A rose by any other name: choosing a title for a book – Stephanie Butland

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By Stephanie Butland

My novel is called Lost For Words, and I hope, if you read it, you’ll see why: it’s about being unable to find the words you need to say the things you need to say. It’s about events that feel unspeakable. It’s about saying things you thought you’d never say, and not knowing where, or how, to start. And it’s set in a second-hand bookshop, the wordiest place you can imagine, where people lose or leave things in the pages of the books they hand in.

It’s such an obvious title that you’d thing the book has always been called that. Right? Wrong….

Allow me to take you through some of the titles this novel has had.

WEDNESDAYS WITH LOVEDAY. I always knew my main character would be called Loveday and I thought this title was clever and intriguing. It went with my original concept, that the story would be told in a narrative that only happened on Wednesdays. (No, I don’t know why, either. I did at the time.) It soon became clear that, unless Loveday belonged to a cult/sect that slept for six days a week, the concept was never going to work. So the title had to go. But I was not defeated….

A DIFFERENT STORY. The novel is about books. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves, It’s about being brave enough to question what you think you know. I liked it. But I found I couldn’t remember it, and neither could anyone else. So… no.

FOUND IN A BOOK. Loveday works in a second-hand bookshop. The story hinges on her past finding her, via books she remembers from her childhood, and the things that are tucked between the pages. And we find so many other things in books…. I thought this was a perfect title. ‘Not strong enough,’ said my agent, and a couple of early readers, before it went out on submission. Sigh.

POETRY WITH LOVEDAY. This is the title that the book went out for submission under. My agent and I agreed that it wasn’t *the* title, but that an editor would want to have some input into the final title anyway, so it would do as a placeholder. I spoke to several editors during the acquisition/auction process and asked them what they would call the novel. Nobody knew.

WHAT LOVEDAY KNEW. I came up with this and I thought it was GENIUS. ‘It nods to childhood and books by recalling What Katie Did’, I said cheerfully, ‘and there are things Loveday knows that no one else does, and it has ‘Loveday’ in it, which I think is really important, because everyone is just going to call it ‘Loveday’ anyway.’ Everyone made ‘mm that’s interesting’ faces without actually agreeing. So I wasn’t terribly surprised when WHAT LOVEDAY KNEW was removed from the metaphorical table. It took me a week or two to come to terms with the fact that ‘Loveday’ wasn’t going to be in the title – because it didn’t work hard enough, according to people who understand this stuff (and, as an author, I would never claim to know how publishing actually works). Deep breath. Move on.

BETWEEN STRIKE AND FLAME. I loved this title, which my editor took from the first page of the novel. She loved it too. We loved it so much that we went with it. The first proofs were called BETWEEN STRIKE AND FLAME. We stayed with it for a long time, despite the sounds of designers sobbing as they tried to make a cover for it. But early quotes and endorsements suggested that the thing that readers were going to fall for was the bookishness of this novel. So BETWEEN STRIKE AND FLAME had to go in favour of something more bookish. This is where things got hysterical.

LOVEDAY’S SECRET CHICKEN. My editor and I spend a couple of hours on the phone every other day for a week, thinking of titles. We text each other in the middle of the night. We gradually lose our grip on the English language, and possibly reality. We have conversations that go ‘The Secret Something of a Bookseller?’ ‘The Bookshop Of Lost Things?’ ‘Finding Your Story?’ ‘Something Book Something Reader’? ‘Leaves Something?’ She polls the office, I poll writer friends who have read the book. There’s not a lot of consensus. ‘Titles are hard’, one writer messages, sympathetically. We keep thinking, At this stage I am 80,000 words into my next novel. At one point I tell my editor, jokingly, that I’m going to delete it, she can tell me a good book title, and I will write a new book to fit. She tells me not to but I think we both have a second where we seriously consider this option. But then….

LOST FOR WORDS. It’s obvious, isn’t it?! I don’t know why we didn’t think of it in the first place. I changed the name of the bookshop in the novel, just to make sure this title really stuck.

(The novel I’ve just finished is called BLUE HEART DANCING. At the moment. Stay tuned…)

Stephanie Butland lives in Northumberland, close to the place where she grew up. She writes in a studio at the bottom of her garden, and loves being close to the sea. Her new novel, Lost For Words, is released tomorrow.


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