That magical title

May 1, 2009

To pitch my book to agents and publishers, I need a title.

I know what you’re thinking: How can I possibly come up with a title when I haven’t written the book? It ain’t easy. But since I’ve already outlined the book for my book proposal and developed a theme, it’s feasible to build upon that base and create a working title.

I need something catchy. Something that “tells and sells,” as literary agent Michael Larsen advises in his book about writing a proposal. A title that will appeal to a wide audience, one that offers a bit of the book’s flavor.

Most successful women’s travel books use the Title: Subtitle format, and for good reason: It allows for creativity but also gives the reader a sense of what the book’s about. To prove my point, here are a few examples from my bookshelf full of travel memoirs:

* Somebody’s Heart is Burning: A Woman Wanderer in Africa. By Tanya Shaffer.

* Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. By Elizabeth Gilbert.

* Tales of a Female Nomad: Living At Large in the World. By Rita Golden Gelman.

* Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman. By Alice Steinbach.

Since the second phrase usually explains the meat of the book, I brainstormed the subtitle first. What makes my book stand out? What makes it different from other travel books? 1. I’m a woman. 2. I traveled solo. 3. I traveled in Africa. And so I came up with this subtitle: A Woman’s Solo Journey Through Africa.

The primary title is a bit harder because it requires more creativity. So far, I’m leaning toward Madame or Mademoiselle? Here’s a paragraph straight from my book proposal that explains why that title’s appropriate:

Unlike other women’s travel books, the author is not looking for love, nor escape from a failed relationship. Instead, she seeks freedom and independence, a chance to see the world through her own eyes. Paradoxically, to fend off men hoping to snag a white woman as their wife — “Mrs. or Miss?” they ask, and, “Are you married?” — the author constantly lies about her single status, claiming that her husband is back at the hotel or at home in the states.

Together, those pieces form this title:

Madame or Mademoiselle? A Woman’s Solo Journey Through Africa.

Whatcha think? Does it work? Or should I go back to the drawing board?

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