Yesterday my agent said she’d just told someone how my book, Will Will Write for Food, got its title. She suggested I tell you as well.
I hadn’t thought about that story for a while, and it’s a good one. Should you be faced with coming up with a witty book title one day, you might be able to use it. And I give a few suggestions for coming up with good titles at the end of this post.
(Isn’t it ironic? As a freelance editor, I can come up with great titles for others, but I had so much trouble with my own.)
Back when I turned in my manuscript for the first edition, I had a loser working title. My agent (who does not like to be named), my publisher (who no longer works at the publishing house and the publishing house no longer exists) and I went around and around for two months, trying to find a better one.
Ready to know the name of the working title? How to Write About Food. Can you imagine anything duller? Still, it took six rounds to arrive at the winner. Here’s what happened, including my agent’s great idea that solved the problem:
Round 1: Publisher and I brainstorm on the phone. We figure out the subtitle but not a new title.
Round 2. I tell my friend, a voracious reader. She emails me a long list of potential titles, including:
- The Sensuous Art of Food Writing
- Blending the Pen and Palate
- Writing with Flavor.
Round 3: Agent rejects them, so I send her more ideas, including:
- The Tools of Food Writing
- The Food Writer Within
- The (or A) Writer’s Guide to Food Writing
- The Food Writer’s Handbook
- The Art and Craft of Food Writing
- The Path to Food Writing.
Round 4: Agent likes a few. I pass them on to the publisher. The publisher likes The Writer’s Guide to Food Writing. Upon reflection, I decide the book should be for anyone who wants to write about food, not just writers. The publisher comes up with The Complete Guide to Writing About Food.
Round 5: I suggest cutting that title to Writing about Food, or going with The Art of Writing About Food. But ultimately, we’re right back where we started. Both titles are straightforward and dull. Time is running out, and I’m drawing a blank.
Round 6: Agentsuggests I send an email to 20 of my closest writer friends, asking for help. It’s Friday. I need ideas by Monday. The winning title comes from my friend Josh Greenbaum, a former writer I knew from my high-tech magazine job. His suggestion is Will Write for Food. It’s perfect: simple, clever, and concise.
So if you’re working on a book title, don’t go through this much hair pulling. Here are my three best tips that might save you the trouble:
1. Be short, witty and specific to your book’s content. Don’t come up with a general title that leaves readers wondering, such as Meals Anyone Would Love.
2. Research the names of competing or similar books and draw from them. Someone spent a great deal of time on them, so why not benefit? Researching will also show you how books like yours are named, and what’s appropriate.
3. Short, direct words are instantly successful in titles. You’ve only got a moment or two to communicate, so get the qualities of your book across quickly. Cookbooks, particularly, have titles using words like Greatest, Best, Quick, Easy, Complete and “Secrets of. ”
Now it’s your turn. Got a story about a book title? I’d love to hear it. Or if you think there’s a ridiculous book title out there, let’s see it.