Title Reveal Tuesday by Katy

Katherine Longshore 10 Tuesday, March 15, 2011
I write terrible titles.  The worst.  Give me 80,000 words to write and color me happy, but limit me to one to five?  And I’m stuck.

We’re writing about process this week, thanks to PB Rippey’s comment on our ASK US post, and Anonymous’s comment about writing more specifically about our own. Because this has been a huge part of my process for the past several weeks, I wanted to write about titles.

My book is going to be published next year.  When I first started writing it, I called it UNTITLED CATHERINE HOWARD.  Original, yes?  Just like writing the first chapter, I can’t write a title until I know what the book will be like.  That’s what makes it so hard for me to start writing a book.  Without a title and a first chapter, what do you have?  Not much.

The first conference I took the book to, I threw on a title at the last minute before hitting print.  The title I chose?  CAT’S CRADLE.  I thought, Catherine Howard (Cat) gets herself into a mess of trouble – like she’s tied herself up in her own web.  Like a cat’s cradle.  I completely forgot that Kurt Vonnegut already wrote that title.  And as my critique-mediator pointed out, the book is narrated by someone else. 

So I changed it to CAT’S SHADOW.  My protagonist not only falls into the shadow of Catherine Howard, she also follows Cat like a shadow.  Clever, right?  No, boring. 

Somehow, even with such a dire title, I managed to score a fabulous agent in Catherine Drayton.  And she came up with a title that made me tingle and wish I were that clever:  GILT.  Because gilding covers something in a veneer of gold to make it look rich and beautiful – a bit like Cat.  And because guilt plays a major role in the development of several characters.

We sold the book with that title.  Announced it with that title.  And then it was pointed out that perhaps gilt and guilt were too easily confused.  This was driven home to me when I told a writer friend my title at the New York SCBWI conference and she said, “Oh, right, it’s one of those titles you have to explain.”   Not a selling point.

So I’ve been riding on the e-mail-go-round with my agent and editor for the past four months – circling faster and faster as we got more frustrated (and I got more desperate).  I don’t mind admitting that most of my ideas were shot down quickly:  too boring, too literary, too long, too archaic, doesn’t say anything about the book.  My family started suggesting titles like:  WE COULDN’T THINK OF A TITLE FOR THIS BOOK SO WE’RE NOT GOING TO CALL IT ANYTHING. 

I spent long car trips shooting ideas at my captive audience – my family.  I spent an hour on the phone with my husband while he drove back from a meeting.  I went through the manuscript.  Twice.  I read Tudor poetry and Catherine Howard’s letters and Shakespeare (though he didn’t write until 50 years after the action of the novel).   And it wasn’t just me.  My agent came up with ideas at the beach.  My editor, Kendra Levin, had long conversations with colleagues at Viking.  The Muses fired off titles in e-mails.  Other writer friends sent lists of key words.

We kept circling the idea that the Tudor court was a great, gaudy, glittering show – all bright colors and extravagant jewels and ostentation.  And then when my characters get there, they are consumed by it all.  Trapped.  We wanted a title that sparkled, but carried with it a hint of danger.

So last week, after a long discussion with Regina Hayes, Kendra came back to us with a title we finally agreed on.  The relief in our e-mails was palpable.  Not only do we have a book title, we may also have a series title (so maybe, just maybe, the next book won’t be so difficult).

And the first book is:  GIRL IN A DIAMOND COLLAR.

I'm happy.  


I love it! I would definitely pick up a book with that title because I would HAVE to know more! Bravo!

Love it, Katy! And can see how it would work for series title or set the tone for subsequent titles. It's amazing what a struggle titles can be. Thanks for sharing your story!

I suck at titles, too. But I like this one!

Katy, I love the new title, and I loved your story of how it came to be even more. The word "collar" adds that element of being trapped but also seduced by the glitter. Nice!

Love that title! So evocative. I would pick it up based on that alone. Congrats!

Thanks, everyone! I'm excited about it. And so happy that other people like it, too!

It's definitely an intriguing title! Love the story that goes with it, even though there was much angst involved!


Thanks for the post! This is exactly what I'm going through right now! I'm terrible at coming up with titles and see a long road paved with stinky, dead, roadkill titles in my future before I come up with the right one.

Thanks, PB! And Jenny, I hope your road is short and the wind is at your back (blowing those stinky titles out of your way). Good luck.

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