What’s in a title?

And I don’t just mean novel titles, though I will get to that.

Hello-My-Job-Title-Is-300x194I worked in public relations for nearly twenty years, some of that time as a consultant. I have helped to develop change management plans for in-house PR groups and one thing that comes up again an again is what titles do we give our staff. It’s not an easy decision and trends change over time.

It’s been almost seven years since I applied for a ‘regular full-time job’ (which I stayed at for 5 years before deciding to write fiction more or less full time). The job at the time was called a Senior Communications Advisor. One of the first questions I had was how true was that description to the job. Were we really ‘advising’ or were we doing. Frankly, it turns out the job title wasn’t very accurate at all and within a year, I was a Director. Truth is, there is nothing wrong with the title itself but the job description that goes along with it.

When you are building a career there is an impetus to keep getting to the next rung in the ladder, regardless if those rungs are well constructed or lead anywhere. If you are a sales rep, you want to be assistant manager, if you are assistant manager, you want to be district manager, etc…

I try to counsel clients to really think about what the department is trying to establish themselves as – will they be writing press releases, and memos and ad copy, or will they be providing guidance and oversight to senior executives. Create your identity, stick with it, because once established, these titles are not easy to change. There are hoops to go through. In my old department, there are Communications Specialists, and there are Senior Communications Advisors – they do roughly the same thing, yet specialists are always vying for the ‘better title’ and the senior advisors are clinging desperately to theirs. It’s the nature of the beasts – ego, ambition.

WinningCait (72dpi)In WRITING, it too is all about the title. I don’t agonize about titles anymore. Half of the ones I started with have been changed by my publisher. And the ones I indie published now follow a formula set out by their series. I have to say, as a consultant, I’ve spent a lot of years giving people advice that they never take, so I’m not precious about these things. My beta-readers are more upset when the title changes than I am.

When my editor wants changes (at least the changes I’ve had to make thus far) it’s to me, water off a ducks’ back so long as the integrity of the story doesn’t change. For me, as long as I got the characters story down once, out of my head, and told ‘their story’ as best I could at the time, I am pleased. If someone (my editor) wants to help me improve upon the storytelling, point out gaps or flaws – yes, that’s what she is paid to do too (and half the time, I’m the one paying her!)

Some of you may have heard about #cockygate (sigh). Someone trying to trademark a word because they are convinced readers can’t differentiate their books from others with similar names/cover art. I am happy that it does not involve me. I’ve not used ‘cocky’ in any of my titles. I am a small-time indie writer, and it would effectively bankrupt my ‘writing budget’ were I to have been one of those affected. (BTW – most of us don’t make a lot of money.)

When I am coming up with a title I will go to Amazon or Kobo and search for that title. See who else has used it, and have they used it recently. Is my story likely to be mixed up with theirs. If it’s a few years old, or a totally different type of romance/book, I’m cool about using it. There are only so many words in the English language and so many ways to combine them.

When I published Winning Cait, it was my first book. I had no idea it would be part of a series and when I had the chance to, I rebranded it as such (The Men of Steele series). Giving it similar cover styles, fonts, and a series name that pulls it all together. For its spin-off series of novellas (the Men of Steele Novellas), I had the idea that I’d like the title to use one similar word – PLAY/PLAYING.

Invitation to Play (low res)I did change the title of the first novella (while I was still drafting it) because an author I admire had recently released a book of the same name (I was thinking Playing to Win but the amazing Jaci Burton beat me to it.) Not that I thought anyone, in this universe or any parallel universe, would confuse my book with hers. It was the polite thing to do. Instead I called it Invitation to Play. 

The last book, in that series is called Playing for Keeps and there are a few other book out there by that name (there is nothing new under the sun! – and lordy, I hope that’s the only time you hear me quote scripture). And if any of those authors want to reach out to me (before June 30th) and say “hey, I’d rather you change the name” I’d definitely discuss it with them.

Playing it Cool (72dpi)But I can safely say again, when you consider the cover art (the heroine is always in red), the font, and the series name – there are a lot of clues that tell the readers “this is a Zoë Mullins story” as opposed to anyone else’s. And the author name, should people be confused, is the other big, bold, glaring hint that this is MY book, lol. Readers a
re smart cookies. I was a reader a long time before I was a writer and I never mis-purchased a book. Or if I ever did (and have just forgotten) I can assuredly say it never kept me from going back and buying the right one, and in the meantime discovering a new author!

But I can understand the protectionism that authors may feel. We have all invested significant time (blood, sweat, tears, money) into the creation of those stories, of those characters. It’s great to say we are all writers and should support each other, but like the communications specialist and the senior advisor… we are all hoping, praying, working and promoting (and spending most of the dollars we earn) in order to get to the next ‘rung’. I want that too – the chance to make a comfortable living from my writing alone. But my way to do that is to listen to my readers, my editors and my ‘self’, keep my head down and just keep writing. Hopefully you will keep reading 🙂

BONUS INFO: Winning Cait was originally called Capturing Cait. A Risk Worth Taking was called Risking It All.