Book Proposals

Naming Names

We recently received several excellent questions that I would like to answer:

1.) Should (you) repeat a book name and how old should it be?

I believe you are asking if it is okay to use the same title for your book even if it has already been used before. And if so, how many years should pass before using that previously used book title.

What you are trying to avoid is having your book mixed up with someone else’s and there are some precautions you can take.

It’s always a great idea to do an Internet search to see if your title is too similar to current or soon-to-be-published offerings. I’d say if a mid-list book is several years old, and especially in a different genre, it’s okay to use the same title. A caution on choosing a title from another genre: you don’t want to use the same title as an unsavory book. This can happen innocently enough, especially with romance titles.

Another idea is to do an Amazon search to see if a book has more or less run its course so the title is no longer strongly associated with someone else’s work. Classics such as The Screwtape Letters will stay in print and always have strong associations, so these titles are obviously off-limits. You also should not re-use titles such as Gone with the Wind, Rosemary’s Baby or To Kill a Mockingbird.

Even with the best due diligence, it is still possible to end up matching someone else’s title. However, with good search engine optimization on your web site (SEO), your book should come up first on search engines while it’s current.

I recommend not getting too attached to your working title, because the publisher may decide to change it, anyway. I’ve heard that at least half of all books have their titles changed from their original proposed titles. And if you are publishing independently you may find that yours needs to change.

2.) Should you change character names if you see others using them?

I have a wonderful uncle named Grayson. I never knew of any other Grayson until suddenly, the name became hot a few years ago. Now you can’t get away from the name Grayson. That said, remember that trendy names will date your book. Does anyone remember how impossible it was to get away from the name Madison at one time? Now if I read a book with a woman named Madison, sometimes I feel as though I’m in a time warp.

My recommendation is rather than worrying about what others are doing, you should choose good, strong names for your characters that will stand the test of time. Choose names that aren’t too much in vogue, but aren’t too weird. One of my favorites is Veronica. Also, choose a name that people can pronounce because they will be pronouncing it in their minds every time they read it.

Invest in at least one great baby name book. I have a couple from when my husband and I were naming our daughters and I bought more later. Of course, there are great Internet sites, too, but a book is fun and doesn’t expose you to pop-up ads for prenatal massages and diapers.

Writers of historical fiction may enjoy a book that I own, called Names Through the Ages by Teresa Norman.

3.) Does it matter? When an agent gets ahold of it will they check it out? Or the publisher?

As an agent, I might recommend character name and title changes, but only if there is an extremely compelling reason to do so. I would discuss any changes with the author and we can come to agreement as to whether the author should stay with her current names and title or consider my suggestions. It’s always a negotiation. I can’t remember a time I rejected a submission based on a title or character name.

Like agents, publishers will do what they consider best for the market and author.


Your turn:

Has a publisher or agent asked you to change the title of your book?

What is your favorite character name?

What resources do you use to name your characters?


Leave a Comment

Unsolicited Proposals: aka “The Slush Pile”

All literary agents receive dozens of proposal each week. Some in the mail and some via email. Last week was a slow week, only 30 unsolicited proposals arrived. (Unsolicited means proposals that are not from our existing clients. We get a number of those each week too.)  The variety can …

Read More

Endorsements: How Important Are They?

How important are endorsements? (Those “blurbs” on the back of a book that exclaim “A real masterpiece!”) Let me answer with a question. When you are browsing a book title do you look at the endorsements or notice who wrote the foreword or introduction? I suspect you do without realizing …

Read More

Why an In-the-Know Agent is Your Best Partner

Even in the tightest market, new opportunities develop. Not only can authors keep up with these opportunities by being well-connected themselves, but this is just one part of your career where partnering with a great agent is key. Why? Because editors don’t always put out a call to every writers’ …

Read More

Book Proposals I’d Love to See

By God’s will and pleasure, during my career as a literary agent I have been successful in representing authors writing Christian romance, Christian and general market trade book fiction, and Christian nonfiction. My interests have changed very little since my first blog post for The Steve Laube Agency, “Happy to Be …

Read More

Bring the Books

“Bring the books, especially the parchments,” is a sentence in 2 Timothy 4:13 that has teased readers for 2,000 years. What books did the Apostle Paul want to read while waiting for trial? Theology? History? How-to? (Maybe a little escape reading? Pun intended.)

Another writer chimed in a while ago by saying “Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) And if we read the statistics he wasn’t kidding. 300,000+ published in the United States alone last year.

And yet there is an allure to the stories of great novelists and a fascination in the brilliance of deep thinkers. It is what drew me to the book industry in the first place having been a lifelong reader and a burgeoning collector of my own library.

I can safely say that the allure and fascination remains unabated. I’ve had and continue to have the honor and privilege of working with some of the finest minds and talented writers in our industry. The photo above is from my office showing every book represented by our agency. Hundreds of amazing books by amazing authors.

Meanwhile I am still searching for the next great story, the next great concept, the next great writer. So, to answer the question, “What are you looking for?” I will attempt to clarify a few things.

Read More

Still Wanted: Writing that Sings!

Anyone who has jumped into the waters of agenting knows they’ll be asked one question, over and over and over:  “What are you looking for?” Well, now that I’ve got a couple of years of this amazing work under my belt, let me build on what I said when I started. Back then, I said I was looking, first and foremost, for books that glorify God, then for writing that sings, that speaks to the heart and spirit, that uplifts and challenges. Well, that’s all the same! But there are a few clarifications I want to make.  First, here’s the not so good news:

What I’m Not Looking For

Children’s & Middle Grade Books: As much as I enjoy reading these books (that’s one of the only perks to never having had children—I get all the kid’s books!), I am not representing them. It’s not that I don’t see the need. It’s simply that I’m not experienced with these kinds of books. My work lo, these many years in publishing, has been with adult books. Now, I have worked with Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, but I already have some great clients in that category and am not, at present, looking for more.

Read More

First Lines of Best-selling Books: How Many Can You Guess?

It’s 71 degrees outside as I write this, the sun is shining for the first day in weeks, and there’s a gentle breeze tickling the suddenly budding tree branches outside my office window. As you can probably imagine, I’m having a LOT of trouble concentrating on work.  So I thought I’d share something fun with you.

I always wonder how much of the books we love actually stays with us. So let’s do a test. I’m going to list a series of first lines from best-selling books in the Christian market. Immediately following will be three best-selling titles. Your job, should you decide to accept it, is to figure out, without cheating of course, which book those first lines belong to. (answers are at the end)

Ready? Here we go!

Read More