That magical title

To pitch my book to agents and publishers, I need a title.

I know what you’re thinking: How can I possibly come up with a title when I haven’t written the book? It ain’t easy. But since I’ve already outlined the book for my book proposal and developed a theme, it’s feasible to build upon that base and create a working title.

I need something catchy. Something that “tells and sells,” as literary agent Michael Larsen advises in his book about writing a proposal. A title that will appeal to a wide audience, one that offers a bit of the book’s flavor.

Most successful women’s travel books use the Title: Subtitle format, and for good reason: It allows for creativity but also gives the reader a sense of what the book’s about. To prove my point, here are a few examples from my bookshelf full of travel memoirs:

* Somebody’s Heart is Burning: A Woman Wanderer in Africa. By Tanya Shaffer.

* Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. By Elizabeth Gilbert.

* Tales of a Female Nomad: Living At Large in the World. By Rita Golden Gelman.

* Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman. By Alice Steinbach.

Since the second phrase usually explains the meat of the book, I brainstormed the subtitle first. What makes my book stand out? What makes it different from other travel books? 1. I’m a woman. 2. I traveled solo. 3. I traveled in Africa. And so I came up with this subtitle: A Woman’s Solo Journey Through Africa.

The primary title is a bit harder because it requires more creativity. So far, I’m leaning toward Madame or Mademoiselle? Here’s a paragraph straight from my book proposal that explains why that title’s appropriate:

Unlike other women’s travel books, the author is not looking for love, nor escape from a failed relationship. Instead, she seeks freedom and independence, a chance to see the world through her own eyes. Paradoxically, to fend off men hoping to snag a white woman as their wife — “Mrs. or Miss?” they ask, and, “Are you married?” — the author constantly lies about her single status, claiming that her husband is back at the hotel or at home in the states.

Together, those pieces form this title:

Madame or Mademoiselle? A Woman’s Solo Journey Through Africa.

Whatcha think? Does it work? Or should I go back to the drawing board?

19 Responses

  1. I like the title! I think anything you write will be wonderful, regardless of what it is called!

  2. The title is perfect. It totally hooked me. (So hurry, Lexi. I want to read the book now!)

  3. I like it! I think it gives the reader the essence of your story (that you traveled alone through Africa) and provides an interesting catch phrase to go with it. I’m really enjoying reading about this process. It inspires me to really start focusing on my own stories. 🙂

  4. I like it, but it feels long. But don’t change just because of me! Sounds like the majority love it. And that’s what matters!


  5. It seems to fit your description well!

  6. Alexis, I like the title idea. I’m a big fan of women’s adventure tales, especially journeys tacked alone. My one brave solo adventure was to Norway, which wasn’t too scary since so many Norwegians speak English. A trek through Africa sounds like a true adventure. Keep writing!!….Pat

  7. It certainly fits your subject, and I like the subtitle, but the title feels like a mouthful. I imagine myself going into a bookstore and asking for it, and it doesn’t quite pour off my tongue. I wish I had some suggestions, but I can’t seem to think of anything.

    Good luck!

    Gayle Carline

  8. I like it. I agree with Helen, it’s a bit long, so maybe make “Madame or Mademoiselle” the title and the rest the sub-title?

    I like your blog. Also good job including all the text links.

    Marvin D Wilson

  9. Nonfiction books often have a “catchy” phrase to grab the reader then the subtitle ties it together. I agree with Marvin re: Mlle or Mme as title.

  10. Yup, you guys got the idea. M or M? is the title, and the second phrase is the sub-title.

    Thanks for all feedback!

  11. I think it’s catchy, but I think it might scare away male readers. Maybe people are more open than I give them credit for. Still, I can’t help but wonder if your average dude would feel weird reading “Madame or Mademoiselle?” in an airport (which is my gauge of such things).


  12. Alexis, have your heard of the Story Circle Network? – a memoir-writing group I belong to.

    I’ll be back!


  13. It is a challenge to come up with the perfect title. The book sounds great – you’ve got my attention!

    NA Sharpe

  14. For what it’s worth, here’s another suggestion (if you’re still in brainstorming phase):

    Alone In Africa – A Woman’s Solo Journey Through The ‘Dark Continent’

    (the ‘Dark Continent’ bit should be good for some subtle controversy, and adds a tinge of intrigue taken along with the ‘Alone’ and ‘Woman’)


    All success
    Author of “Think, Write & RETIRE!”

  15. i love it! the title totally suits you and your story 🙂

  16. Thanks for all the suggestions!

    Blythe — That’s exactly my concern. I didn’t write it in the post because I wanted to see whether readers would pick up on it on their own, but I’m worried this title will alienate male readers.

    That’s the main reason why I may change it as I continue to write. Just gotta keep brainstorming!

  17. […] good title into the perfect title Posted on May 6, 2009 by Alexis Grant Thanks for all the feedback on my working title, Madame or Mademoiselle? A Woman’s Solo Journey Through […]

  18. go with something really visual and funny — like “Bras Hanging To Dry in the Kalahari” — obviously not that but I think you should go in that direction — something that evokes the female, the exotic locale, the funny circumstances, the sense of adventure. Or “Do African Women GEt PMS?” or

  19. […] Madame or Mademoiselle? (too complicated, readers of this blog decided) […]

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