Titling a novel (a love story)

I love good titles and I work hard at coming up with them. But I had a lot of trouble with the title for Matchbox Girls.

I think a good title needs to both sum up a central element of the story and, if possible, provide additional insight into the whole story. It’s the capstone of the project: what is first seen and often last applied. At least half of my projects have only working title until more than halfway through the first draft, until I can gather up everything I want the title to convey and analyze it and dig through dictionaries and thesauri.

The first title I remember for Matchbox Girls was Under Bridges. I was pretty sure that it was just a working title; I knew conceptually what I was referring to, but it was a stretch and mostly made me think of trolls instead of celestial entities. When I finally sat down to brainstorm, I’d decided I wanted the title of the book to focus attention on the relationship between Marley and the twins. And I wanted a reference to something small, and I wanted a reference to fire. So I made a list of various words and combined them into titles.

(Oh, and I wanted something that could set up a scheme that could apply to a whole series of books.)

And Matchbox Girls just came to me. I loved it immediately. But I wouldn’t let myself have it. “It sounds too much like a totally unrelated Hans Christian Anderson story,” I told myself, and I settled rather glumly on Sparksister.

But secretly, my brain kept whispering Matchbox Girls, Matchbox Girls. I’d Google the term late at night to see if anybody else had used it (not really), or how often it led to a HCA story (practically never). I’d argue with myself about all the reasons it was perfect (which I won’t inflict on you).  I asked my housemates about it. Then I asked them again. I told my friends how perfect it was, and how tragic it was that I couldn’t use it.

I whispered it so much to myself that it finally wore through the HCA block. “It’s striking,” I admitted to myself (“Hah, I see what you did there,” myself whispered.) “I guess I’ll let book and title come together, and somebody else can suggest changing it.” I figured it couldn’t hurt any more than Sparksister, which sounded to me like it belonged on an other-world fantasy with witches and forests. (I was really rather irritated at poor Sparksister by then.)

So I sent out the book to agents, and, well, I didn’t get many nibbles. Maybe the title was to blame! But it was too late to change it! So I moved onto publishers, and Candlemark & Gleam accepted it! No title change required!

So my manuscript and its title got a Happily Ever After. Yay!

(Hmm. Story needs more conflict. Exclamation points do not substitute for tension, except maybe in a silly blog post.)

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