Jilly: Finding The Right Title. Help!

If it looks like a romance, and sounds like a romance ...

If it looks like a romance, and sounds like a romance …

My story needs a new title. I’m driving myself crazy here, and I’d appreciate a helping hand.

I mentioned in the comments last Sunday that I’d had some push-back at RWA about my title, Rent & Cornflakes. A very nice editor said “Not a fan of the title. It isn’t really catchy, nor tells you anything about the book. I wouldn’t think this was a romance.” A couple of days later, I pitched an agent. She asked my title, looked surprised for a moment, and then said “Oh. Is it women’s fiction, then?” I said no, it’s a love story. We moved swiftly on to talk about the book, but I knew then that Rent & Cornflakes wasn’t doing me any favors.

The final nail in the coffin was the feedback I got a couple of days ago from the Lone Star contest. Unlike Elizabeth, I did not final, but I got some really useful feedback, including the following:

I really like this story. The only thing I don’t like is the title. This book deserves a better title befitting a single title romance, so re-title it. A title should be part of your marketing package and should interest readers to buy. Your title doesn’t do that. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even read the blurb of a book with that title. Everything else is good.

All righty, then. I really like Rent & Cornflakes. It’s Rose’s shorthand for the things that really matter in life. It fits my heroine and my story, but if it gives the wrong signal to potential readers and they don’t bother to read the blurb, let alone the book, nobody but me and a handful of my friends will ever know that.

So I need a new title that says ‘single title romance, read me!’ A catchy, memorable combination of words that clearly says ‘love story inside,’ which captures Rose and Ian in particular rather being a generic fit for thousands of other contemporary romances out there, but doesn’t sound like a category romance title (Swept Away By The Highlander’s Passion). Impossible? I’m starting to think so.

Here are the bones of my book, borrowed from my query letter post a couple of months ago:

My story is a smart, entertaining 100,000-word contemporary romance set in London and the Scottish Highlands.

It’s Rose’s story. She’s an artist and jewelry designer. She’s not naive or unworldly (her stepfather’s a successful businessman, her mother’s a smart cookie), but she isn’t motivated by money. Jennifer O’Brien described Rose as ‘dreamy, impractical, and optimistic to the point of foolhardy.’ Justine calls her ‘granola with sparkles’ (love that!).

It’s a love story. Rose meets Ian. He’s a hot Scot. He’s a limelight-hogging entrepreneur, and he is totally driven by money. Of course he has his reasons. He’s the leader of a close-knit family and wider community of larger-than-life characters, and under all the trappings, he’s probably a bigger idealist than Rose.

Ian and Rose both have a problem. Each is the potential solution for the other, so Rose proposes that they work together. It’s not the usual kind of deal.

Their co-operation changes them both. Rose discovers Ian’s not who she thought he was, and when their fledgling venture is threatened by predatory media princess Sasha, who has other plans for Ian, Rose has to figure out what she really, really wants.

The book is the first of a series about Ian and his friends and family. My favorite quote from the Sourcebooks spotlight at this year’s RWA was ‘Put a man in a kilt, and you’re done,’ so if I’m trying to send the right signals, maybe the Scottish connection is the way to go. Love on the Loch? Ack.

I tried Kay’s trick of free-writing twenty titles in three minutes. Nope. I tried a series of buzz-words:

Romance, love, true, heart, romance, kiss, care, want, desire, passion, happy, marry, wed, proposal;
Ian McKenzie Kinross, Scotland, Scot, Scottish, Highland, kilt, tartan, clan, loch;
Rose, English, naïve, dreamer, idealist, boho, blond, London, Camden, maven (?), star;
Artist, art, decoration, paint, draw, sketch, create;
Career, business, success, ambition, money, rich, power, ambition;
Jewelry, glitter, gold, gilded, shiny, Gilded Lily;
Negotiate, deal, partnership, build, grow, change, future, entrepreneur;

If these are the pick of the bunch, you can imagine what the others were like 😉
Designs on the Scotsman
More than She Bargained For
Gilt and the Kilt
McKenzie’s Maven
Bargaining for Love


Spinning my wheels here 😦 . Any and all comments or suggestions most gratefully received. Thank you!

23 thoughts on “Jilly: Finding The Right Title. Help!

  1. My first thought is that you don’t have to give up on Rent & Cornflakes. Use it as a subtitle, like after “Big Title on Top,” then underneath, “When a girl needs more than rent and cornflakes…” or something like that. Which gives you Rose’s angle, and also gives you a direction for the title.

    My second thought is that if you still have the thumb drive from RWA (or the recordings), check out the workshop from EOD Saturday by Ezra Barany about using SEO for titles. It’s a different way of thinking about the words you choose to title your book. It can add a whole new layer of confusion! But other angles of thought can only be good, right?

    Okay, specifics. Channeling Sarah McLean, just for fun: “How Rose Sacrificed Her Principles to Do Good and Learned to Love”

    Short form: “All that Glitters”

    or maybe: “Can’t Buy Me Love”

    As a final thought, you’ll need to think of two more titles that are similar to anything you choose for this book, to show that they’re a series. Ack! So—the “All that…” convention might work. “All that Glitters,” “All that Sparkles,” “All that Dazzles,” or something like that. Much easier than “Can’t Buy Me Love,” which trails off to “Can’t Buy Me Happiness” and “Can’t Buy Me Sock Puppets.” We’ll have to keep thinking!

    • I bought the RWA recording, Kay, so I’ll check out Ezra Barany’s workshop. Any new angle has to be worth a try!

      Rose’s story would be more like ‘sometimes, what glitters IS gold.’ Expressed snappily. In a construction that would work for two more books. Hmm.

      I like the idea of using Rent & Cornflakes as a subtitle, too – adding this to the mix. Thanks!

      • Kay, that’s a great idea about using rent and cornflakes in the tagline or as a subtitle.

        Another thought — one struggle is that Ian is making art for the sake of money (even though it’s for a very good cause!), and Rose is about making art for the sake of beauty. She comes to realize that money is important, and he realizes . . . money isn’t always the ultimate deciding factor? I’ll keep thinking . . . .

  2. Given all the bruhaha on this side of the pond about Outlander, I love “Gilt and the Kilt.” It’s a great time to be writing about Scotland, Jilly, and putting something decidedly Scottish in the title might be fun and catchy. Then again, I can’t get enough of the Scottish lilt these days! Too bad I’m not writing about Scotland right now, too, or we could detour our spring trip to the Highlands!

    • I’d really like to find a Scottish-y title if I could, Justine. And some day soon, we really have to take a trip to the Highlands!

      I’ve been thinking about you this weekend, because we’re visiting a good friend who lives in a gorgeous eighteenth century farmhouse owned by the Duke of Bedford. It’s on the edge of the Woburn estate (check out the Duke’s stately home at http://www.woburn.co.uk) and this morning we took the dog for a walk past the most perfect Jane Austen-esque manor house. You’d love it. Woburn is just off the motorway between Derbyshire and London, so maybe we can take a quick detour when you come over next year 🙂

  3. The Thistle and the Rose. (Although, that sounds a bit historical, doesn’t it?)

    I think they may be right that Rent and Cornflakes emphasizes Rose’s journey (which is a subplot) rather than the romance. Gilt and the Kilt gets both your protagonist and antagonist in the title (-:. (Although, do be careful about gilt/guilt.)

    I’d like to get something fight-y in the title, because you like your scrappy heroine, and your villainess is also a fighter — Rivals in Love, Rival Jewellers in Love, Fight for the Heart of Gold, Fight for the Golden Thistle. What is the name of Ian’s company, again? Love and Other Designs.

    IDK. Let’s keep brainstorming until something sparks for you. (Bohemian Love Song — naaaah. Titles are hard!)

    Are you using any sort of love jewelry in the story? Like a claddagh ring (yeah, wrong part of the Isles, I know) or those friendship hearts?

  4. One more comment. I keep thinking that Rose’s first piece of jewelry is very important to the story — it brings the two together. But I’m not sure what to call it. I googled this: http://renfairshoppe.com/gypsy_jewelry.html and also this: http://www.chic-steals.com/2013/05/diy-enamel-spring-flower-bib-necklace-with-martha-stewart-jewelry.html The second site calls it a “bib necklace” — I have a feeling both pieces are a little small compared to Rose’s masterpiece.

    Oh. How He Stole Rose’s Heart. Or: How He Stole Rose’s Breath Away.

    Sorry, just riffing now.

    • Please keep riffing away, Michaeline! Rose’s jewelry is very important to the story, and it’s all love jewelry.

      The Thistle and the Rose does sound like a historical. I’m seeing a classic cover with a splendidly gowned lady in the arms of a bare-chested, kilted, wild-haired ruffian – the hunky ancestor of my sharp-suited entrepreneur.

  5. Taking together what everyone else has said, something that pulls together jewlry/jewelry-making/jewelry components (gold/silver/jewels) and the Scottish aspect (kilts/lochs/highlands/heather) would work well. The other thing you want to do, if you can, is to allude to conflict. Another potential source is to look for something one of the characters says to the other. I recently decided to rename my WIP Demons Don’t because that’s something Belial keeps saying to Dara, “Demons don’t fill out applications.” “Demons don’t get the measles.” And, of course, “demons don’t fall in love with humans.” Is there a phrase Rose uses in her head to reference Ian when she’s annoyed at him, like “jewelry-making control freak in a kilt” or “kilted tycoon?” If it’s something clever,it might do everything you need.

    • I love the title ‘Demons Don’t,’ Jeanne. Just off to re-read my WIP, now, looking for a smart-mouthed piece of Ian-bashing 🙂

  6. I quickly read through your titles, Jilly, and Gilt and the Kilt stood out. Pull the Scottish angle in–by all means–and I also second Kay. Try to keep Rent and Cornflakes in some configuration (I’ve always LOVED that title). My brain is a fog bank these days but if something specific comes to mind, I’ll definitely get back to you.

    • Thanks, Kat, I love *Rent & Cornflakes* too! If I have to drop it, I want it to be for something I truly believe is better. If you happen to think of something, I’d love to hear it 🙂

  7. Back again 🙂 What are some of the books you want to position Rent and Cornflakes (as was) next to? Might be handy to check out the type of titles that are in vogue amongst similar books.

    • Look after your hand, Rachel.

      I can’t really think of any similar books (and the editor I spoke to in San Antonio said she hadn’t read anything quite like it). If I had to choose an author to be compared to, in my wildest dreams it would be SEP. Her new one is called Heroes Are My Weakness, but basically by now she could call her books anything she wanted and we’d all queue up to buy them 🙂

  8. Fair warning, I do not generally have success at titling my own stuff (several WIPs are titled with just the main character’s name), but if I throw things out there, it might spark something, or at least tell you where it isn’t.

    His English Rose
    Gilded Passion
    Highland Sparklers
    Diamond Dreams
    The Strongest Link
    24 Karat Trouble
    The Silversmith’s Dilemma
    Rent, Cornflakes, and Kinross
    Designer’s Choice
    For want of a Necklace
    Romancing the Stonesmith
    Rose’s Heartstone
    A Ring for Rose
    Designing Trouble
    Jeweler Takes All

    • Thanks, Flo – some good stuff here. I really like For Want of a Necklace – that fits the story really well. My other faves are The Strongest Link, and Jeweler Takes All.

    • Thanks, Kat! I tried a few different versions with ‘Passion’ and couldn’t quite get any of them to ring exactly right, though there’s passion a-plenty in the book. ‘Desire’ was worse, and there’s no shortage of that, either 🙂

  9. You could play around with the word Loch (or one of your other favorite word) for the series – Maybe start with something like
    Loch-ed in Love
    Golden Loch-ett
    Loch-ed and Loaded
    A Loch-ed Heart

    Sorry up too late & too early lately 😀 Carry on.

    Besides, I thought everyone always says NOT to get to attached to even your best title “because they’ll just re-title it anyway”.

    • Ha! I like Loch’d and Loaded, that’s great. Thanks, Penny. Of course you’re right that whatever I settle on will probably get changed anyway, but finding something more appropriate will make my query stronger and that alone makes it worth the effort. Plus, you never know 🙂

    • Thanks, Darla! I like the subtitle idea, too, and as you say, it leaves me free to find a Scottish flavor for my lead title. I need a quiet hour or two with a cup of tea or a glass of wine to work through all the great suggestions here. Maybe Saturday …

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