Friday, November 20, 2009

Shnookiedoodlepoo and the Diaper

I'm wondering if it's important to have a super great title for my manuscript when I submit it to the slush pile. Should I spend a great deal of time and energy to get it just right, or do the majority of titles get changed along the way anyway?
Great title:
Ooo, that's catchy. Maybe the editor will take a little peek right now, instead of days or weeks from now.

Ok title:
Manuscript gets in line. No special treatment.

Bad/cliched title:
Without realizing it, the editor keeps sifting manuscript to the bottom of the pile. Months go by. Eventually, editor reads it and maybe realizes it's great! It just needs a new title. No problem.

Horrifying title: No answer because the editor didn't want to touch the manuscript long enough to reject it.

If you can come up with a super title, then do-- it can encourage prompt responses.

But do not overthink this, and if you aren't good at recognizing the difference between an awkwardly overwrought title and something that sparks reader interest (and many writers are not!), go ahead and give your MS a blah, vanilla-flavored title that can be easily changed and that at least won't hurt it during submission.


Anonymous said...

I'm always surprised by sucky titles for great books. Like, sorry, but THE CATCHER IN THE RYE?


Sounds like a cookbook for bread.

Thomas Taylor said...

I hate to be picky, but the phrase 'submit it to the slush pile' has such a sad air of resignation about it. be positive! You are submitting your fabulous manuscript to a publishing house.

Livia Blackburne said...

I would totally buy Schnookiedoodlepoo and the Diaper

ae said...

I say it is time for some suggestions of alternate titles... variations on a theme:

The Absent Minded Poop Scooper (Or Watch Where You Step... it is Schnookie Poodle Doo!)

(Sorry... couldn't help myself)

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

This topic is an ongoing worry in my writers' group. It's good to know an editor's opinion.

Thank you!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I know I often pick up a book based on its title - sad maybe, but true. Some titles tend to influence us positively or negatively whether we want them to or not.

shelley said...

How about "Owl Stretching Time?"

sarahannnoel said...

Loved hearing this from an your standpoint. I only do freelance editing, but the title is CERTAINLY the first (and last) piece I critique.

Just like browsing through a bookstore (I pick up books based on their titles) so an editor peruses the so-called "slush pile."

The Sesquipedalian said...

The quest for a great title eludes me thus far. It's nice to know it's not a total deal breaker, but I still can't help obsessing over it.

catdownunder said...

This is all much too complex for a cat. We like working titles to tell us something.

Unknown said...

Great post!
Reading this inspired me to also write a post on's the gist of it:

What I find interesting is that many writers think a manuscript title must tell me what your story is about. Let me make this clear...A book title's job is NOT to sum up your story. A book title's job IS to entice an agent/editor to request your full manuscript and/or move your full to the top of their reading pile.

Your book title is your whistle, your magnet, your bullhorn.

John Barnes said...

For a long time I had a perverse talent/liking for titles that stank. My first 7 novels were published under titles not mine, and a good thing, too.

Nowadays (hey, it's a tale of reform and repentance) I've found that I can come up with an adequate-or-better title in about 3 hours. Which may or may not be liked by the editor, but is at least not embarrassing.

The trick for me is to say "I am going to find fifty or a hundred titles for this thing in the first hour, then fuse/mix/match for the next hour till I have three or four titles I love, and then butt them up against each other till one of them wins in the third." It rarely takes three hours, but if I leave that much time for it by scheduling a full hour for each major step of the process, I don't block much.

In general I think some bald statement about the book tends to work, especially a statement about something big that doesn't give too much away -- one of Aristotle's six, a design area (setting, sound, light, etc). And it's sad but allusions just don't work as well as they once did, because people neither remember what they read nor have a common body to draw from; you can fix that by putting an epigram in, but it doesn't do the same thing as referring to something many people know by heart or have heard a hundred times.

But, really, a book is at least a few months of your spare time or a couple months of your full time, even if you write like lightning and never revise. Surely three hours isn't too much to put into finding an adequate title?

Shevi said...

There's no need to submit a manuscript with a vanilla title, not when your title can be fabulous. Check out my blog post: "Top Secret Guide to Creating Winning Titles!"

As a former editorial cartoonist, I know how to say a lot in just a few words. Writers, my blog post can teach you too. Make your title shine!

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