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All in a Title

I’ve been waiting to write this post for a while–a very LONG while, truth be told. You see, Sam and I had a ridiculous time trying to finalize the title of our book, and it’s only now settled enough that I feel able to discuss the process.

A title is a many-faceted conundrum. On the one hand, it needs to represent the book. It needs to somehow signify the story which takes place in those many pages. Or perhaps it will signify the theme, or perhaps it will only metaphorically relate to the book at all. It must also be succinct: long titles can mean death. It must particularly be unique and eye-catching. Boring, over-used words do not make for interesting titles.

After all is said and done, the most important job a title has is to sell the book. For that purpose, it must be catchy and fairly easy to remember, and it must represent the book in an irresistible light.

Easier said than done!

Last summer when Sam and I handed our manuscript over to our beta readers, we tentatively titled it The Assassin’s Curse. We liked that title fairly well, and we used it as a tentative title for a very long time. Here are the issues we found with it, though: it was not particularly unique, nor did it represent the Asian flavor that is one of the most unique parts of our book. It did relate to the story, but that relationship was mostly contrived. It did not represent the core of the story. Although, it did tie in neatly with the poem at the front of the book, and Sam’s mother threatened us gravely if we changed or removed the poem. That was a strong mitigating factor!

With the help of our editor, we brainstormed many possibilities. I’m not sure I can convey to you the breadth and scope of these brainstorms. Suffice it to say, they lasted MONTHS, and included thorough forays through the thesaurus, and included results that were often as hilarious as they were ridiculous. Some were decent, even quite good, but still we went back to the brainstorms.

I wanted something that represented the story. I didn’t want to just give it a title that sounded cool and call it good. To me, a title should–in whatever manner–encapsulate the heart of the story. Some titles use the name of a person. Some titles use a place or event. Some titles use a metaphorical image. Whatever it is, a title ought to represent the story.

And so we came to Traitor’s Gate. The essence of this title has gone through many changes. It references a location in the book (whose name has changed at least three times), but refers to the several events (in several different times) that happen there, as well as a metaphorical reference to an essential plot device. At first we weren’t too sure about this title, especially because we had been looking for something that “felt Asian”, but slowly Traitor’s Gate has grown upon us all.

I am determined now to pick my titles in advance. Ha! I don’t know whether that will really work or not, especially since I’m a Discovery Writer and half the time, I don’t know what the story is going to turn out to be until it’s written. But I hope that we never have to deal with this level of uncertainty again. I know that we are not the only ones. Brandon Sanderson, when the decision came to split the last Wheel of Time book into three volumes, expressed his dissatisfaction with the title The Gathering Storm, stating that he felt it was the least of all Wheel of Time titles. Fortunately for TGS, the series was already successful and was little affected. But for a debut novel, a title can make or break its success. It is my hope that Traitor’s Gate will serve, especially once you have read it.

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