Nancy: A Rose by Any Other Name*

If I had to take out a personal ad to describe my current writing dilemma, it would go something like this: Multi-genre author with deep-seated issues around choosing book titles seeks readers with sharp, intuitive minds to help choose an appropriate marketing title for a book going out on submission.

You can probably see where this post is going. You, dear readers, are the sharp, intuitive minds in question. A few weeks ago, I didn’t realize I’d need your help, as I was merrily skipping down the primrose path with my beloved working title for a soon-to-be-submitted story nestled safely in my blue and yellow basket. (Yes, metaphorical Nancy is a weird amalgam of different fairytale characters. And she skips. Just go with me on this one.)

Then approximately a week and a half ago, I was on a video chat with Jennie Nash, one of my writing mentors, and a few other people when the conversation turned to submitting manuscripts to agents and editors. Jennie mentioned the importance of having an email subject line that captures the recipient’s attention. Since most query emails will have the prescribed subject line “Query: Book Title,” that means a marketing book title – without the benefit of a full book cover to convey genre and tone – might carry more weight than the final title on a published book. The title needs to convey genre, tone, and something about the story the reader (in this case, an agent) should expect. Yes, they can learn all those things from the body of the email, which is the actual query letter. But that’s not good enough.

A book title that doesn’t interest the agent or makes her think you sent a query for a book in a genre she doesn’t represent might not even get opened. Or it might get pushed into the dreaded assistant’s pile of doom. Or the title might create an expectation that gets dashed when the agent reads your query, synopsis, or pages.

This conversation inspired no small amount of dread in me. Finally, for the first time, just this once, I had a working title I’d totally loved since its inception, that worked with the story (once you’d read it), and that I could envision on a finished book cover. And now it had to go. The reason? See if you can spot it.

I shared my book title, Take the Money and Run, with the group and asked what  it conveyed to them. The answers I got were: caper/heist, light and fun, maybe involving chase scenes and hijinks.

Um, no, no, and no.

That title works if you know the story (really, it does!). It gives a nod to something in the protag’s past and references her external goal for much of the story present. But the genre is women’s fiction. While there is some humor and snark, there’s a lot of heavy and dark stuff in the story. And at its core, it’s about two women with a fractured friendship, different plans for how to repair it, and a disagreement about whether it should be repaired at all.

Since that video chat, I’ve spent some time brainstorming titles based on keyword associations, quotes, and phrases. I’ve come up with a list of potential titles, and posted to an online forum of other authors where I got some feedback. However, I’m not sold on any of these and I’m out of brainpower. So, if you’re game, take a look at my list and tell me if any of these appeal to you and convey that this story is women’s fiction, snarky but dark, with a fractured friendship at its core.

Girlfriends and Heists and Everything Nice

When We Were Friends

Once Upon a Friendship

Once We Were Friends

Life After Friendship

When I Knew You

Friends, Interrupted

Where We Left Off

Then You Walked In

Thoughts? Suggestions? Any of those you love? Any you hate? Feel free to brainstorm and riff and provide any of your own suggestions in the comments.


*Seriously, I need help with titles. I even ‘borrowed’ this post title from one of Kay’s posts in 2013 :-).

7 thoughts on “Nancy: A Rose by Any Other Name*

  1. I think any of these titles would work, but I like some in particular. Some really say women’s fiction to me and speak to a broken friendship. I especially like:

    When We Were Friends
    When I Knew You
    Friends, Interrupted

    Getting the title right is really tough. I have a book that I named in haste, and I hate the title now. Not only does it not fit the book that well, but about 600 other books have the same name. Alas, now I’m stuck with it.

    • I’m glad to hear I’m at least getting into the WF ballpark. “When We Were Friends” seems to be the current frontrunner in other polls I’ve posted, and my coach, who’s read the whole book, thinks it works and can lend itself to my pitch paragraph, so – ding! ding! ding! – I think we have a winner. For now, at least.

  2. I thought “ See ya Later”… which makes you think of the original, without using it….’cause ya can’t (“See ya Later alligator”)

    • I can see that as a title for a lighthearted WF with a friendship theme. I often (OK, always) think I’m starting out lighthearted, then I go dark. And that’s how I end up with titles that confuse people. If I ever succeed in staying lighthearted, I will have a lot of great title to choose from :-)!

  3. “Friends, Interrupted” is okay, but I hesitate to riff off of another title like that, so obviously borrowing from “Girl, Interrupted.” In my marketing classes in school, that was a big no-no.

    “When We Were Friends” is pretty good. Other ideas:
    — “Not We”
    — “Frenemies”
    — “Fix or Forget”

    That’s all I have! Good luck!

    • Yes, “Friends, Interrupted” is not subtle in its borrowing. Titles might not follow all of the conventions of marketing other things, but I think it’s best to avoid this one.

      I like the frenemies angle and tried to work with the concept while brainstorming, but again, that’s misleading. Their broken friendship isn’t so much about hatred/being enemies as it is about broken hearts and losing what could have been, and needing to find a new way to make it work because they’re not the same people anymore. I played around a lot with titles involving “heart”, but they all sounded like romance titles. Go figure, from someone who’s also writes romance.

  4. I am such an oddball, because I love *Girlfriends and Heists and Everything Nice*. I’m a huge Christopher Moore fan, too, and love his involved titles.

    It’s going to be long on a thumbnail, though. (OTOH, GIRLFRIENDS in big letters with the rest in smaller letters would stand out on a thumbnail, and probably convey the essence of that story to a potential reader — enough to tempt them to read the side description, maybe.)

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