Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Caterpillar and the Butterfly

A trip to the bookstore can sometimes be intimidating for a writer.  Sure it's inspiring to see all those neatly shelved books and dream of your own work being there one day, too.  

But it's just as easy to look at the shelves and wonder where on earth the authors came up with such great titles?  How on earth did Sara Gruen come up with Water for Elephants or Steig Larsen come up with his Girl Who.. series?  Then you start to compare the title of your own work in progress and worry that it will fall short of the same impact that those titles have.

Oh oh!  There's that inner demon at work again, whispering in your ear and trying to trip you up by saying "You're not worthy to stand in such esteemed company." 

Well, here's a news flash for you, my friends!  That inner demon is full of it.  

You simply can not compare a multiple-edited, finished book on the shelf with a manuscript that's still in the process of "becoming."  That's like trying to compare apples to oranges or a caterpillar to a butterfly. It's just not possible.  Don't let yourself buy into the demon's whispering or it will cause  a monstrous case of writers' block.

Instead, you need to remember that a published book is not just the work of the author who wrote it.  Once the manuscript has been accepted by a publisher, it has usually been written, edited and re-edited by the author.  The author then often has to rewrite at least some portions at the urging of an agent or editor.  The story is tweaked again at the insistence of a FLE (Final Line Editor).  All these people have a hand in the finished story you see on the shelf.  Remember the caterpillar has to go through a metamorphosis to become a butterfly.

And as for that title?  Well, there's a whole creative and marketing team at most publishing housing that critiques titles, suggest new ones, and engineers the cover art.  Ask any of our published GRRWG writers.  Most of them have stories about how their titles were sliced and diced until they became what the publisher wanted.  Try to think of your title as a "working title."  And don't get too attached to it, because there's a good probability it will be changed.  

Try to remember that when you see all those finished works on the bookshelves.  Instead of listening to your inner demon, tell yourself that Water for Elephants probably started out as Jacob Jankowski Joins the Circus or some other prosaic title.

 Happy writing!


Jenn said...

Inspiring and very true. You can't be too attached to your work until it has been finalized. It takes a bit of everyone's help to make the final product.

Cheryl said...

I'm one of the few who was able to keep my titles (both of them). The title gods smiled on my books. I'll happily let an editor retitle My current WIP because I haven't found the "perfect" title. Maybe it will come before I type "the end."