Wednesday, June 19, 2013

She's Crafty: Titles are Very Important

Oh yeah, I posted twice in a week people. It's on. I've officially climbed out of my writing cave. In May, I had the opportunity to go to The Big Sur in the Rockies Workshop put on by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency in Boulder, Co. Amazing. I'll be gushing over this workshop in several posts to come. Seriously, if you have the opportunity to go to a Big Sur, it's worth every penny if you are a children's or YA writer.

During the workshop, I got to be in a critique group with "the" Andrea Brown. I've met a couple agents from her agency, all extremely nice, which I can't say for other agents I've met at conferences, but I was ridiculously nervous to be in her group---she's a publishing legend to me...a rockstar of children's agents. So when she sat down with our group, I was even more blown away by how approachable, kind, and knowledgeable she was. She knows the biz and she's a champion for aspiring writers (unlike others, the-agent-who-must-not-be-named at Pike's Peak Conference this year, ahem). Can you hear the gushing, I know, I don't care. I admire this woman.

Each of the writers in our group got to read the first chapter of their manuscript and then got a critique from everyone. So when it came to my turn, I had crazy nerves, but I made it through. Thankfully, Andrea liked my story but she HATED my title. You know, I don't think hated bold cap really conveys how much she hated my title but let's not waste more words. It was a stinker and we spent a chunk of time brainstorming a new title for my contemporary MG adventure. So I thought it would be a good post for today.

  • Attract an agent to open your query. If it's bad, they will auto-reject. No joke.
  • Attract a middle grader to buy it/ check it out. Duh, it's all about sale... and bringing smiles to the children's faces.


  1. Appeal to the audience. Are you upper middle grade, lower middle grade, children's or YA? You need to make sure your title will appeal to that age group. In my case, 8 - 11 yr old boys (and girls). My original title wasn't necessarily a bad title but what Andrea pointed out: an 8 yr old boy is not going to look at it with that title. It sounded too boring. 
  2. Keep it short. Some books break this rule. So if you do, you better be extremely clever and it needs to roll off the tongue with intrigue. Although be careful because even the most clever titles, if too wordy, get lost. For example, I love the book The Girl Who Circumnavigated ... ah, see I can't remember the rest of the title because I always shorten it to that phrase. Mostly because it becomes too long for my friends to remember when they go to the store to buy it for their kids.
  3. Hint at the plot, genre, or character. What's the strongest element of your story? Do you have great characters or an exciting plot? Highlight what would appeal most to your target audience. 
  4. Be clever, funny, or memorable. Hopefully all three.
What tips do you have for writing a great title?

Now that you understand how to write a great title, let's flip this upside down. At the Big Sur Workshop, I also got to be in a group with Sarah Shumway, a children's editor at Harper Collins. (Squeal, I know, she was also super nice and helpful.) She told us that only 1 of 4 titles are the original title of the book. The publishing house likes to pick it. AND if you're with a big house, they'll take your ARC to Barnes & Noble or Amazon, and if they don't like it (or your cover), the publisher will change it again. Bit of a debbie-downer but it's how the industry works. 

What middle grade titles do you love? Have you ever bought a book just on the title?


  1. Never bought a book just on the title. But I do like these:
    Freaky Green Eyes
    As Cool as I am
    And here's mine - a middle grade novel titled.
    "An Ode to Cleve"
    Does that work at all?

    1. John, I am not an expert on titles. If your MG novel is upper MG, I say good. But if it is younger MG, you might be in the same pickle as I am: No boy will pick a book with the word Ode in it. My two cents but again, this is something I'm terrible at...trying to get better. Good luck.