Friday, April 6, 2018

Finding a Title

How long does it take most of you writers to find a title for your books? Do you dare try to think of something new and different or attempt to use a title that has already been used, since titles are not copyrighted?

I wrote about this nearly a year ago in this post, which had been inspired by reading this blog post:

Allegra Nation
The depression memoir “Prozac Nation” by Elizabeth Wurtzel was so much of a smash hit that Hollywood made a movie out of it. I suppose that should prompt me to write a memoir called “Risperdal Nation” since I’m legitimately schizophrenic. My life isn’t nearly as interesting as Elizabeth Wurtzel’s, so maybe I’ll have to hold off for a while. You know what else would make a weird memoir? “Allegra Nation”. Ever since having nasal surgery in 2006, I’ve been gagging on my own snot and blowing my nose like an elephant whenever I’m out in public. Allegra seems to be the only over-the-counter medication that works so far. If you managed to get this far in the blog post without falling asleep, kudos to you. The point I’m trying to make is Elizabeth Wurtzel is a one of a kind author with one of a kind skills. To try and duplicate her work would be next to impossible. You can’t just remove the word “Prozac” from the title of your memoir and replace it with another medication. Suppose you have chronic constipation and you tried to write a memoir called “Phillip’s Colon Health Nation”. Would that sell very many copies? “The diarrhea splatter looked like guts after the Vietnam war.” I’m sorry, but there’s simply no way to make diarrhea or constipation interesting. Same thing with “Yaz Nation”. I suppose a memoir about having lots of sex would prove to be spicy and hot, but we don’t need to hear that you constantly used Yaz as a birth control pill, especially now that women are having strokes because of it. Hehe! I said “strokes” in a sentence about sex. You know what else would make a weird memoir? “Pamprin Nation”. There’s simply no way to make periods sound readable. “After I bled all over the floor like a Saw character, I yelled at my boyfriend so loudly that he began bleeding out of his ears.” There’s simply no way a blogger with testicles can make that sound interesting without coming off as a sexist pig. I assure you I’m not a sexist. I’m merely trying to prove a point that if you try to write a memoir based on a random medication, you won’t get the results you want. Elizabeth Wurtzel is a Generation X icon with a lot to say, even after 1994, when Prozac Nation was published. Her memoir is more than just constant complaining about being sad. It’s social commentary. It’s psychology. It’s something you can’t write if you’re constantly ingesting Phillip’s Colon Health pills

It was a while before I came up with a title for my memoir. I had been inspired to write my story after reading Prozac Nation, then thinking my story was just too similar to what had been told already, especially that in Prozac Nation. But everyone convinced me otherwise. Since then I have come across similar remarks such as this one, which I saw yesterday when searching for articles on choosing a title for a book. One of the comments reads:
The last thing I titled was a nonfiction novel I'm writing depicting my struggle and recovery from my eating disorder. I know there are a lot of books out there about eating disorders now but everyone's story is different because everyone's struggle is different. I titled it The Battle Within.
(This was exactly what I had been told about depression stories).  

Even though titles are not copyrighted, most people would dare not use one that is highly distinctive, though they could do so.  I was not aware of the fact that titles are not copyrighted until years after seeing this Peanuts cartoon:

He could have used these titles, though doing so would probably cause confusion with the books already bearing these names. Woodstock must not have known that titles are not copyrighted 🙂

In the new afterword to Prozac Nation, author Elizabeth Wurtzel says that "Prozac Nation is a great invention. It is a pity you cannot trademark a title. Alas. ..." I knew I could not use this title since it was so distinctive, but I still wanted to emphasize being on Prozac myself. I would have wanted to do the same for Paxil, Zoloft or any other antidepressant. 

And now I'm trying to come up with title for my diary novel. I have considered calling it Life Behind Bars, but am worried that that title might be too misleading, even though it seems catchy and is the title of one of the diary entries/chapters. This title stumped a fellow client at work, making wonder what the book could about. Then I showed her the source of my title. One suggestion I got was Smile, but I was quick to point out that a graphic novel with that title exists, and that the subject matter of that book is about a teen getting braces, the same as my diary novel. Again, the title is not copyrighted, but it would be confusing for two books on the same subject to have the same title. And smiling is less emphasized in my story. Rather anxiety over having to get braces and subsequently adjusting to them makes up most of the story. The character lists the things he's looking forward to and not looking forward to about having to sport orthodontia, with the negatives outweighing the positives. So I think Smile would not be the best title for my book. I now want to somehow use the "behind bars" analogy without sounding too deceptive as to the title's meaning.



Elephant's Child said...

Yet another challenge for writers...

Lynda Dietz said...

Jamie, thanks for your visit to my blog today! I'm happy to have been led here for your A to Z. I can sympathize with your struggle to find a title for your book. One of the authors I work with always checks her title ideas by looking for it on Amazon and seeing how many other books have that title (or a variant of it) and if any are in her genre. I'll have to catch up with your A-E posts now!

Jamie Ghione said...

Thanks, but I'm not doing the A to Z. I've thought about it, but have not had the courage to do so. Plus, I can't seem to find a theme. It is just a coincidence that my post today started with F. I'm still glad to read your A to Z post, however. I found your name on Jean Davis's blog.

Lynda Dietz said...

That's funny that your post landed on the right day. I realized after I searched for an A to Z theme.

It can be hard to find a theme, that's for sure. I did A to Z in 2014 and gave writing advice from an editor's perspective, and then didn't have time or energy to do the A to Z again until this year. Even so, I changed my theme three times because it was tough to find enough letters in the others I'd chosen.

Sandra Cox said...

I'm sure you'll come up with the perfect title.
For one of my books, I came up with the title then wrote the story:)

Jean Davis said...

I remember that post from before. :) Glad to see you're at the titling stage. Most of my titles come to me as I'm nearing the end of the novel or after I've written it. It's not often I start with a title and then write the book.

You may want to consider adding a subtitle to help clarify what your book is about. That would also help set your book apart from another with a similar title. What if you just went with Behind Bars and then added a subtitle?