THEY CHANGED THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK? by Chris Baron

Wherein I get to share the newly changed title of my new MG novel in verse and a whole lot more I learned along the way…

At first, my plan was to simply share the new title for Made of Clay,  my next Middle Grade novel in verse, coming out from Feiwel and Friends in 2021. A story of magic and friendship set against the backdrop of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake in a town of refugees who came to America via Angel Island, the book is about a boy who is selectively mute and a girl who won’t leave her house because of a skin condition, and the magical Jewish clay that allows them to help each other.

I can’t wait to share the new title, but first, I thought it might be fun to explore the process of how and why titles change at all.

Have you ever heard of these Middle Grade books?

  • Rules for Cakes
  • The Wild Side
  • Clivo Wren and the Fall of the Phoenix
  • The Flannels
  • Brilliant Lights
  • Living Pictures
  • Good Girls*
  • Orchard Fruit (technically not MG)

Probably not, and it might surprise you that these are the original titles of some of our favorite Middle Grade books! (Try to guess! I will reveal soon.) Sometimes titles don’t change, but in this case they did–and that’s how it is for so many books!

Last year during many of my school visits talking about ALL OF ME, one of the main questions I got from young readers-almost every time-had to do with titles.  They were so interested and sometimes mind-boggled that the original title of a work could change at all. Usually, when I tell them that the original title for All of Me was Weight, and before that, Heavy Water (a very science-y title), students want to know all the details of how things changed, and was I sad? Mad? Confused? This usually leads to a very engaging, much broader and riskier (in terms of generating one million other questions) conversation about publishing overall. It’s fun to talk about writing as a process rather than just a finished product.  These have been some of the best conversations with readers and educators.  They usually ask if this happens to a lot of books.  I wanted to know more…

I asked my literary agent, Rena Rossner, who has seen this process so many times. She said:

It’s actually pretty rare in my experience that an author keeps their original title. Often, as an agent, I suggest a title change to an author before we even go out on submission, and even that title often doesn’t stick! One of the best things about being published by a traditional publishing house is that you have a whole team working on your book, and together that team knows a lot that we don’t and has a ton of collective experience. They think about the market, about other titles out there, about cover design, about your book’s audience, so many things go into choosing the right title for a book – and very often I’ve seen that the title often comes from an unexpected place! Sometimes authors (and agents) make lists upon lists of possible titles and send them over to their editor, and the title ends up being something completely different! Besides your cover, your title is perhaps one of the most important aspects of your book – so you want to make sure that it hits all the right notes.

I knew that some authors had similar experiences in terms of title changes, and when I asked the amazing author community on Twitter, I was stunned by the response. It turns out that for many authors, title changes are just part of the process as well. Most authors agree that this question of titles was a favorite during class visits. So many authors experience this!

So were you able to guess what these titles eventually became? Here they are again:

  • Rules for Cakes
  • The Wild Side
  • Clivo Wren and the Fall of the Phoenix
  • The Flannels
  • Brilliant Lights
  • Good Girls*
  • Living Pictures
  • Orchard Fruit

Okay, here we go!

Brilliant Lights is the original title of Dusti Bowling’s incomparable Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus! According to Bowling, “All of my book titles have been changed so far except one. It’s tough, but I know sales and marketing are a lot better at sales and marketing than I am :)”

The Wild Side? Is debut author, Tanya Guerreros’s wonderful debut,  How to Make Friends with the Sea!

Clivo Wren and the Fall of the Phoenix eventually became, no, not Star Wars, it’s Lija Fisher’s fantastic tale, The Cryptid Catcher.

Wendy McLeod MacKnight’s book, The Frame-up was originally Living Pictures. According to her, “In the end, I realized that HarperCollins might know a bit more about titles than little old me…”

The Flannels was the original title of Kit Rosewater’s awesome new series Derby Daredevils!

Good Girls is a bit of a trick question since it’s Paula Chase’s next book  due out in September and its new title will be, Turning Point.  I asked Paula what she thought about this. She said, “At the time I was sad because I’d had a successful 7 title streak going. But I love the new title!”

And Orchard Fruit?  That was the one and only Rena Rossner’s captivating book, The Sisters Of the Winter Wood.

Rena says, “When Chris and I were talking about it, I remember telling him how my book got its title – I had sent so many lists of possible titles when I went through the process of having to re-title my book, and when my editor sent me the title THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD, at first, I didn’t really like it. It was so different from what I had originally called the book, and really evocative, but it took awhile for the title to grow on me. I had wanted to call my book ORCHARD FRUIT – and now I look back at that title like, “What was I thinking?” My book grew into its title and the title grew on me and now I can’t imagine it ever being called anything else (same with my next book! But that’s a story for another day…)”

For the most part, these authors and many others are happy with the title changes.   I really like how Lee Edward Fodi, author of The Secret of Zoone, and many other books, puts it: “I tend to just give my ideas a project name–sometimes that name becomes the official title, but not always.” This is a helpful way to think about titles.

I asked my own wonderful editor, Liz Szabla, Associate Publisher at Feiwel and Friends, her perspective on this, and if she had any thoughts that might be helpful.  I appreciate her generous response:

Editors and the teams we work with — sales, marketing, and publicity — may ask to change a title because it’s too specific or too obtuse or too young/old for the audience, or, dare I say, mundane. If our sales team asks me to come up with a new title, I trust there’s a good reason; they know the market and what’s selling (and what’s not). I want your book to sell, and I want the team selling it to feel confident about the whole package — the cover, the title, and of course, the content. Every new title I’ve ever come up with has a reason for being, and there isn’t one I regret. I’m sure it’s difficult to let go of a title you’ve lived with from the start, but if your editor suggests a change, please keep an open mind.

Liz is such an incredible editor to work with, so when we started talking about changing the title of Made of Clay to something that better captures the spirit of the book for a wider audience, it was an intense and collaborative process—getting help from everyone from my family to my incredible literary agent, Rena Rosner, critique partners, author friends, and finally with the publishing team.

I had to get out the big book of titles…

What kind of title might do this?   Like many books, the original title, Made of Clay was already challenging to find and captured a lot of the spirit of the book. The idea of “what are we made of?” is one of the central themes of the story. But this book is also about magic, earthquakes, immigrants, and the mysterious and healing power of unexpected friendship, so when the title change happened, while it seemed so different from the original, we agreed it is a perfect fit!

Before I get to revealing the new title, I forgot to mention one other favorite Middle Grade book title from my list above, Rules for Cakes?  This was the original title of the one and only Remy Lai’s award winning book, Pie In The Sky! It’s one of our family favorites! And we can’t wait to read Fly On The Wall and everything else from Remy! 

Remy and I became friends in our debut year together, and in the spirit of community, when I reached out to her, she offered to help reveal the new title (NOTE: IT’S NOT THE COVER—but I love it so much) for Made of Clay with an original illustration. I am so excited to reveal the new title of the book—

I loved the original title because for so long it was a thought in my mind, a file on my computer, scrawled on notes everywhere. I like how my literary agent puts it here: “In Chris’ case, while I loved Made Of Clay and really thought it fit the book, I think that the new title The Girl Behind the Door actually appeals to a wider audience and there’s something super mysterious about it – you can almost picture what the cover might be! And in this case, it also really fits the book – just in a completely different way.”

Thanks so much for reading! I am excited to start talking more about The Girl Behind the Door as we steadily move toward Spring 2021! Thank you to all MG Book Village, the incredible Middle Grade Writing Community, and educators and readers everywhere! Everyone stay safe and healthy!

. . .

Addendum!

Thanks MG BOOK VILLAGE everyone for posting and reading this article — and I have a little news to share!

One of things I love most about writing and publishing is that it is a process.  I know that I am going to have lots of fun at school visits and other events talking about the wild and creative journey of titles, writing processes, and everything else!  Even as this article came out, and the new title, The Girl Behind the Door, had been decided, other magic was in the works at my publisher, and together with the amazing team supporting the book, a new title was born:

THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT! 

It is the perfect title for this second book of my heart, and I am so looking forward to sharing it with the world.

Chris Baron is the author of the middle grade novels in verse ALL OF ME (2019) and THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT, (2021) from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan.  He is a Professor of English at San Diego City College and the director of the Writing Center. Learn more about him at www.chris-baron.com and on Twitter: @baronchrisbaron Instagram: @christhebearbaron.

2 thoughts on “THEY CHANGED THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK? by Chris Baron

  1. I really enjoy the story behind the story-of-the-title-change, and have a couple myself. They change the “invitation” into the book. Wonderful.

    Like

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