the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

You used how many titles?

on May 3, 2023
Photo credit: Nick Morrison, Unsplash

My publishing contract with Bloodhound Books for The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell indicates the title is a working title. It also says the publisher will consult on the proposed cover. Contract vetting by the Society of Authors, suggested I might like to strengthen the consultation right on the cover (and title) to a right of approval. This wasn’t something I cared about. After all, the title had changed four times since I started drafting the novel in 2021. Here’s the story of how the title changed:

Title One: Little Swot

In the 1979 storyline, Carolyn persuades her mother to invest in tutoring which provides an opportunity for close contact with the teacher of her dreams, Mr Simmons. But when I told my husband about Little Swot, he assumed the title referred to a boy.

Title Two: Extra Lessons

Still on the theme of tutoring, I changed to a title which I thought had a nuanced double meaning. (I did check on Amazon that it hadn’t been used for erotic fiction!) Although as time wore on, I began to feel this title wasn’t quite right.

Title Three: The Girl and the Tutor

I attended an online masterclass in December 2021 offered by Writers & Artists. It was called How to Write a Book That Sells and delivered by bestselling author Angela Clarke. The content focused on the submission package (opening chapters, synopsis and cover letter) and was aimed at developing this in order to acquire literary representation. One of the things Angela emphasised was the need to pay attention to supermarket bookshelves. It’s Angela’s contention that busy women doing the weekly shop want to grab a book similar to one they’ve enjoyed before. With the advent of Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, many similar titles followed. This is how I settled on the new title of The Girl and the Tutor and felt relieved that the girl in my title is actually a girl of sixteen years – and not a woman as in many of the other books. My husband still grumbled and said the title was too on the nose.

Title Four: The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell

In the latter stages of my querying journey, I won feedback on my submission package during a fundraising auction for Ukraine. The editor of a small press gave helpful advice to improve all aspects of the package and suggested a new title. She said, The Girl is good, but The Girl and The Tutor is not great. Maybe just something generic like The Lost Girl or The Missing Girl or The Cold Case or The Abduction of Carolyn Russell. So, I played around with these ideas and settled on The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell.

I was prepared for the title to change again on publication by Bloodhound Books but the team were happy with it. Phew!

How important are titles to you in choosing a book to read or giving a name to your creative work?

2 responses to “You used how many titles?

  1. I love a good title. The one you have chosen seems the best! In The Chicken Soup Murder I had the title (because of ‘an incident’) long before I had a story. In my current WIP I am looking for a title. I think it will be good to choose the best one for the finished work.

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