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 :
Good points, Prue! You reminded me of The Simpsons when Bart replies to that rose by any other name question, by suggesting the name ‘Stinkblossom’. Titles are such a pain to think of – it was a v good suggestion by CDT for Glass Flowers, very intriguing.
What drives me to distraction is that having spent an age out of one’s life writing a book, another age must be spent thinking up a title that brands the book well enough to sell (assuming the contents are good enough anyway!)
Great points 🙂 Honestly–I think that The Stumpwork Robe is a lovely title (partially because of that slight obtuseness to the word stumpwork–it sounds as though it shouldn’t be pretty and is, which I like…), and someone would have to be not paying much attention to assume it’s an embroidery book on the title alone. Perhaps playing with the cover, to give it a more fantasy/novelish feel would dissuade any other half-asleep crafters?
I think if you called a rose skunk cabbage, as one Anne Shirley said, it would not smell as sweet. 🙂
I remember that line from Anne Shirley. I can see her now, asking Matthew that question.
Of course, covers and titles are out there for the forseeable future and the novel must sink or swim right now on the efforts of its author. Bless its cotton pickin’ heart!
I had a similar problem with ‘Interregnum’. On Conn Iggulden’s website forum someone referred to it as Igguldinium!
I love the title ‘Interregnum’… there’s always someone, isn’t there Simon? I wonder how long it takes you to think up the titles of your books or if you throw it open to the village pub regulars occasionally. Maybe I should try that… go to my local watering hole and ask about. What do you think?
Have to agree with Rowenna that it is the image rather than the title that might mislead.
Lovely as the cover is IF you know what the story is about, it is not a cover that screams out that is is, in Rowenna’s delightful phrase, “fantasy/novelish”.
I agree with Rowenna too that the title has its own special appeal, so if changing anything at all, keep the unique title.
Cover image can make a huge difference for impulse buyers.
Bear in mind too it needs to stand out as a thumbnail, as well as bear scrutiny under the Amazon magnifying glass option.
True, Mark, the cover doesn’t scream fantasy but it needed to explain visually what stumpwork was. That it is bold and dimensional and exactly thick enough to conceal a tiny journal telling a tragic story. Maybe a drop of blood should have been on the fabric, of a stilletto pinioning the silk to the table.
Leastways, a change in cover design isn’t as easy as re-jigging a title and a new cover will only happen when pigs fly or I become the new JK! But I accept you are right on the cover vs impulse!
I don’t think it is, really, only the image which might mislead, or indeed, which might not appeal. I do realise this is as much about one’s own personal preference but I suppose, in the final analysis, the writer contemplation of a title will seek to find something which will draw in as many readers as possible.
Kudos to whoever finally devised “A thousand glass flowers” and “The Last Sttich” works beautifully for me too.
But as to ‘The Stumpwork Robe’.Firstly, the thing that appeals for Rowenna in the title is the very thing that gives me the opposite feeling and it is that word ‘stumpwork.’ It does indeed sound as though it shouldn’t be pretty and somehow this word in the title conveys an impression that is everything the book is not.
That word, for me, creates too pedestrian an impression for a fey, otherwordly, magical work. Yes, I’ve thought about this a great deal and I realise that for me there is nothing in the words ‘The’ and ‘Robe:’ it is in the one in the middle- “stumpwork”- that doesn’t seem to sit, for me.
Yet the book IS all about this robe so those words need to be within the title. in some way. Maybe the title needs to be a little longer? I have a strong liking for the word ‘faeran’ too.Now, for instance, to me THAT word says fey, otherwordly, but perhaps it would be too obvious to use anywhere in a title?
Rowenna says that ‘someone would have to be not paying much attention to assume it’s an embroidery book on the title alone.’ I think that’s the point. I’ve said before that “Cross Stitch” [from a very popular series of I think it’s 7 books so far] elicited the same sort of response about a “needlework book.” Unfortunately I genuinely think that sort of reaction happens more than we might like to think. A prospective reader might well look at the title and go no further with reading reviews or anything else about the material.I’m supposing, at a quick glance, which is sometimes all that is given, that if you know needlework [I do but not stumpwork] you might hope for a book on advanced stumpwork if there is such a thing – I think you would have to be advanced to tackle a robe- and if you didn’t you might well think it doesn’t sound exciting.
Cover image can make a huge difference for impulse buyers. For myself, I adore the cover: it does help to creat the intriguing image of the robe on question but I take Mark’s point. I would hate to see it changed too much though.
And as for stinkblossom, I love roses but I truly don’t think I would if they were called stinkblossom.
Okay… now I want suggestions!
A Fey Thread.
The Robe of Secrets.
The Fey Robe.
A Robe for Revenge
The Eldritch Robe
(I found a rather appropriate etymology for that word:
[C16: perhaps from Old English ælf elf + rīce realm; ] )