Original Title

How does an author arrive at a title?

Well, in my case, I arrived at it because my editor really, really didn’t like my first title for A CRACK IN THE SEA. Part of the reason was because it was, including the subtitle, 40 words long. I KID YOU NOT. Here it is, with some thoughts on it below:


By H.M. Bouwman

Or: Sea Monsters in Love. Also Known As: The Astonishing Voyages of Kinchen and Thanh, Based on Thanh’s Story. Sometimes Titled, What You Will, When You Must Leave Home. A Story in Several Parts. By The Author.

First, I want to say for the record that I will love subtitles until the day I die.

I also love the fact that the subtitle evokes the 18th century. And since part of my novel is set in the 18th century, I like that the subtitle has the sound of an old English novel or historical tome, many of which included long explanatory subtitles like this one.

However. Maybe the long subtitle isn’t quite right for a fantasy novel that is mostly set in 1978.

And the original main title? I loved THE TRADED GIRL because it seemed to me to pose a puzzle for the reader: Who is the traded girl? I thought the reader would probably first assume the title was a reference to Caesar, and only later would the reader realize that the “traded girl” is a reference to someone else altogether. (I’m being a little vague here because I’m trying to talk without spoilers, in case you, dear reader, haven’t finished the novel yet.) I also wanted the title to get readers to think about what it means to be traded (to be sent somewhere against your will) versus what it means to choose to trade yourself—to choose your home, essentially.

But my editor wasn’t convinced THE TRADED GIRL was the best title. And the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that she was right. (She is very smart.) It’s not a very active title, after all, and there’s no image to latch onto—you can’t see or touch “the traded girl.” It’s kind of cold and distanced, too (the girl isn’t named), and it’s ambiguous (what does “traded girl” mean, anyway?) Lastly, this title sounds . . . depressing. And though there are tough subjects in my story, the novel is not overall a depressing book.

So my editor asked for a title that would do a better job of suggesting fantasy and that would more strongly evoke the Second World. We emailed back and forth about a lot of titles before I finally hit on A CRACK IN THE SEA.

And I LOVE IT! A CRACK IN THE SEA is a far better title than my original idea. It’s visual; it evokes the second world; it suggests action and fantasy. And best of all: there’s a pun in it, which for me makes it wonderful.

Which, I guess, is all a long way of saying: revision is a good thing.