, never a good sign. Would we need a subtitle? One Mountain From Home or A Woman’s Struggle to Right the Wrongs She’s Inflicted. 

“You know,” I explained, “like one mountain away from home.”

“I like that better,” she said. One Mountain Away From Home.  Hmmm. . . I didn’t.  Too wordy and besides, did they really believe my beloved readers were so clueless they wouldn’t get it the first way?  I tried it on my husband.  “One Mountain From Home,” I said.  “Huh?’ he replied.

Oh well.

The team suggested a title I didn’t like at all.  “No problem,” they said, “you just keep coming up with new ones we can reject.”  By this time I’d suggested at least twenty.  I was frothing at the mouth.  Then, beloved editor called again.  “Emilie, I just realized that one of the team’s other possibilities is One Mountain Away.  Can you live with it?”

Okay, it’s not EXACTLY my title.  But it’s close.  I told her I was afraid people might think this is a book about mountaintop removal, and she laughed.  Still, it’s clear everyone was trying to find some germ they could live with in the many titles I’d suggested.

Could I live with it?  Yes.  Almost happily.

Since that moment One Mountain Away has grown on me.  Nowadays when I sit down to write the novel, I think of it that way.  One Mountain Away from so many things Charlotte wants and needs, and wants to give back. 

Sometimes collaboration is a good thing, even if I don’t always see it at first. 

Okay, team, you can take down the dart board with my photo dead center.  We have a winner.

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