Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

We’ve all seen Julie and Julia, right?—with the genius Meryl Streep working that fabulous accent? Remember the scene where Julia Child is in her editor’s office, shifting words around on a corkboard to arrive at a title for her cookbook?

Well, aside from the 50s hair and clothing, that’s pretty close to what my life has looked like for the past few weeks. Shuffling a handful of words around; trying to arrive at just the right phrase.

Here’s the thing: my book needs a new title. The working title (WATER) was fine. Simple. Suggestive. But I can do better than fine, right? This book wants a title that will evoke the ragged emotions of my main characters. Something that will communicate the urgency of their struggle for survival. Their frail, but resilient hope in stark contrast to the desolate setting.       ↣       ↣       ↣       ↣

I asked my agent. She suggested a few great strategies: make word lists, brainstorm with friends, pull key phrases out of the text. Sounds good, right? Easy, even?

Ha haaaaa ha.

I tried. Again and again, with varying degrees of success. And when just this one brain wasn’t coming up with anything brilliant, I threw it out there over appetizers:

“Help a girl out—let’s brainstorm some titles.” And, you know?—it worked. For a few minutes. We made a word list, shuffled them around and came up with a half-dozen decent options.

“Great!” I said. “This was so helpful. I’ll have to check, though, to make sure none of these are already best-sellers.”

“You mean, like HARRY POTTER’S THIRSTY?”

“Very funny. Go back to your hot & sour soup.” I could see that if I wanted any more REAL help, I was going to have to seek out the advice of my writer friends. You know, the ones with the background knowledge, the wisdom and experience to help me navigate this tricky territory?

Here are some of the *oh, so helpful* suggestions I received from that quarter:


[everyone laughs]


[more laughter]



In all seriousness, my friends have been very helpful at nudging me in the right direction, and telling me when my ideas are less than brilliant. And yes, helping me to laugh about it. But I’m the one that has to get it right.

The title of a book is so important because it’s the first thing a potential reader hears about the story. Those few words are nothing less than the novel’s ambassadors.

So I’d like to hear from you all: What are some of your favorite titles? Why do you think they work so well?

I’ll be sure to let you all know when I find just the right title for the novel formerly known as WATER. Until then, I’ll keep working. Because, as we all know, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.



Filed under Updates on our Books!, Writing

27 responses to “Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

  1. Cynthia Levinson

    This is a very funny post, Melanie. I don’t know what the tone of [insert title here] is but it’s bound to be wonderful. Btw, I know the Julie of Julia and Julie fame. She and my younger daughter were good friends growing up.


    • Melanie Crowder

      It’s a small world indeed!
      Ironically, the tone of this blog post and the tone of the book couldn’t be more different!


  2. I also went through all that with my title. I finally sent a list of title possibilities to my editor that included “If Wishes Were Fishes than Miners Would Farm” just to prove to her I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The name she finally suggested was a mix of two I had sent her. I still don’t love my title. There was one title I did really like (Land For Dreamers), but I was the only person who liked that one. I hope you find a title both you and your editor adore.

    As for a published book with a great title, one of my favorites is A DROWNED MAIDENS HAIR. The title connected to song lyrics at the beginning, but all the way through the book, the title kept taking on new significance and meaning as the story unfolded. Brilliant!


  3. My original title was “Clip” which was–as you say–fine :-). However, while working on the book, I typed, “I wish there could be two of me. One for my mother. And one for the Murphys.” I hadn’t been looking for one, but when that came out of my fingertips , I jumped back, knowing I had a new title. I half expected my publisher to suggest a change, but they never did. It fits the tone of the book and has layered meanings.

    I think titles are one of those things that you stumble upon when you aren’t racking your brain to come up with something. No doubt you will find the PERFECT title for your book, Melanie! Although, I did think WATER was intriguing when I first saw it. 


  4. Felt like the title for my book was one of the only things I didn’t have to revise. Racking my brain for favorite titles and the first that comes to mind is “Flowers for Algernon”, because you have to read the book to understand it, and when you do, it’s heartbreaking.

    Now I’m really curious as to what title you’ll come up with for yours.


  5. I always go for books that have royalty in the title (prince/king/princess/queen… you get the idea) because it will inevitably be either fantasy or historical which are what I love to read, so that’s something to consider: what about your title will grab your target reader?

    Evocative titles are so great — like Lynda’s “One For The Murphys” or Jeanne’s suggestion of “Flowers For Algernon” or my favorite YA of all time, “A Wrinkle In Time” where you don’t really know what you’re in for until you dive in head first — but those don’t arrive by force. Sadly, I think all you can do is what you’ve been doing. And maybe some intentional dreaming. 😉

    Good luck!


  6. J. Anderson Coats

    I feel your pain. I went through something similar. I had my heart set on a multilayer title, but mine came to me (akin to Archimedes in the bathtub or Martin Luther on the toilet) while I was doing the dishes after several hours of crunching random keywords through the online version of the Latin Vulgate.

    Hmm, that anecdote was less helpful than I thought it would be. Maryanne’s “intentional dreaming” is much more poetic – I’d go with that.


  7. I tend to like titles with the promise of a journey: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, Walk Two Moons. Maybe you could consider the physical and emotional journeys that happen in your book.


  8. Pingback: What’s the Deal with a Cover Reveal? | EMU's Debuts

  9. Joshua

    I’m in the same boat, though I absolutely adored my previous title (Kissing Dragons)… I’ve been thinking on it for a couple months now. Still no shiny sparkly replacements… (the closest is something along the lines of On the Road of Fire and Ice, but then I start worrying about things like Fire and Ice being a common thread in romance titles.)…. Good luck.


  10. lisanne001

    I like “Water” as a title. It sounds imperative in its simplicity. One HAS to read such a book.


  11. Melanie Crowder

    Thank you!


  12. “Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes” by Jonathan Auxier. Great title and really evocative book cover!


  13. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Great post, Melanie! I really wanted my book’s title to be THE KITE FIGHTERS, but alas, Linda Sue Park had already snapped that one up. 😛

    Part of what’s so difficult with titles is that we don’t know what the cover will look like; just like there’s a marriage of text and images in picture books, I think the same goes for book covers. If your book is titled WATER and there’s a parched-ground image like the one you’ve got in this post, then that poses a slew of questions right there–Who needs this water? Why can’t they get it? Will they find a way to survive? And on and on.

    One book cover that does this well is M.T. Anderson’s FEED. The title alone means nothing, but that fact that it’s etched into the head of a bald teenaged guy poses all kinds of questions.

    Whatever moniker your book will have, I’m definitely looking forward to getting my hands on a copy!


  14. That is such a good point, Natalie–and I totally agree with you about FEED. (I have to admit, I’m a fan of one-word titles anyway. They seem to be just begging the reader to look for switchbacks and double meanings.)


  15. Good luck, Melanie. It looks like I’m also going to have to brainstorm a new title (again); maybe we should swap and be tasked with titling each others’!

    Anyway, your friend’s Harry Potter-esque suggestion made me laugh, probably because the last time I was trying to come up with a new title for my book, my husband suggested GLADYS GATSBY AND THE BLOWTORCH OF FIRE. =)


    • Melanie Crowder

      Oh, that is endless fun: GLADY GATSBY AND THE [fill in the blank]. I’m leaning toward anything with the word flambe in the title…


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