Tuesday, January 05, 2010



Ever wonder how a book gets its title? I wish I could say that in my case it’s ME ME ME, but that isn’t always true. Actually, it isn’t usually true. I have a history of picking titles that my publishers deem bad – going right back to the first book I ever wrote. I called that book “Hills of Eden,” because it was set in a hilly region of Brazil that was idyllic, indeed – but not sexy enough for my publisher, who, giving me no choice, retitled it The Passionate Touch. I squirmed a little, but hey, I was actually getting a book published, wasn’t I?

A bit later, there was “Breathless,” my title for a story about an asthmatic running a marathon. As fitting as it was, a Richard Gere movie by the same name had come out the year before, and while you can’t copyright titles, my publisher was worried. They gave me several choices. I finally agreed to Moment to Moment, which was palatable, if nondescript.

Choice is a big thing here. At the start, I had none. The more my audience grew, the more power I had, and the more my publisher wanted to please me. That doesn’t mean I came to like every title they chose.

Take “Blood of the Rich.” As close to a family saga as I’ve written, this book covers many years in the lives of two prominent families and a third family that serves them. The book is about relationships between members of these families, but its scaffolding – the action framework that advances the plot – is a murder mystery, hence my calling it “Blood of the Rich.” My publisher felt that this title suggested more suspense than relationships, so it was axed.

Let me say something here. When it comes to titles, I get a single shot – I mean, me, myself, here in my office. Much as I work and rework narrative, dialogue, and plot, either I get the title right at the start, or I don’t get it at all.
Realizing this with “Blood of the Rich,” my publisher went to work, sending me title after title that I hated. In the end, I was simply worn down. We went with Twilight Whispers, which was the least of the evils, but to this day I gag when I say it.

If I’d dug in my heels, would they have found a better title? Maybe yes, maybe no. My publisher clearly had a view of the marketing needs for this book, and their image didn’t match mine. Yes, I have a say in the final choice, but they are the marketers. Moreover, they’re the ones who will be selling my book and, in that regard, need to love the title more than I do. If I want my books to succeed, I have to take my pride and stuff it.

That said, I’ve learned to push harder for titles I can swallow, an easy task with my current publisher. From the start, we saw eye to eye on marketing to my target audience. Based on the first few chapters of a book, their title person finds great titles. “Black and White” became Family Tree. “Driving at Night” became The Secret Between Us. It’s gotten so that I don’t even try anymore. When I start a new book, I call it NEW BOOK. Once I’ve written the first few chapters, my publisher comes up with a title that works.

Which brings us to Not My Daughter, hitting stands today. I had qualms when my publisher suggested this title. Oh, it fits the book. But I wrote a book in the ‘90s called For My Daughters, which was reissued in trade paperback barely a year ago, and I was worried my readers would see this new title, think they’d already read the book, and pass it by. But Not My Daughter does have a great cover, and the art department italized the My. That should do it, don’t you think?

Remember. Not My Daughter. New. Today. Thanks!

Barbara Delinsky, author of NOT MY DAUGHTER (January 5, 2010) WHILE MY SISTER SLEEPS (2009), THE SECRET BETWEEN US (2008), and FAMILY TREE (2007), has written more than eighteen bestselling novels with over thirty million copies in print. She has been published in twenty-languages worldwide. Barbara's fiction centers upon everyday families facing not-so-everyday challenges. She is particularly drawn to exploring themes of motherhood, marriage, sibling rivalry, and friendship in her novels.

"A lifelong New Englander, Barbara earned a B.A. in Psychology at Tufts University and an M.A. in Sociology at Boston College. As a breast cancer survivor who lost her mother to the disease when she was only eight, Barbara compiled the non-fiction book Uplift: Secrets From the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors, a handbook of practical tips and upbeat anecdotes. She donates her proceeds from the sale of this book to her charitable foundation, which funds an ongoing research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"Barbara enjoys knitting, photography, and cats. She also loves to interact with her readers through her website at www.barbaradelinsky.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bdelinsky, and on Twitter as @BarbaraDelinsky."


JD said...

Ahhh, I can visualize it well now. Thank you for sharing these experiences with us. I see it now as having someone else name your child, and even when you don't necessarily enjoy the name, the child is still wonderful, beautiful, successful and deserves to be celebrated.

No worries, Barbara -- you could name a book "strange title for a book" and there are enough of us out there who are passionate about your books that it would still sell. It's not the title that gets us, it's the pages in between the covers. We know the content is a guaranteed delight. Not My Daughter proves it yet again. I may read it again this week. Can't get enough of it...

Anonymous said...

i think you have the authors mixed up while my sister sleeps was written by jodi pocullt

christa @ mental foodie said...

Very interesting to see the differences between the original title and the chosen title. Thanks for sharing!

BookBitch said...

Titles cannot be copyrighted, and there are many instances of books with the same title. But in this case, Anonymous, I think you're confusing WHILE MY SISTER SLEEPS by Barbara Delinsky with Jodi Picoult's MY SISTER'S KEEPER.

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