Q. Can you tell me a little about book titles and how often an author’s own title survives the publication process? If a title changes, is it the agent, editor, or someone in house who suggests the new one?

A book’s title is a huge part of the book’s package (by which I mean its general presentation: cover design, interior design, how it is over-all perceived by readers) so delivering a book with an awesome title makes a book substantially easier to sell: to an agent, an editor, and eventually a reader. In a perfect world, a book is born with its perfect title, but having an unmemorable title, or even a bad one, doesn’t sink your book. I admit that I, and I presume most book buyers, are subtly prejudiced against manuscripts where the author hasn’t thought out what the thing should be called, but I think most books exist somewhere in the purgatory between “great” and “bad.” It’s fine.

Having said that, titles change all the time. Sometimes I’ll brainstorm a new one with an author before we send it on submission if I’m worried that it isn’t as strong as the manuscript, or doesn’t convey what the book is actually about. Sometimes the editor, author, and agent collectively brainstorm a new title before the sale is announced. (This is usually just an email chain with a list on it—not terribly scientific.) Sometimes the editor will come up with a list in-house with their sales and marketing departments (and usually their office mates and assistants) and send it to the author for approval. I have yet to meet someone preternaturally great at coming up with titles, so it’s usually a crowd-sourced process.

The best way to avoid being unhappy with a title provided by your publisher (if, heaven forbid, you don’t have title approval in your contract) is to preemptively suggest new ones yourself if you know the title will change. Editors and agents will thank you for saving them from having to do it themselves.

Q. How important is a separate narrative synopsis to your process? Either in considering new clients or pitching existing clients to publishers?

Each agency has a different guideline for what they like to have to consider a submission. I don’t request synopses because I think they’re boring to read. However, some agents like to have them and require them in their submission guidelines, so if you’re querying widely, and you should be, it’s smart to have one on hand.

Aside from queries, I use synopses when I’m selling an author’s second book. Often an author’s existing publisher will only need a sample of a forthcoming novel in order to offer on it (depending on the contract language), so I ask an author to prepare a synopsis and a few sample chapters.

Authors universally hate writing synopses. They’re hard and boring and terrible. Sorry!!


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Adriann Ranta
Adriann Ranta Zurhellen has represented New York Times bestselling, award-winning authors, journalists, illustrators and graphic novelists, as well as actors, stuntwomen, makeup artists, and many other pioneering creative thinkers and leaders in their fields.