A rose by any other name …
Was Shakespeare right? That a rose by any other name would smell as sweet? What if a rose was called Pigswilliam or Foxscent or Pricklius Garderobei? If one could get past the connotations of the name and smell the flower itself, of course it would smell divine, but its getting past those images that might be the difficult part.
I was forced against my will to think on this in 2009. The Stumpwork Robe had been published late in 2008 and had been selling and securing the odd five star review when the accursed one star popped up on Amazon.co.uk. It occurred to me then that the title may be at issue.
I remember the first time I discovered stumpwork embroidery. Overawed by the scope of the technique, I remember saying to my instructor, ‘what a dreadful name for such beautiful work.’ Some five years later, I then wrote a fantasy fiction based on the embroidery and what did I call it? Nothing less than a title using that ‘dreadful name’.
The real devil in the detail was when I started the Cornerstones UK assessment process for A Thousand Glass Flowers which in its first and second drafts was called ‘The Millefiori Paperweights‘. At that time a former Random House editor who was working with me said she didn’t like the title and was concerned it might be perceived as an Arts and Craft book. (Bells ringing, are they?) And so I threw the title up for discussion on Facebook and a much admired fantasy writer, Cecilia Dart Thornton, tossed a title into the mix and a A Thousand Glass Flowers was born. It has an enticing ring to it I think, inviting the reader to touch, to feel, to hold.
Which brings me back to The Stumpwork Robe. The book is described as ‘elegant’. Certainly the embroidery that gave it its name is exactly that, as can be seen by the laudable cover. BUT it’s such an unromantic title, isn’t it? It doesn’t entice the reader like A Thousand Glass Flowers. Very close in sound is this agricultural implement called the stump-jump plough. Goodness, can I talk this book down any more? Particularly when it has secured five star reviews and has the capacity to pull a reader into a world that is unerring familiar and yet frighteningly odd.
What I am trying to say is that a title, just like a bookcover, is what draws a reader’s attention in the first instance. It needs to be given a great deal of thought. It is a brand after all and any marketing person worth their salt will tell you how important a name is in developing a brand.
If The Stumpwork Robe hadn’t already gone to print in the UK before the doubt began to settle in, I would potentially have rethought the title… perhaps to match the simplicity and statement of the sequel ‘The Last Stitch’. One lives and learns. But if you’ve read The Stumpwork Robe, I’d love to hear what inviting title you might have given it.There’s always room for further editions and a re-vamp of the title could be on the cards. Who knows? As an aside, that’s the beauty of digital publishing: any changes can be made at the click of a button.
And just to show that I’m not the only writer guilty of a wrong choice, do have a look at this :