Last month, John was puzzling over what to name one of the books we were about to present to a client.
“Bigger Than Ourselves”? “The Sum of Us”?
We know the client and its story well, but it proved to be a tough, sticky task. It always is. Looking for inspiration, John trolls the client’s website, interviews, and emails with the writer for something that will spark our creativity. It’s sort of like walking around a room wondering what you went there for; a kind of haphazard search. In one of my favourite New York Times columns, Draft, Andy Martin writes:
Like everything else we write, a title is a bunch of words that are arbitrary, random, largely meaningless, and yet still striving to sound as indispensable as the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony
Writers of titles try on ideas like unsatisfactory outfits, we try them on, see how they look on the page or screen, and how they feel to say, how they sound to prospective readers. Fights over titles have permanently damaged relationships between authors and editors, I’m sure. Sometimes I wonder if a title or a headline is meant more to provoke than to describe or outline the book’s contents, or maybe it will just look nice on a cover. With one of our current projects, Cathy was drawn to one title option because it had alliteration; two capital A‘s made such lovely lines on the page.
And the final title for that book John was trying to name? Which few words could sum up a history that spans over a century, covers a cast of thousands, and has influences from around the world? He settled on Heart and Mind.
A few weeks later, we met with the client to review the book’s manuscript. Did they like the characters? The tone? The stories? They loved it. But what they wanted to talk about, what the committee wanted to deliberate over and massage and chew over was, you guessed it, the title.