Monday, 22 September 2014

Guest Post: Kathleen McGurl talks about Finding the Perfect Title

Today it's publication day for Kathleen McGurl's latest novel The Emerald Comb and I'm delighted to welcome Kathleen to the blog to talk about finding the perfect title.

Do you know what the worst part about writing is for me? I’ll tell you. It’s finding a suitable title. While I have no problem stringing words together reasonably coherently to tell a story, develop a character or describe a scene, I am completely at a loss when it comes to finding a great title. I don’t know why that is.

I know writers who can’t start writing until they know what the title will be. Thankfully I am not one of them or I would never start anything. The Emerald Comb spent several of its gestational months in a computer folder called simply ‘TNN’ which stood for The Next Novel.

I began my writing career with short stories, many of which I sold to women’s magazines. One magazine fiction department was known for always changing the title of any story they bought. That suited me down to the ground – I would send in stories with any old title and let them come up with a better one. Once, and only once, they kept the title I’d given the story. That was also the only occasion I knew I had the perfect title – but it wasn’t my own,  a friend had come up with it for me! 

Titles are so important. They need to catch a reader’s attention, give an idea of the kind of book it is, and be memorable. It’s a good idea to have a title which is unique, so when readers search for it on Amazon they’ll immediately find your book. Also, there are fashions to follow – consider the rash of novels in recent years with non-fiction style titles, eg The Bad Mother’s Handbook by Kate Long or A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka.  Personally I love quirky, evocative titles, such as The Gallery of Vanished Husbands by Natasha Solomons, or A Half Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb. (All these are great books, by the way!)

When I was half way through writing The Emerald Comb I decided it needed a proper title. I wrote down lots of key words and tried combining them. Eventually I came up with ‘The Buried Past’. But that felt a bit clich├ęd, boring and dull. It had no sparkle. Even so, I renamed my computer folder and continued writing. Months later with the novel almost finished, I realised an emerald comb kept cropping up throughout the book, and possibly would make a good title. I did a bit of market research to find out which title people preferred: The Buried Past or The Emerald Comb (by which I mean, I asked the question on Facebook!) Almost everyone preferred The Emerald Comb, and so the novel was renamed.

And now it is published! I hope the title does its work – help give an idea of the genre and be intriguing enough to entice people to take a closer look. And be memorable. It’s a lot to ask of three little words.

Some secrets are best left buried...

Researching her family tree had been little more than a hobby – until Katie stepped onto Kingsley House’s sprawling, ivy-strewn drive. The house may be crumbling today, but it was once the intimidatingly opulent residence of the St Clairs, Katie’s ancestors. Arriving here two hundred years later, emotion stirs in Katie: a strange nostalgia for a place she’s never seen before... and when Kingsley House comes up for sale, Katie is determined that her family must buy it.

Surrounded by the mysteries of the past, Katie’s pastime becomes a darker obsession, as she searches through history to trace her heritage. But she soon discovers that these walls house terrible secrets. And when forgotten stories and hidden betrayals come to light, the past seems more alive than Katie could ever have imagined.

Kathleen McGurl lives near the sea in Bournemouth, with her husband, sons and cats. She began her writing career creating short stories, and sold dozens to women’s magazines in the UK and Australia. Then she got side-tracked onto family history research – which led eventually to writing novels with genealogy themes. She has always been fascinated by the past, and the ways in which the past can influence the present., and enjoys exploring these links in her novels.

When not writing or working at her full-time job in IT, she likes to go out running or sea-swimming, both of which she does rather slowly. She is definitely quicker at writing.

Twitter: @KathMcGurl


  1. I know how you feel. Titles are so important and it's a nightmare trying to catch a reader in a couple of words. Beta readers are good people to ask for ideas.

  2. Thanks Sharon for hosting me today! I'm currently in a struggle to decide what to call my next novel, as there are at least 20 other books with the same title as my working title!

  3. Congratulations, Kath, on the publication of The Emerald Comb. I'm looking forward to reading it very much and the title is beautiful.

    I had all my titles changed by a certain magazine, but found theirs were always better than mine. Feedback from one particular short story competition declared the story good, but the title terrible - and it was one I was actually proud of!

    Have a wonderful day celebrating your richly-deserved success. x