A Book by Any Other Name

Most of you know that my current project is finishing off the second book in my new “Artemis Awakening” series.  You also have probably noticed that I keep referring to the book as AA2, rather than by a specific title.  This is because my editor, Claire Eddy, and I are still discussing possible approaches to titles for books in this series.

Two Approaches

Two Approaches

A little background for those of you who haven’t been following this project from its earliest permutations.  When I proposed the series to Tor, “Artemis Awakening” was the series title.  The first novel in the series was going to be called Huntress.  However, a strange thing happened the longer I worked on the book.  I found myself referring to the book not as Huntress, but as “Artemis Awakening.”   I decided my subconscious was trying to tell me something.  I e-mailed Claire and suggested that we retitle the book with the series title – but keep “Artemis Awakening” as the series title as well.

Claire was very receptive to this.  After all, many series end up being called by the title of the first book in the series, even if there’s an official series title.  A good example of this is Game of Thrones.  The series title is actually “A Song of Ice and Fire,” but even before the popular TV series came out, you’d hear people talking about the new “Game of Thrones” book, not the new “A Song of Ice and Fire”  book.

(Aside:  I wandered on about titles, my own and others, back in the WW of 7-10-13.  Also, if you’d like a glimpse of the original proposal for the series, I included it in the Wandering for 8-22-13.)

Anyhow, once we settled on Artemis Awakening for the title of the first book, I began to think of the next book in the series as Artemis Invaded.  However, Claire wasn’t sure this was a good idea: “My only concern is that the sales folks might want something slightly different to make it clear to the reader that they don’t already own the book.”

Claire has a point.  Publishing enterprises are made up of various “tribes.”  Authors see books differently than do editors.  The views of authors and editors can vary radically from those of people involved in marketing and publicity.  These can all vary yet again from those held by the people in production.

However, while I could see Claire’s point, I really wasn’t sure.  I’ve had some bad experiences when a title in a series varied too widely from that of other books in the series.  Here are two examples.

Back when I was with Avon, my novel Changer was released.  It remains a strong seller to this day.  (I know because I reprinted it as an e-book and POD, so I see the sales figures.)  It has a devoted following.   However, someone at Avon decided my suggested title for the sequel – Changer’s Daughter – wouldn’t do.  (I was never told why.)  Eventually, the novel came out titled Legends Walking.  To this day I have people say “What!  There was a sequel to Changer?  Where can I get it?”  (Which is why I reissued Legends Walking as Changer’s Daughter, with a note that this is, except for an all original introduction, the same story as Legends Walking.)

I had a similar experience with the third “wolf book” at Tor.  I had no idea what to give it as a title so I put “The Dragon of Despair” on the manuscript as a working title.  I fully expected to change it to something with ”Wolf” in the title.   However, someone in marketing at Tor said: “Keep it!  Titles with ‘dragon’ sell.”  (This despite the fact that Tor had at least one other book with “dragon” in the title coming out about the same time…)  Anyhow, I had a similar experience with The Dragon of Despair.  “New book!  Great!  But when are you doing another Firekeeper book?”  Happily, Julie Bell’s fantastic cover art tied the book to the previous ones in the series, so there wasn’t quite the same level of confusion.

A good example of using titles to tie a series together is used for David Weber’s  “Honor Harrington”  series.  The first novel was called On Basilisk Station.  Weber and Jim Baen decided that alternate titles (starting with number two, so no one could miss this was a sequel) would have “Honor” in the title.  I seriously think this has helped.  Moreover, from the start, “Honor Harrington” has been prominent on the cover, so that there would be no confusion as to whether The Short Victorious War and Field of Dishonor belonged to the same series.

Another series that used repeating title motifs well was Robert Lynn Asprin’s “Myth” books: Another Fine Myth, Myth Conceptions, Myth Directions, and others.  Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” novels almost all had “Foundation” in the title.  I’m sure we can all think of other such examples.

True, neither these nor the Honor Harrington books repeat the title’s structure, only a key word.   Even so, I’d like some sort of continuity between the titles of the books in the “Artemis Awakening” series.  I want people to be able to “find” the books by ear and eye, something that I think is becoming more and more important as shopping is done on-line and cover art is often reduced to an image the size of a postage stamp.  We can’t count on people going into a book store and looking at the cover and saying “Ooh…  There’s a girl and a wolf.  That’s that series I like.”

So, what are your feelings about titles within a series?  Does it help to have something to clue you in that this is the next book in series in which you’re interested or do you find yourself scratching your head in confusion and saying “Haven’t I already read this?”

Please weigh in!  The title of the second book in the series could be influenced by your reply!

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13 Responses to “A Book by Any Other Name”

  1. Peter Says:

    Repeated words (Judgement on Janus, Victory on Janus) or themes (King of Swords, Queen of Stars) definitely help me, at least, identify sequels. There’s also a lot to be said for adding a cover (or…what? Catalogue? Honestly I spend a lot less time looking at covers than I used to since moving almost exclusively to ebooks, but I do look at the summary info on the store’s Web page. I’m just not entirely sure what to call it, since it isn’t a “cover” in the traditional sense) blurb: “The long-awaited sequel to the Hugo- and Nebula-winning Artemis Awakening!” makes it pretty clear that “Oh, yeah, I want to buy that.”

    Since you mention Legends Walking/Changer’s Daughter, I’m pretty sure it was the “A Novel of the Athanor” on the cover that grabbed my attention in that particular case and moved it from “Oh, book by author I like, I should pick it up one of these days” to “Buy today and put this other interesting-looking book back on the shelf.”

  2. Heteromeles Says:

    Yeah, I spotted the “A novel of the Athanor” tag on Legends Walking, and that convinced me to buy it on the spot. Otherwise, neither the cover art nor the title said much about what the book was about, sad to say.

    I’d suggest there are two kinds of continuity: title and cover design. If it’s a series (Tarzan and the ….) it’s easy, but I think you can get away with continuity of cover art as well. If it looks like the last book and has “sequel to” or something similar on the cover, that can work as well as does linking the title. The Hunger Games and Twilight series are good examples of art continuity, as is the Lord of the Rings.

    A series title (Artemis Awakening #2) is a necessary tag too.

    Since we’re now saddled with Amazon, though, making the title searchable is a good thing. That would suggest putting Artemis right up there as the first word, so that the two books group together on a search. Maybe.

    Hope that helps.

  3. Alan Robson Says:

    As far as the Artemis books go, I think the gods have handed you a gift that it would be foolish to ignore. “Artemis Awakening” is such a lovely title for the first book of a series — the word awakening implies all kinds of beginnings, and opens up all kinds of possibilities for stories. Follow up books in the series could then be called “Artemis “. I think a sequence of titles like that works brilliantly in both an artistic sense and in a marketing/identification sense. It’s such a natural progression that I’m mildly surprised that other titles were even considered. It just plain feels right!

    As far as titles in general go, I suspect I might be a bit unrepresentative of people in general. I pay far more attention to the author’s name than I do to the title, and for authors I particularly enjoy, I actively keep an eye open for publishers announcements of forthcoming books. So I wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised by “Legends Walking” and I was quite happy to accept it for what it was. Though as others have remarked, the tag “A novel of the Athanor” definitely helped.

    One of my absolute favourite series is Patrick O’Brian’s set of Aubrey/Maturin stories. I’ve re-read the books countless times and I am currently feeling an urge to go and read them all again. It’s impossible to tell from the titles alone that the books are related to each other (though the pictures of sailing ships on the covers are a massive clue). And it’s certainly not easy to work out the chronological sequence from the titles alone. Indeed, at least one of the novels had a completely different title in its American incarnation! Perhaps that series represents the opposite extreme to what we were talking about — and it doesn’t seem to have done O’Brian’s reputation (or his sales figures) any harm at all.

    On a personal level, I think I do like some degree of continuity in the titles, together with some chronological hints. At the very least, it appeals to the bit of my brain that obsessively sorts things into the proper order. I always found the Tarzan novels frustrating — I know they belong together, but I don’t know *how* they belong together…

    So speaking purely personally now, I’d like to see the Artemis book titles all follow the pattern of “Artemis XXXXX”


    -Alan

  4. Alan Robson Says:

    Curses! The wordpress processing has made a nonsense of what I wrote above because I foolishly used a reserved character in part of the comment.

    In the first paragraph of the above comment, the title “Artemis ” should actually read, “Artemis Some-Word-That-Suggests-Time-Passing”

    I hope that makes the comment read a bit more sensibly…


    -Alan

  5. Dominique Says:

    Wow, it is so crazy to me that the second Artemis book is being edited and we still can’t buy the first one yet! 😦 Anyway, I think a lot of series are doing the repetitive element in the title, but that doesn’t mean you have to. I think the most important thing for me is time between the books in a series. If a lot of time is put between books release dates, then I forget to look for them. In that case it may be helpful to remind the reader it’s from a particular series. . However it can be really clever, so I just don’t know. I guess it depends on what you were thinking if it wasn’t called Artemis Invaded.

    • janelindskold Says:

      One reason that publishers often like to have more than one book completed before releasing the first one is precisely to avoid the sort of delay between release dates that you mention.

      After all, authors are human. Illness, a family emergency or suchlike might lead to an inability to meet a deadline. If the publisher has a couple of books in the queue, then there’s padding for all involved.

  6. Paul Says:

    I like the idea of using “Artemis” in the titles. The only disadvantage would be, if someone hadn’t read the first one (and shame on them if they hadn’t), they might think they’d have difficulty in picking up the story. Somehow it should be made clear that each novel is complete in itself. Of course, anyone who read the Wolf books or Breaking the Wall would already know each book can be enjoyed on its own.

  7. Louis Robinson Says:

    I’m one of those bizarre people who buy _books_. Not titles, not authors, books. Which means that I’m probably going to read at least 4-5 chapters before deciding to buy it even if it has Andre Norton’s name on the cover. That said, the best way to get me to take a look is an intriguing title [the next is to get onto a fairly short list of authors whose names I remember without having to think about the stories they wrote first], and I’m likely to tag more than 1 – 2 reps of the title as boring and demonstrating a lack of imagination that probably means you’ve gone a book too far – I’m not sure _Burroughs_ knew how the Tarzan books fit together – meaning that I’m likely to take note of it, and forget to go back and check to see if I actually want to read it. And, yes, that’s a great way to fall behind on some pretty good reads. Baen and DW are, in fact, falling behind the curve on that, with the last 3 all being ‘X of Honor’.

    So, if you feel you need to use ‘Artemis’ each title, change them up structurally: Artemis Awakening, X of Artemis, Artemis the Y, etc. Better, IMV, would be to use the blunt and obvious ‘A novel of Artemis’ subtitle, and then build the titles systematically around what’s _distinct_ about each book. Pat Briggs has done that with her Mercy Thompson books: look at her next title and you know what series it is, and ‘Moon Called’, ‘Blood Bound’, ‘Iron Kissed’, and so on, actually tell you a great deal about each book – although you don’t know what until you’ve read it 🙂

  8. janelindskold Says:

    Thanks for all the feedback. Feel free to keep it coming, since we don’t need to settle on a title for a bit.

    I admit, I’m leaning toward something with a degree of repetition, but I’m not sure what to repeat.

  9. Heteromeles Says:

    Bacchus Awakening?
    Charon Awakening?
    Diomedes Awakening?…

  10. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    I look for authors first, too, but a repetitive element in the title does help. But “a novel of the Athanor” or whatever is also good. Cover art… it can help, for sure, but it’s not as important as the author and title.
    Cover art can be a fooler, too. Years ago, I’d have the experience of buying a book because the blurb on the back looked interesting and the first few pages grabbed me, and the cover art was unfamiliar — and then later realizing I’d previously bought an earlier edition of the book. That’s when I started keeping a list of authors and book titles, so I’d not repurchase the same story. After having read a few thousand books, recalling specifics can be tricky. 🙂 I wonder how many other people have had the same experience? So I have to say I appreciate it when the cover art maintains continuity, even during reprints! (Though I suspect that’s rare, eh?) And needless to say, it’s wonderful when the cover art is faithful to the story!

  11. Paul Genesse Says:

    Consistency in the titles won’t hurt, but I don’t think you HAVE to have Artemis in the title.

  12. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    I forgot to specify that the reason I’d bought a different edition of the same book is because the cover art was different. It was implied in my previous comment, but not stated explicitly. Sorry! I’ll do my best to be more careful in future postings!
    Dang… it is SO easy to write something and think you’re being clear, only to find out later that that wasn’t the case.

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