8.11.2006

Title? Call me Your Majesty please

Oh snarky one,
I have a question regarding the writer's rights as to how the book is presented after your fabulous job of represending her.

This stems from a friend who, on the publication of her first book, was "gifted" by the publisher with the world's most ridiculous book title. I won't share; she doesn't want her name mentioned. But is it typical of a book contract that something as integral to the book be changed without the author's consent? Or is it more the norm to have some agree-upon input in the contract? As she had no agent at this time, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that she suffered the effects of not shopping for an agent after the book was accepted.

Sorry, this one isn't cause she had no agent. Titles, particularly for first time authors, are the publisher's call. My experience is that editors don't surprise you with it. I've had MANY titles change but I ususally know way ahead of time, can tell the author, get a list of what they're thinking of, and contribute an opinion. Sometimes it does no good. And don't even get me started on cover art!

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's distressing.

One of my first published short stories was accepted by one of the slicks. The fiction editor went on maternity leave and so I never knew, until the issue was on the newstands, that the managing editor had changed my very cool title to something completely stupid and embarrassing.

Stacy said...

First time authors are always surprised by this one. And the fact that they don't get to write the introduction and the blurb - they get something called 'approval', which means that after the editor writes it and the supervising editor checks and changes it and the Marketing manager names it, they get asked to 'have a look, and let us know what you think'. Usually, only experienced authors are able to make a sensible contribution to the decision-making process, like 'there should be a boy on the cover for balance', or 'my name is smaller than my coauthor's name'. New authors say crap like 'I hate pink, take my name off the cover if you make it pink' (True story, and the pink book has no author's name on the cover - we got it in writing).

Manic Mom said...

oooooh, I am dying to know what the "world's most ridiculous book title" is... can the author of this question email me and tell me. I might even go out and buy it!!!

So curious!!

I don't know what would happen if my title gets changed. Hell, I don't know what'll happen if I get an agent, a publisher, an editor and a book deal...

SherryD said...

I'm a bit surprised that so many first time authors are ignorant of this fact (cover art and titles). You have no real say in either, unless for some reason the publisher respects your opinion very, very highly - and as a newby what are the chances of that?

Anonymous said...

I would deal with a bad title if the book sold, but if it did not a dorky title would add insult to injury.

However, selling is the point.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it could be worse. My first published poem, the editor cut off half the poem and never said a word. He did, however, keep the title.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

I'm lucky, they keep most of my titles...but cover art? It's always a hold-your-breath experience. I've had some wonderful covers from my publishers, and a couple real stinkers that actually made me cry.

In fact one of my recent books has cover art I absolutely hate, the upcoming one has my best cover art yet that I've fallen in love with. Same publisher, different artists, different concepts. Go figure. Trouble is, my readers don't like the bad cover and they let me know, thinking I approved it. Everybody always thinks the author gets a say in it. HA!

I whine a little, then suck it up and deal with it. That's all you can do.

AnimeJune said...

I'm glad I learned this early.

Five years ago, if I'd had a novel finished, I'd have marched right up to the publisher and said, "I want a unicorn on the cover, Michael Whelan to paint it, and my name in sparkling, prism lettering. Make it happen!"

And then I would have been horrified to see my novel come in with a cover of a big-busomed, scantily-clad barbarian woman with a gigantic sword on it, my name in small, black lettering (and spelled wrong!), and the title changed from "The Unicorn's First Love" to "Horny For Love".

Thank God I learned about this. My expectations will be low, so, as the expression goes, "I'll be never disappointed but occasionally pleasantly surprised."

Kate Thornton said...

I had a glossy mag change the title of one of my short stories, too - but the new title made a lot more sense. And I don't care what they call it as long as the check has my name on it!

roach said...

I'm counting on an editor changing the title of my book if/when it gets accepted for publication. I've spent the last month and a half trying to come up with a working title just to query with and I'm running out of time. When September rolls around and I start sending out queries I hope I have something better than "Untitled" that doesn't ooze lameness. I'm sure I'll be able to come up with something workable and hope that an editor will come up with something better.

WV: sxqyq...maybe...no, better not go the nonsense title route.

Bugwit Homilies said...

Sorry, but if I can get someone to publish me, they cann call it Worst Book Ever and put a picture of me with my finger up my nose on the cover. Actually, that might sell!

They can also put a bridle on me and take turns riding me out for coffee.

Anonymous said...

Some of us editors feel your pain about the cover art. Often, because budgets are so tight, and relationships can be strained between departments (and yes, artists who work for big publishers can be every bit as tempermental as freelance fine artists), or an editor is junior, or an author is junior, editors are compelled to keep the covers they get stuck with, even though we know they suck. Sorry authors.

One junior editor I know got stuck with an incredibly shitty cover, but she couldn't complain, because the in-house designer was a bit unstable and she knew if she asked him to totally redo the cover, he'd screw her over on every cover for the rest of his time at the company. I get shivers. I'm sure we all do.

Anonymous said...

Hate to say it, but sometimes we authors don't know best. My third novel's title included the word "prayers" in it. My publisher pointed out that this could cause the book to be shelved in Christian lit in book stores. As things turned out, I liked the title they came up with much better than mine. But covers? Different story.

Bernita said...

While the author may own the words within, does the publisher not own the covers?
Their money, their choice?

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I'm relieved. I can write, but I don't title well. Shoot, when I got a new puppy, it took me so long to come up with the right name she'd already gotten used to being called "Baby", and the new name was pointless.

Misty

Anonymous said...

Even though the new title was a line from my novel, and I agreed to the change, it was months before I agreed that the publishers were right. Excellent feedback on it ever since. But I don't think my contract allows them to do as they will, as it does (with 'rights of consultation' only) over the cover, blurbs and so on.

I think I would fight to the death if I felt a completely wrong title was being suggested and we couldn't find a compromise. Or I'd hand the battle over to my very powerful agent. If my agent agreed with them, though, I'd knuckle under on the grounds that they probably do know best.

Talking of which (which we weren't, I know), here in the UK, 'blurbs' are cover/jacket copy, and the '...best book I've ever read - William Shakespeare' line on the front is called a puff.

Dan L. said...

The first thing I ever had published, I didn't even know it had been accepted until I picked up the paper and saw my story in it. I called the paper and said, Hey, I wrote that story, do I get paid or what? They apologized and sent me a (small) check. Welcome to the writer's life.

You might have heard the one about the dumb Hollywood actress. She was so dumb she f****d the writer.

Waylander said...

Spell my name right on the cover - that's all I care about

Anonymous said...

I had a MAJOR disagreement about the title of my non-fiction book. The marketing director suggested something that would have been a very good title, if only my book had been about that subject. Finally, it worked out... till the same phrase was at the top of the back cover blurb and we had to start arguing all over again. I guess they kept wishing my book were really about something entirely different.

At least I got a great cover illustration.

Kalen Hughes said...

I've given up trying to come up with the PERFECT title. I only become attached and am then upset when my publisher changes it. I slap on something rough and let marketing worry about it (they claim they know best, anyway).

Half the writers I know just use the character’s names, or the number in the series as the working title (Jack and Diane’s Story; Wanderlust #5).

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous editor who said junior authors and editors have very little say. My first novel's cover I had no input at all. Second novel, different editor with seniority, she, my agent, and I had the art dept. redo the cover three times. Third novel, guess who changed it . . . the marketing people. They're the ones with the final word.

Cudd said...

Wow. I had no idea that publishers had so much input on the title. It really does makes sense, but I never knew. Thanks for publishing that one, Miss Snark. You're probably saving many authors from a rude awakening later on, :)

Existential Man said...

For an extended discussion of an authors' input on cover design/art, title, and contribution to flap copy text, read the "Romancing the
Cover Lover" article on Backspace.
(www.bksp.org)

It is the latest column under Your Write Mind or, to go directly to it:
http://www.bksp.org/secondarypages
/hendlin/008.htm

You might be surprised what kind of influence you, as an author, can have on the process of choosing your cover/title.

Just Me said...

My contracts say that we have to agree on the title, but when it comes to cover art, I just get my opinion taken into account.

Translated, this means that my opinion counts for zippo on the cover art (fortunately I LOVE it, I think it's the most beautiful cover I've ever seen) and only a little on the title - I can put my foot down if their title physically makes me gag, but even that isn't really a good idea.

The back-cover copy and the shout line were joint efforts - the editor wrote them, I messed with them, the editor messed with my messed-with versions, till we got them polished.

I was also surprised (hey, I'm a first-timer!) by the fact that my opinion counted for so little on the title - I expected that on the cover art, but the title is text, no? Apparently, no. The art, title, blurb and shout line are all marketing issues. Which made sense once somebody told me, but had never really occurred to me before.

Carrie said...

My rule for titles: make a list of 20 or 30. After you decide on it, love it, tell everyone about it -be prepared for it to change. Repeat sentence two.

Personally, I am fine with the changes. And covers? Those who design covers are great at what they do...who am I to argue? I am just so grateful that there are people out there to do this!

Anything that takes away from writing is best left to the experts.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Some of my books were put into audio format. When that happened, I had no input, so I didn't know they split each of the books into two and issued new titles. The one really good upshot was that the new covers were excellent and whoever came up with the titles actually read the books to come up with suitable names.

Chumplet said...

I think the title plays an important part of the query stage. If the title gets a little attention, and ties in with the plot, so much the better. I changed the title of my novel at the suggestion of Evil Editor (actually, he just said: Bad Ice, how about Bad Title), so I changed it along with the query. Now I have a request for two chapters. FIRST REQUEST EVER!
If the thing sells, perhaps they'll want to change the title again, but I'm okay with it. At least that's what I'm saying now.

Cover art is a different matter. I've seen some real pukers out there, and I sincerely hope that my first one won't make somebody want to ralph. I'm hoping that my Graphic Arts background will garner a few nods if I offer suggestions. Hope.

Anonymous said...

I know an Australian author who picked the artist she wanted for her first fantasy trilogy and had lots of input - but she's a graphic designer so they respected her opinion.

For the US release of one of the books, the publisher came up with a cover that showed a dragon - there were no dragons in the book, so she asked them to change it. They changed the dragon to a winged horse and she was stuck with that.

(Needless to say, there were also no winged horses in the book.)

I have an old edition of John Wyndham's "The Chrysalids" that has a green reptilian monster on the front.

Carrie said...

I have a friend who writes fantasy. For a moment, I thought we were talking about the same person, but she isn't Australian. She has worked with the same illustrator for years and didn't want to change when it came time to publish. The publisher liked the illustrator so much, they actually hired her! Needless to say, all involved were quite pleased.

Ryan Field said...

After having many short stories published, and finally reaching the point where I've been placed on private calls for submission, they still do whatever they want in the end...title and content. The one and only time I ever disputed something was recently, where an editor changed and "tightened" things (including the title) so drastically the story lost all focus (and my name was going on this). Most of the time the changes aren't drastic, and though I don't always agree, I submit. This one time I couldn't do that: One because I know the editor's work (don't like it), and two because it wasn't worth the two hundred bucks. I politely (you never know with whom you're going to work in the future: be polite) pulled my own story and re-sold it to an e-zine for less money, but at least I wasn't totally pissed off. The point is this: Unless it's going to make you physically sick, sometimes the changes aren't that bad. And titles are quirky; you either have a knack for cleverness or you don't. If a clever editor comes up with something better (and I secretly know it)I keep my big mouth shut and say go for it baby.

Kate Pearce said...

Ellora's Cave give all their authors a 3 page cover art questionnaire to fill in about how they would like the cover to look, descriptions of the story's tone, main characters etc. Of course even then you can get a surprise but it's usually a good one!
My print publisher didn't offer me any input on the cover but it still captures the tone and the feel of the book which is really what is important.
Sometimes you just have to accept that the publisher has a different set of experiences to bring to the process.
Title wise I'm three for three so far!

Anonymous said...

My book comes out from Warner in August of 2007 and they sent me a book cover design concept that almost made me puke in my mouth. I called my agent and he went to bat for me. My editor, thankfully, was on my side and agreed with me and my agent. He sent me five new cover concepts two weeks ago that were much better. My advice- always be diplomatic and don't panic. Well, unless your a month from your pub date.

-Art Farkas

Sharron said...

Harlequin/Silhouette does have an online system that allows you to input character info, three scenes, etc—which I believe is used for cover art amongst other things.

As far as titles? Some I love. Some I don’t love so much. But I choose my fights carefully so when I do complain—it’s not just ‘ oh, Sharron is bitching again’. So far, I haven’t really complained about anything including titles or character names (which get changed in my world all the time!).

In the long run, I’m hoping that my name will sell the books and title will be of little consequence. I couldn’t tell you what half of Nora’s titles were—but I know her name!

Elektra said...

Sharron, do they really change character names on you? If so, how much input are you allowed on the new name? That feels very much like crossing the line (unless the name is anachronistic, or perhaps so long and vowel-starved that its impossible for a reader to pronounce)

Word veri: houme A unit of measument only applicable in real estate

Deb said...

Like the poster above, I'm three for three on titles. Can we call this a plus with small press publishing? (G)

On the covers, I'm also three for three, but different stories. Book #1, the publisher came up with the cover art & I fell in love with it instantly. Book #2, she proposed something neither of us liked, so I ended up shooting the cover photo myself. That felt pretty good. Book #3 (different publisher), they came up with a very dark SF type cover for a rather lighthearted book. I pointed out that I didn't think it represented the story well, and kept things polite (I hope) and they changed the cover to a campy fifties type bimbo with a ray gun. I love it.

So it CAN work--maybe small presses are more amenable to author input?

Stacy said...

I think it is important for the author to inform themselves about the importance of every aspect of the book. By no means accept what the publisher does without question;just make sure that you think things through carefully and ask questions before you demand changes. You may have missed something important, or not know something that Marketing has researched.

I work for a small publisher that operates like a big one, so our authors do have an opportunity to tell us what they want; only a few of them actually take the time to inform themselves before commenting.

Jennifer R said...

I don't even waste my time trying to think of a title. I'm not going to be allowed to pick it, so why bother? I might as well go with "Untitled #2" for the time being...

HawkOwl said...

Huh. Good to know. Happiness is the difference between what you expect and what you get.