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What’s in a Name?

Posted on April 05th 2014

I sometimes wonder if you can become over-advised. As a virgin novelist I became worn down with well-meaning advice from the likes of Writer’s and Artists’ seminars, workshops and from reading various blogs and listening to webinars from supposed writing Gurus. They often spewed forth conflicting advice.
On the subject of book titles I was particularly thrown. My novel, a satirical look at small-town life in 1960s Yorkshire, had enjoyed a working title of, ‘The Windelton Absurdities’ for the last two years of its life prior to publishing. Prior to this date, and on the advice of a literary agent who had seen and liked the initial draft MS, had suggested a more appropriate title might be ‘The Windelton Chronicles’. As I planned to write a trilogy, perhaps even a Cazalet-style saga, I could see the merit to this suggestion and went along with it. However, as the literary agent failed to find a publisher and then dropped me like a stone, I felt a new title might be a refreshing idea. Thus the ‘Windelton Absurdities’ re-emerged which to my mind better reflected the absurd individuals that characterised the novel’s narrative.

Take notice of people you trust

‘The Windelton Absurdities’ title was endorsed by my literary mentor Dennis Hamley, a writer of sixty published titles, who helped me shape the final MS and provided invaluable advice on structure, chronology and grammar. Even my PR adviser liked it: “An intriguing title may have more traction with the journos dahling,” she trilled excitedly.
I wonder what Joseph Heller’s publisher said when he visited their offices in1955 with his opus magna, ‘Catch 22’? “Gee Joe, that’s a great title but are you on Mescaline or something?” Or J D Salinger: “Tell me: what’s a catcher in the rye, Jerome?” I paraphrase of course but you get my meaning. Who would have thought that a banal name like ‘Harry Potter’ could launch a publishing behemoth?

Never forget your first instincts

So to return to the point: ‘The Windelton Absurdities’ was all set to go. Then, just before I started my campaign of e-mailing submissions, I met with yet another literary agent who was quite adamant that she didn’t like the title. “Oh no, that’s not suitable, definitely not.” She was unequivocal. So against my own better judgment, I reluctantly changed the name to ‘Hidden Lives’. If I had any sense I would have first checked out if there any other books on Amazon with the same title. And of course there was one but by then the literary horse had bolted and it was for sale as an e-book.
I think the morale of the tale is never to forget your own instincts. After all, I wrote the latter 85000 words, so why should I change the first line of prose on the basis of a random ‘expert’. Someone who had neither read the book’s synopsis nor a sample chapter? I wouldn’t have minded quite so much if she had offered to take me on her agency’s books and find a publisher!
Currently, I am in the latter stages of the sequel novel but as yet it has no title. No matter, I know who’ll be making the choice this time.

‘Hidden Lives’ is available on Amazon Kindle for e-book download at