Saw a great blog post today by Michelle Maison on getting the perfect title for your work (via Janice Hardy), and in reading, realized that I have utilized many of these methods myself. Sometimes, the perfect title comes in an instant (“The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn” was one such title for me), and sometimes you have to muck around for quite a while before you know what sort of title you need.
For Darkness Shows the Stars was a hard title to settle on for me. I knew I wanted a longer-than-one-word title, because one word titles were taking over YA and I’d just finished a series of one-word titled books. But my agent and I went back and forth for some time on what a good title would be. Some of the rejected ones ended up being the titles of “parts” of that book (True North, The Unbroken Engine). I had taken to looking up snatches of poetry on themes and motifs that occurred again and again in the stories, which is when I came across the quote:
“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino
And this seemed to encompass so much of what my book was about — about goodness coming from wretchedness, about people shining brightest when things seem most grim, about stars as a symbol of hope and stars as a nautical tool and how stars exist, always, even when it’s not dark enough for most people to see them. I knew it was perfect, my agent immediately agreed, and we were off. My editor has since told me that when she received the submission, she loved the title, though she figured marketing would never let us have it, but marketing loved it too, though they apparently, believed the book buyers would never let us have it, and then the book buyers loved it, and I’ve gotten so many readers who tell me how much they love the title…
Which brings us along to Across a Star-Swept Sea. That one was an afternoon of brainstorming with my agent over text message. I knew the general look and feel I wanted for the title — I wanted it to tie in with For Darkness Shows the Stars — I wanted them to look like the matched set they were. So calling the story “The Adventures of the Wild Poppy” was probably not going to cut it. I thought, okay, I’ll make it another phrase. I already had the short story “Among the Nameless Stars” so I thought it would be cool if this title, like everything else set in this world, also started with a preposition.
When I looked at the book, I saw that one of the strongest senses of place in the story came from the sea. There are a good half-dozen sea crossings in the story — from Persis’s many spy missions to rescue the victims of the revolution on the southern island, to Justen’s fish-out-of-water experience of seeking asylum in the northern island, to lots of spoiler spoiler spoiler spoilers, and of course, Elliot and Kai are in the midst of their great sea voyage.
And why is this sea “star-swept?” Well, that’s another big spoiler. But, as you can tell from the cover, it totally is.