For Darkness Shows the Stars Cover Week: The Title Edition

So this is the week I’m going to show you all the For Darkness Shows the Stars cover, which is my favorite of all my covers. But before I can talk about the cover, I want to talk about the title.

A long, long time ago (in book publishing world), in 2005, I started writing a book called “Last of the Unicorn Hunters.” This title, I was told by EVERYONE, simply would not do. Thus began a months-long search for the perfect title. Many were considered. Some were mocked. A few were mocked with love and sincere affection (such as my Ludlum-loving friend’s ardent campaign for “The Horn Identity.”) I started making a list of titles that I loved. I had recently read a book called Valiant, by Holly Black, and I loved that title. I decided I wanted my title to have the same feel as that one.

Enter Rampant.

Rampant was the first book I ever sold that retained the title I sold it with. I did not realize, back at the time, that we were entering an age of one-word titles in YA fiction. Now pretty much every YA book has a one-word title. Look at the shelves: It’s one word from here to the travel section. Shiver, Matched, Uglies, Rumors, Skinned, Ashes, Ice, Need, Hunger, Linger, Divergent, Witchlanders, MOckingjay, Hourglass, Possession, Evernight, Everneath, Unwind, Intertwined, Savvy, Grace, Graceling, Fire, Liar, Leviathan, Mastiff, Devilish… and of course, Twilight.

It was so prevalent that when we went to title Ascendant, we had a bit of a challenge on our hands. Quite simply — we were running out of appropriate words. In fact, I’d already gotten emails from other writers trapped in the “one word title” conundrum of a series, annoyed that their chosen titles were considered too close to “Rampant” to be acceptable. (I’ve also gotten that email in regards to Ascendant, and I live in fear that someone will use my chosen title for the hypothetical killer unicorn book three before I get to it.)

When I went to title my next book, a post-apocalyptic retelling of Persuasion, I had one rule: No one-word titles. It was, of course, a tad ironic, given that Persuasion is one word, and a title that fit in quite neatly with the current YA trend. It did not, however, fit very well with my vision for the book.

Again, a protracted search for titles. I paged through my dog-eared copy of Persuasion, hoping for phrases that would rock my fictional world. As I did for Rampant, I made a list of words that fit with the themes and motifs I planned to explore in my book. Up spat a lot of imagery about winter and remembrance and navigation and lantern-light and compasses and stars and engineering and Greek myths and seafaring and waiting. I came up with several titles. None were acceptable. A few found their way into the book in other guises.

Eventually, I found a poem by Carl Sandburg called “Prayers After World War” which says, in part:

Wandering oversea singer,
Singing of ashes and blood,
Child of the scars of fire,
Make us one new dream, us who forget.
Out of the storm let us have one star.

And fell in love. For this, I thought, was the world I’d created. This was a world where things had been bad — so bad that people were happy to forget the past, forget the things they’d once known, and be afraid of the dreams they’d once had. It was a story about the children of the apocalypse, who had been born into a world brought low, and dared to dream that it all could someday change, dared to explore beyond their shores, dared to “make a song for tomorrow” as it says elsewhere in the poem.

But “Out of the storm let us have one star” was WAY too long for a title. Still, I loved the idea, and I kept digging. I considered phrases I liked that were along those lines:

“Shoot for the moon. If you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” (Hmm: Fall Among the Stars? No, too space-opera-y.)

“I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” (Hmm, Fearful of the Night? No, wrong emotion.)

“I would rather be ashes than dust.” (Hmm… love it, but can’t think of a fitting title.)

“I love the light for it shows me the way, but I endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” (Wait a second…)


For Darkness Shows the Stars was born.

I wrote a proposal and sent it on to my agent. I did not think it was a title we’d be allowed to keep, given the trend in YA titles, but I thought it was one that my editor, and hopefully the acquisitions team, would find evocative, even if marketing made us change it. I consoled myself by remembering that Persuasion was not actually a title Jane Austen had chosen herself, but rather the one her brother had put on the book after her death. She’d been calling it “The Elliots.”

(My editor later told me that she had initially doubted we’d be able to keep the title, but marketing loved it as much as we did, and here we are.)

So what does this have to do with the cover? Well, when we started talking about concepts for cover art, one of the things we knew was that with such a distinctive and distinctively evocative title that we would want to play on and play up those words as much as possible. I started collecting pictures of starscapes that reminded me of scenes in the book:

And pictures that reminded me of Elliot, because I knew the other prevailing trend on covers was pictures of girls:

(Actually, now this photo reminds me of the cove of Saundra Mitchell’s The Springsweet. Right? With the dress and the lighting and the general feel?)

So I sent these all along to my editor, and then I begged — I actually begged, and she can verify this — for an interesting font treatment, because I was busy being in love with the cover of Kami Garcia and Margie Stohl’s Caster series books. (Also: true story, their cover designer used to work for Harper, and he had once been assigned to design the cover of Rampant before he left.) And more than that, because I loved this title, and I wanted it to be an important part of the cover.

But, as with keeping the title itself, I never actually expected any of this to come to pass.

Anyway, time passed, and I finished the book, and then, one day, I was watching TV, and I saw a music video that stopped me in my tracks.

More on that tomorrow.

Posted in Austen, fabulosity, PAP, writing industry, writing life

5 Responses to For Darkness Shows the Stars Cover Week: The Title Edition

  1. Ashley says:

    Ooh it’s like a blog post cliffhanger! 😮

    So excited to see the cover and hear more about the process. And that phrase? “I love the light for it shows me the way, but I endure the darkness because it shows me the stars” Holy, so gorgeous, I love it! Knowing that whole phrase makes your title even cooler and more meaningful.

  2. Diana says:

    I love that quote, too. The speaker is a businessman and business writer named Og Mandino.

  3. Vicki says:

    OMG, I’ve been so bad about reading my fav blogs lately, but saw this on FB and had to come read the blog.

    So glad I did. I can’t wait to read this book and the title already has me. Is it crazy to say that I feel sadness from loss and joy for the possibility of new beginnings just from the title alone?

  4. Alexa says:

    Such a gorgeous quote! I love hearing all the background to titles and covers!. looking forward to tomorrow.

  5. Tiff says:

    Just catching up now…I’m loving this cover process blogging…FDSTS is my favorite of your titles (seriously, I got shivers when you first announced it). Even though I love ALL of the SSG titles and think they are perfect, this one was just poetry.

    Now I’m really excited about the cover. But not too excited not to read through the rest of your posts!