The Terrible Titler: Birth of a Superhero
I recently discovered I possess a heretofore unacknowledged talent: devising truly awful book titles. I don’t want to brag or anything, but I came up two, maybe three dozen atrocious titles for the book I submitted to a publishing house.
Naming novels is super hard. I haven’t had any children, but I’m pretty sure naming books is way harder than naming something as uncomplicated as a human. I mean, you already have their last name, parents. How challenging could the rest be?*
But I digress.
To name my novel, I first freewrote a brief description of its essence. Unfortunately, I waxed a bit too poetic and ended up with an unfortunate dearth of keywords. Behold:
- This story is about walls. It’s about how the walls in which we seek shelter can also become our prisons.
- It’s about choices. If someone offered you the chance to face your past traumas and finally heal, would you take it?
- It’s about animals and how we humans have forgotten that we are apes with tolerance museums and nuclear arsenals. [I still stand by this one.]
- It’s about change. Change can happen on the smallest of scales, with a single choice, or it can transform the world into a new global epoch.
In part from the above, self-important philosophical ramblings, but mostly from visiting Thesaurus.com, I plucked the following list of keywords:
animals, summit, road trip, race, healing, compassion, journey, menagerie, superhero, creature, beast, feral, untamed, wild, embodied, incarnation, becoming, completion, full circle, rebirth, change
Surely the key to finding the ideal title lay in tossing those keywords like stars into constellations that would inspire instant wonder and recognition. Right?
Over the next few days, I spun the roulette wheel of keywords and devised some impressively cringe-worthy titles. Some were so melodramatic, sophomoric, or unintentionally suggestive, the truth finally broke through decades of denial: I am a superhero, and my superpower is crafting really bad novel titles.
Don’t believe me? Try some of these on for size:
- The Hero and the Healer [No problem, as long as my novel is really a three-page parable.]
- Drive to Heal [Because it’s about driving and healing! Get it?]
- Journey Through the Wilds [Who said corset-ripping cheesiness is a thing of the past?]
- Healing Bridges [This sounds like either the name of a rehab facility or an architect’s memoir title. Sigh.]
- Genesis [Because of course my awesome paranormal romance should bear the first name of the Abrahamic religions’ sacred texts!]
- Healer Becoming [Okay, I actually still like this one a little bit.]
- Healing Yesterday [Enough cheese to put a dairy out of business.]
- Healing Circle [Grab your crystals and incense and prepare to align those chakras!]
- The New Order [Not even slightly suggestive of Nazis!]
- Healing Shift [Another driving and healing mashup! Lolz! Yeah, okay, I seriously think I need to visit a rehab center – maybe Healing Bridges? – to start healing from the word “healing.”]
By this time, a solid week had passed since I’d penned my book’s final, tear-jerking last line. Seven days. Gazing upon gems like Driving Change and Humanity Evolving**, I finally had to acknowledge the depth of my talent for devising trite, hyperbolic, and all-around stinky novel titles. If writing dreadful titles were an Olympic sport, I’d win the platinum.
However, since publishers want actual titles and not plastic mockups, I hurled myself at my beta readers, my three sisters, my best friend, and my spouse and begged them all to help me churn out fabulous, future-award-winning titles. (No pressure.) Finally, I whittled down my three dozen or so titles to five and posted them on Facebook for my loved ones to vote. True democracy. Or, well, it would have been true democracy had they chosen the one I wanted, but they didn’t, so I had to override them all. But still, yay, democracy!
Ten days after finishing my novel, I finally named it. Henceforth, it will forever be known as Becoming Human.
I really like this title. It’s quietly epic, globally micro. Also, and I can’t emphasize this enough—this title is the combined efforts of many very smart people. If left alone, my superpowers would have prevailed, leaving me with Part of the Wilds, a name worthy of Jeffrey Dahmer and Jack London’s unplanned lovechild.
* I am 100% kidding, in case that’s not apparent. Please don’t send me hate mail.
** I’m aware some of these titles aren’t universally shudder-inducing. Some would work awesomely as book titles – provided the book was an epic fantasy saga, a self-help bestseller, or a pop science book about the beginning of the universe. The problem lay in naming a paranormal romance something as majestic as Humanity Evolving or Healing Circle.