Title Trouble/Title Schmitle/Punch My Face/Maybe Not, Underpants

One morning a couple of years ago I woke up with the words “Stupid Fast” stuck in my head. I had a title before I had a book. Then, the book sort of wrote itself.  Stupid Fast. In January of this year, I woke up with pretty much a book stuck in my head.  I outlined the fugga, the publisher picked it up as my option book, and gave me until July to write it.  I called the book “The Whole Warm World” because the phrase described the first and last scenes.  I knew that title wouldn’t stick, because if you say The Whole Warm World out loud, it feels like you have a bunch of warm gummy worms jammed in your mouth. Unpleasant.

Now, I’m in the middle of really writing this book, but am having trouble moving forward writing this book, because the issue of the title is driving me crazy.  This is a sequel to Stupid Fast and it is from the POV of the little brother in Stupid Fast, named Andrew, a kid who is decidedly not Stupid Fast.  He’s sort of mediocre at everything, he thinks.  One of the requirements of the title (I’ve thought) is that it somehow reference the book’s relationship to Stupid Fast.  So, I’ve come up with lots of bad titles that do it, like: Crazy Mediocre, Moderate Slow, and Middle of the Pack.  These titles make me hate myself.

So, I thought screw the bizzle, I will not directly reference anything.  Um… How about Mr. Middling, Smart Like Orangutan (Not That Smart), or the Gothic Blog of Drew? Buh.  Dipnut.

Last week, my editor, Leah Hultenschmidt (whom I love) (in a professional way, of course), asked me for my thoughts, as marketing at Sourcebooks is already doing some of the preliminary work (even though the book won’t be on shelves for a year).  I panicked.  I walked around in a circle in my apartment.  I drove to The Cities without remembering the drive.  I pulled over across from the Purple Onion in Dinkytown.  I emailed from my phone: I’ve got it!  Stupid Stupid. Perfect!  References Stupid Fast. Reflects the non-triumphalist nature of Andrew.  Puts me in my place (because I feel stupid).

This was April 1st and Leah thought Stupid Stupid was an April Fools joke.  “I can just see the reviewers’ headlines now…”

I said, “Ha ha!  That’s right.  Great joke, huh?”  Uh.

Together on the phone we came up with a pretty decent, okay title, which I don’t want to say, because I’m not completely sure it will stick, because titles are a big deal and who knows what will evolve.

You have to remember: titles are for the reader not the writer (I tend to want to complexify and obfuscate).  They should be memorable, hook the right audience, at least be reasonably descriptive (especially of tone).  The best titles are loaded.  They hook, stick, and make even more sense after the book’s been read (satisfying).  Stupid Fast works that way, I think.

My first book title, The Miracle Letters of T. Rimberg, is hard to remember and doesn’t reflect the tone or even content that well, even though the book is built out of letters (I also sort of panicked at a certain point with that one, I think).  I hate regretting the title.  So…

All night, last night, I tossed and turned and felt crazy and punchy and sweaty and I got up and drank too much water and watched some TV and then had to get up again and again to use the bathroom because I had so much water and while I walked between bed and bathroom, I came up with new titles and revisited old titles (especially Orangutan-centric titles) and now I’d like to punch my face.

So tough!  What?  Jerk.

I’m sitting in my underpants at 9am on a Friday, drinking coffee, fumbling around with dorky words, trying to sink into my teenage brain (not far to sink), doing some jumping jacks here and there to fire up the energy, and I remember this: I used to work in a cubicle programming computers, which I didn’t know how to do very well — I faked it every day to not get in trouble — and the days would last forever, blinding office light, while the weeks, months, years slid by.


I like my new underpants very much.


6 Responses to “Title Trouble/Title Schmitle/Punch My Face/Maybe Not, Underpants”

  1. 1 Brady April 8, 2011 at 9:29 am

    I like the word fumbling.

    But it might lead to something hard to say, like the whole warm world.

  2. 2 Geoff Herbach April 8, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Rumbling, Bumbling, Fumbling, Stumbling. There might be something there, Brady.

  3. 3 Caroline Starr Rose April 8, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Titles are never easy for me. I usually have a couple ways to refer to my manuscripts, like “the cookie one” or “the girls”. Nice, huh?

  4. 4 Geoff Herbach April 8, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Yeah, I’m with you, Caroline. I think of this one as Andrew. My first book I thought of as “the suicide letter book.” We need to think like marketers, dang it.

  5. 5 Ms. Yingling April 21, 2011 at 10:41 am

    I personally like Complexify and Obfuscate as a title. My rule of thumb for titles is that they should have one common word and one unusual one, because then students say “It’s the one about the orange with the weird title”, and I can reply “You want The Obfuscated Orange”. Also, series should he titled in alphabetical order, but only P.B. Kerr has listened. So the sequel should be something like Terminally Normal. I can’t wait for Stupid Fast. THAT is a good title.

    • 6 Geoff Herbach April 21, 2011 at 11:00 am

      That is some GREAT advice, Ms. Yingling. I’m going to pass Terminally Normal to the publisher. It actually sounds like the character’s voice, as well. Now, I’m going to your blog, because you’re obviously brilliant. Thank you!

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I am…

Geoff Herbach. I am the author of Stupid Fast and Nothing Special, among a bunch of other stuff. When I'm not writing, I teach writing at Minnesota State, Mankato.

Stupid Fast

Nothing Special

I’m With Stupid

Fat Boy (Gabe Johnson Takes Over)

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