When should I title my book?

When speaking with authors ahead of a new collaboration the same questions nearly always come up.

– How much?

– How many pages will it be?

– What will the title be?

The answers to all three questions are disappointingly vague at this early stage. While I can give a ballpark figure on price, the actual fee will be based on the time it will take to write the book. This will only be ascertained after the initial interview to explore what will go into the book. (See: How much does a good ghostwriter charge). On the number of pages, well, again, there are a number of variables and many of them are not down to the author or ghostwriter. Think here of the various different options in type and page size. (See: How many pages should my manuscript be?) And so, onto the title. In the majority of cases, the book title is chosen after the book is completed.

The delay in naming a book doesn’t mean this is not a crucial part of the process. It is. Book titles are important. In fact, they punch well above their weight when compared to the 70,000 or 80,000 words in between a book’s covers. These are the few words that will sell a book, or that enthusiastic readers use to begin the conversation when recommending it to their friends. Have you read Banking On It? You should….However, it makes sense to be patient when making a decision about titles. Once the book is complete you will be 100% sure of the main narrative or message that runs through it. Then you will be in the absolute best position to award it with the most punchy, effective description.

There is another way of looking at it too. While coming up with a book title might feel like the important part of the initial process – a stake in the ground saying I am writing a book – fixing a title from the start could potentially limit the outcome. There will be a constant temptation to write the book around the title. While I always meticulously plan chapter by chapter before I begin, books do develop over time. Sometimes books just outgrow their names, however perfect the title seemed at the start. That is, in great part, the joy of creative writing. Let it flow.

Some authors do, occasionally, arrive with a firm and compelling idea of the title of their book. If this is the case, I certainly don’t insist we wait and see. Apart from anything else, it can be quite motivating to all parties as the author’s long held vision begins to take shape. I would however, always recommend reviewing the title at the end of the process, just to make sure it still sounds as good as it once did. The only danger here is authors who have lived with a clear vision for so long sometimes find it hard to make a clean break and agree to changing a title. There can even be a period of denial, even the compulsion to do a slight rewrite to justify the status quo. In this case, it is probably wise to enlist the help of a couple of readers and test out a few alternatives; the original title, plus a few others that might be more suitable to the end product.

Of course, leaving the naming until the end of the process does leave a bit of a gap. What do you call the book in the meantime? During my early discussions with authors, I always suggest a working title which more or less sums up what a book is about. It’s not something I spend hours agonising over. As long the working title is there, or thereabouts, it can pull its weight reminding the writer of the core theme of the book. Working titles can also be useful if there is a need to start selling a book to authors or agents before the project is completed.

Whatever the situation, whether there is an early contender for the title, or simply a place holding working title, there is no reason why naming the book should then be completely forgotten until the last moment. Keep it in mind as the book develops. During my own collaborations, there have been plenty of times that the perfect title has emerged mid-way into the process. It might be an obvious theme, character, or turn of phrase which just nails it. Once you see it, it can’t be unseen: these words demand to be on the front page, selling the book. Be prepared though, if the book is sold to a traditional publisher, they may decide to put their stamp on the work and suggest another title completely.

Titles are important, but it is very easy to get distracted by them, believing they are the be all and end all and have to be settled at the earliest opportunity. They don’t. If a slam dunk title does not emerge from the off, choose a working title and get on with writing an amazing book. The winning book title will almost certainly emerge as you go through the process. In every case, nothing is set in stone until the manuscript goes off to the publishers and they begin the pre-sales process.