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What’s In a Title?

By Richard F.X. O’Connor

A recurring question from students is: How important is the title when submitting to an agent or editor?

The answer is very important sometimes and unimportant at others. Let me clarify. Generally, the idea for the book, comprehensively presented, is of more importance than a precise title. We writers are often too close to our work to be the best judge of the title. Moreover, better than 50 percent of the time, the editor and marketing people in a publishing house will come up with the best title, the "selling" title. They can be an immense help to the author.

And not to put too fine a point on it, when Herman Wouk became well known, he would submit his manuscript with the following: Untitled Work by Herman Wouk.

All that said, it doesn’t hurt to have a great title to intrigue the agent or editor. The one that comes immediately to mind, and a book I ultimately acquired and published, had great big block letters on the title page of the manuscript: The Zen of Oz. The subtitle was Ten Spiritual Lessons from Over the Rainbow.

I remember salivating, hoping that the title’s promise would be delivered in the manuscript. The author, Joey Green, proposed that one of America’s most-treasured films, The Wizard of Oz, offered some sublime, spiritual insights. He delivered on the promise in the title and the book is still in print.

Many titles need some explanation. It helps the writer’s cause if that explanation comes quickly in the presentation. As in the proposal for the memoir, Send Me Someone, A True Story of Love Here and Hereafter, by Diana von Welanetz Wentworth. The short strokes are that Diana was married to Paul von Welanetz for 25 years, after a highly romantic courtship. They shared everything, personally and professionally. Their passion for cooking and entertaining led them to successful careers as award-winning cookbook authors and hosts of a television show. But one day everything changed, when Paul was diagnosed with cancer. In rapidly declining health, Paul told her, "I don’t want you to be alone." She replied impulsively, "Then send me someone." He responded, "I will." That promise is at the heart of the extraordinary story told in Send Me Someone. Then again there is What Color Is My Parachute? Go figure!

–Richard F X. O'Connor is the published author of seven books including the best selling "How To Make Your Man More Sensitive" (E.P. Dutton/ Fawcett) and "Ident-A-Kid" (S&S). His self-published work is "How to Market You and Your Book."



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