How a Book Gets Its Name

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Written by Paula Stokes

One thing people ask me a lot is how I come up with the names for my books. Authors don’t generally have the final say over their titles, but we are usually the ones who come up with the initial title, and then provide a list of possible replacements if the publisher feels the initial title isn’t a good fit.

Here are a few things I consider when I’m naming one of my books:

1. Does the name fit the plot and tone of the book?
2. Is it appealing and memorable?
3. Is it easy (or at least not extremely difficult) to spell?
4. How many times/how recently has it been used by other authors in the past?
5. Does it work on multiple levels?

For me, the best titles do the initial work of setting the stage for the novel by conveying bits of tone and storyline. They must be intriguing to potential readers and easy to find in an online search. And if the title works both literally and metaphorically, that’s a definite bonus. Sometimes an author knows the title for the book before they even start writing, but I find that my best titles are the ones I discover during the process of drafting and revision.

My working title for Vicarious was Goodbye Rose. The original draft had Winter’s sister missing instead of confirmed dead, but I knew while I was writing that I would end up changing the name to something that felt grittier or edgier—something that conveyed the high-tech, cyberpunk elements and the story’s dark tone.

The title Vicarious came after I named the technology that is present in both books, where Winter can record her sensory neural impulses via a headset while engaging in dangerous or exciting activities, and then sell those impulses to others who then experience Winter’s activities vicariously. Originally I was calling these recordings “simulations” or “sims” knowing I’d need to come up with something specific eventually. I finally settled on “ViNEs”—Vicarious Neural Experiences and then changed that to “ViSEs”—Vicarious Sensory Experiences after the Vine app became popular.

“Vicarious” fit all of my above qualifications, including working on multiple levels, because in addition to describing the technology used in the story, it also described the way my main character is isolative and withdrawn, choosing to live vicariously through the experiences of her more adventurous sister.

I knew early on in the drafting process that Vicarious was part of a two-book story arc. When it came time to figure out a title for the sequel, I wanted a title that started with V and/or ended in “ous” because I like it when series’ titles match. However, I didn’t limit myself to those parameters. My first choice back in 2012 was to call the book Vicious, but then Tor published a V.E. Schwab’s amazing novel with that title in 2013, so that went out the window before I even started writing the sequel. My next choice was Victorious, because it also fit the V/ous qualifications and it seemed like such a good match. But there’s such a thing as being too good of a match, and my editor worried that with titles just a couple letters apart that people might confuse the two books. My next choice was Monstrous, because Winter has killed someone at the start of the sequel and is contemplating whether that makes her a monster. Then later we see some of the villains’ actions, and they are 100% monstrous, and so that title worked on multiple levels. However, the word Monstrous has been used in several YA book titles in the past few years, so I decided to keep brainstorming. I had a whole list of titles, including Visceral, Nefarious, and Relentless, all of which didn’t meet one of my above criteria. Ferocious didn’t really pop into my head until late in revisions and it came from a line of dialogue from one of the villains.

He’s describing Winter and calls her ferocious, meaning it as a compliment. Once I typed it, it just fit. Once I did a search and saw there was only one independently published book with that name, I was sold. The title Ferocious does one other thing that isn’t in my list of considerations, but is also important to think about—it gives the agency of the story to the main character.

When I think about the titles Vicarious and Ferocious, I imagine a storyline that’s mysterious, and action-packed. A tale where reality is more than what meets the eye, and where the heroes fight with all their strength against the villains. That’s a pared down but accurate description of my two book series. I hope you check it out!

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