A Tale of Two (or Twenty) Titles

Recently, Savannah at SeeSavRead.com posted about how confused she was by the similarity of these three book titles:

As the author of one of those books (Shadow and Bone, on the far right), I had to admit, even my head got a bit muddled. But if you take a look at the YA shelves, you’ll notice quite a few words in heavy rotation: shadow, bone, fire, crown, dark, stars. The trends seem to come in waves. For a while, it was all about adjectives: Abandoned, Marked, Matched, Tangled, etc. There’s the aforementioned “and” trend that includes not only the books above, but others like The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Girl of Fire and Thorns. Now longer titles seem to be cropping up, such as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and For Only Darkness Shows the Stars.

I don’t know how trends like this get started, but I can tell you how Shadow and Bone got its name.

Early Days

The author ponders: Why does everyone keep confusing me with Laini Taylor?

My working title for the book that would become Shadow and Bone was The Darkling. Then I discovered a little book called Graceling and wept quietly into my coffee cup. I considered changing the character’s name entirely, but in the end, I couldn’t. The Darkling was just the Darkling and no other title suited him. Still, I knew better than to query that way, especially since I write high fantasy.

I mulled long lists of titles. I had quickly learned that high fantasy was a tough sell and that most agents wouldn’t even look at it, so I wanted to avoid anything like The Shadow Fold or The Sun Summoner. Last Light was a contender, but it sounded too much like a wannabe Twilight. In the end, I was torn between The Grisha (the name of my kingdom’s magical elite) and Ravka (the name of the kingdom itself). I felt that both carried a bit of the flavor of the world I had built and that either of them would be distinct enough to stand out in an email’s subject line. In the end, The Grisha felt truer to the thrust of the story, so I crossed my fingers and hit send.

After the Sale

Even before we sold to Macmillan/Holt, I knew they wanted a title change. I wasn’t particularly attached to The Grisha, and though I liked the look of it on the page, when I said it at parties, people always came back with, “The Grecians?” Not ideal. You want people to be able to talk about your book without needing to spell it out to each other.

Early on in the process, I pitched Shadow and Bone to my editor, Noa Wheeler. I LOVED this title. It sounded just sinister enough and it touched on two vital elements of the plot.

Then a friend pointed out that Laini Taylor’s working title for her new book was Daughter of Smoke and Bone. On her blog, she’d talked about changing it, but Noa and I decided to see if we could come up with another alternative. We generated lists of words, quotes from the book, quotes from other books. We stayed on the phone brainstorming into the wee hours (more wee for her as she’s on the East Coast).

Anyone who has been through this process knows how crazy-making and frustrating it can be, but oddly enough, it was also really fun. For a while I was sure that the book had to be called The Black Shore, but both Noa and my UK publisher pointed out that it had a decidedly nautical feel. I also went through a brief phase where it seemed perfectly reasonable to use the Russian word Otkazat’sya for the title. Because, you see, that’s easy to spell and pop into a google search. What can I say? It was late. I was punchy.

But we kept coming back to Shadow and Bone. We liked it and so did the rest of the team at Mac Kids. Daughter of Smoke and Bone was set to release six months before my book, and the stories were so different that it didn’t seem like it would be too much of an issue. We didn’t know about The Book of Blood and Shadow, so it’s hard to say how that might have impacted our decision.

Right now

The author pouts: Why don’t I look as good in pink as Laini Taylor?

Okay, so now that I know how much confusion the whole Smoky Book of Blood and Bone thing has engendered, would I do things differently? I won’t lie, as a debut author, it’s a little nerve-wracking to have my book compared directly to work by amazing writers like Laini Taylor and Robin Wasserman. Still, who knows what might have happened if we chose another title? My UK publishers opted to call the book The Gathering Dark, a phrase lifted directly from the pages of the story. But as it turns out, Christine Johnson has a book coming out later this year titled, yes, The Gathering Dark. That Black Shore title that had me so smitten? Elizabeth Richards’ new book is called Black City. Admittedly, there are no books called Otkazat’sya, but there’s probably a good reason for that.

Also, as I hurtle toward launch, I’ve come to realize that it’s not worth fretting over situations well beyond my control. At least, I’m trying. Deep breaths, stiff cocktails, an agent willing to put up with my outrageous mood swings– these all help. Plus, it’s hard to get too angsty about titles when Rich Deas and Jen Wang gave Shadow and Bone a beautiful, distinctive cover that I adore and that makes me swoony every time I look at it. (I look at it a lot. I should probably acquire a fainting couch.)

Noa and I recently sat down to pitch new titles for Books 2 and 3 of the Grisha Trilogy. Hopefully, we’ll end up with something unique that won’t turn up all over the shelves next year. I’m inclined to take preventative measures. How do you guys feel about Shadow and Fat Man Eating an Eclair?

(Many thanks to Carrie Lawler Arcos for the loan of her pink wig!)


13 Responses to A Tale of Two (or Twenty) Titles

  1. Marc Vun Kannon May 18 2012 at 5:43 am #

    I had similar troubles with my most recent release. I had a working title of Blood Moon, since that was the title of the book that gave me the idea for it. Clearly I needed a different one. I googled the phrase ‘blood moon’ and discovered that it was the name of one of the full moons of the year. Another name for the same moon was ‘St. Martin’s Moon’, and that’s what the book is called.
    While following a trend may get you noticed, it may also get you buried.

    • Leigh Bardugo May 18 2012 at 8:25 pm #

      I think the problem isn’t so much following trends, but the way they sneak up on you. It definitely pays to do some deep google searching.

  2. Erin Bowman May 18 2012 at 7:23 am #

    Oh, titles. What a journey, huh?! I love SHADOW & BONE as a title and think it plays off Laini’s nicely without being too similar. And as you point out, your very distinct (and gorgeous) cover really sets S&B apart as well. Thanks for sharing your experience, Leigh!

    PS — I think you look fab in pink.

  3. jodimeadows May 18 2012 at 9:39 am #

    Another who thinks you look good in pink, Leigh.

    Oh, titles. Yes. A million billion times yes. *sigh*

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. <3

  4. Kat Zhang May 18 2012 at 10:18 am #

    We’re brainstorming titles for Book 2 right now. It’s an exciting process 🙂 I, personally, LOVE “Shadow and Bone” (both as a title and as a book :P) and think it goes so well with the story. Can’t wait to hear the titles for books 2 and 3!

    And you rock that wig 😉

  5. Vanessa Di Gregorio May 18 2012 at 10:22 am #

    Leigh, this was such a fantastic post! I love hearing about how titles are born, and what the process is like for a title change (cause it certainly doesn’t seem easy). Personally, I think Shadow & Bone is such a fantastic, intriguing title – and with that cover, it’s sure to stand out of the crowd!

    And you look AMAZING in a pink wig (and a bob!).

  6. Merrie Destefano May 18 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Love the article, Leigh! Your sense of humor is SO fun! And have I mentioned, out loud, how five star fantastic Shadow And Bone is? Love the book, love the title and, um, even love the pink wig.

  7. Marie Lu May 18 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    Leigh, you look SO adorable in a pink wig–plz to be wearing it more often! <3 And I absolutely love the title Shadow & Bone. I didn't even make the DoS&B connection until you mentioned it, bc your cover is very distinct (and gorgeous)! Thanks for sharing–this was a ton of fun to read!

  8. Leigh Bardugo May 18 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    You guys are the sweetest. We got our Book 2 and 3 titles confirmed today. That was waaaay too painless.

  9. Kheryn Casey May 18 2012 at 8:52 pm #

    You’re hilarious. 🙂

    I really enjoyed reading this. Personally, I heard that these three titles were supposed to be confusing, but to me it was just, “Okay – three books with similar titles. It’s not that big of a deal.” I didn’t realize that so much went into choosing titles and avoiding similar titles, so that’s really enlightening.

  10. JoSV May 19 2012 at 11:12 am #

    Titles, titles, titles. Why do you torture us so???

    Great post, Leigh!

  11. Heather Truett Jul 20 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    Titles aren’t my best talent. I have a manuscript that was originally called Truth or Dair: The Absolutely True Story of an Accidental Liar, but The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian caught my eye on a shelf, so now the book is Truth or Dair: A Liar’s Tale. Who knows what it will be called in the end.


  1. Shadows of Legend: Sifting Bones of Myth from the Grishaverse, Part 2 – Illuminating the Fool's Mirror - Jul 2 2021

    […] Bardugo, Leigh, “A Tale of Two (or Twenty) Titles,” Pub Crawl, posted May 18, 2012, accessed May 15, 2021, http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2012/05/18/a-tale-of-two-or-twenty-titles/. […]

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