Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Evolution of a Novel Title

One of the few things that has been plaguing me about my soon-to-be-novel is the title. Before I tell you about the evolution of my novel’s title here’s a brief summary of the book:

Nike, a teenage girl from ancient Sparta, narrates her pursuit to become not just the fastest female runner in Sparta but the fastest athlete in Greece. A jealous Spartan princess, an overprotective mother, a childhood friend who Nike still can’t quite beat, and the societal pressures to become a wife and mother are just a few of the obstacles she faces during her quest.

The very first title I used was The Spartan Athlete, but I chose this mostly so I had some kind of title for it instead of saying “my novel” all the time. I wasn’t set on this title because I think it’s a little too plain.

So next, I changed it to From the Cliffs of Mount Typaeum because Mount Typaeum is the mountain from which women are thrown if they are caught at the Olympic Games. But then as I was writing my MA dissertation, I was awarded the Norfolk Free Reads Scheme – which means that I got to have a free critique on up to 100 pages of my manuscript from a professional writer. The man who ripped my story to tiny little pieces and kept stomping on them – uh, I mean the man who critiqued my story – told me the title was terrible and you should never use an obscure reference in the title. He suggested instead that I use a title that refers Sparta in some way or… “The fact that they ran naked may be something to feature in the title. Never scorn an opportunity to draw attention to your book!”

I was certainly not about to change my title to The Naked Athlete or anything ridiculous like that, but this comment did bring to mind a new title: Thigh-Flasher. This was the term that Sparta’s rivals, particularly the Athenians, called Spartan girls and women because they wore short tunics that were only mid-thigh length, whereas all other women in Greece wore garments that reached the ground. Thigh-flasher was supposed to be a derogatory term, but Spartan girls and women were proud of their bodies and athleticism and thought of it as a compliment. So, I chose this phrase as my new title.

Now I’ve been working with my agent on my novel and I'm back to square one with a title. She thinks Thigh-Flasher is detrimental to the story, especially since she thinks it should be marketed as Young Adult. For a few brief weeks I changed the title to Goddess of Victory, but I liked Thigh-Flasher too much that I changed it back. But she tells me this is too “chick-litty” and I guess if you don’t know the context of the phrase, she’s right.

Sooo… I'm trying to think of alternative titles. I'm keeping a running list on the notepad on my desk. None of them are really sticking, but I’ll keep thinking about it.

Until further notice, my novel is currently Untitled.


Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

I really like the Thigh Flasher title. And I consider myself a cautious person. To me it doesn't seem risque. Good grief - YA books are very edgy - often much more so than I am comfortable with!

Seems to me the title is something you'll be getting input on from an editor soon! She/he may love Thigh Flasher.

So much of this business is subjective...

Anne Greenawalt said...

Thank you for the title support! If/when I get an editor, I will resume the fight for my title of choice.

This IS a subjective business. And I'm sure I'm not the only writer who has disagreed with her agent..