I worked for an LDS publisher who claimed you had seven words or less (preferably less) to grab a reader’s attention. The title was one of the key reasons buyers picked up a new book and we spent hours retitling purchased manuscripts.
Now I wonder–how important is a title during the submission process? Does a title ever grab your attention and cause you to lift a manuscript out of the ‘slush pile’? How do you feel about those manuscripts which are submitted simply as “Untitled”?
Seven words, huh? That sounds about right. And you’re right, a good title piques interest and will get a buyer to take the book off the shelf. I’ve toyed with the idea of hiring someone solely to generate titles. That would be nice. But in reality, it’s a group effort. We often run a list of titles by our readers and employees and see which one appeals to the most people.
As to how important your title is to the submission process–not very. Yes, sometimes an interesting title will invite me to read that mss first, but it’s the story and the writing that make the final decision. It’s a somewhat different skill set required for creating titles and for writing stories. Kind of like the difference between writing a novel and writing poetry. I never turn down a book based on its title. And I always reserve the right to change the title–it’s in my contract.
I have used author’s original titles before. Some of them are great. Sometimes I’ve tweaked them a little, or used them to start the brainstorming process. Sometimes they’re really, really bad–but a bad title is better than no title.
I really hate mss submitted as “Untitled.” A title brings focus to a story. A story without a title says to me that you don’t know enough about your story (bad news) or that you’re too lazy or that you’re expecting me to do all the work. My experience tells me that Untitled manuscripts are going to need lots of editing in other places as well.
So–brainstorm titles. Test them out on your friends and family. Pick one. Put it on your manuscript and submit. Keep your list of brainstormed titles so that you can offer other suggestions when the publisher asks for them. (Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t.)