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(That’s what wordpress says before I start typing.. It seems appropriate.)

So the novel I started in 2001 or something like that is finished. REALLY FINISHED! I need to get the original cover image from the artist, which is a hassle because it’s huge, and then put some appropriate lettering on it, and actually put the thing somewhere so people can read it, but that’s all technical details. It’s FINISHED, and the people who have already read it tend to like it. A choirmate said (to another choirmate, at the edge of my hearing): “it’s amazing to think that Irina has written that, it’s so…” and I butted in with “like a real book?” It turned out to be the right thing to say, too. This choirmate has written a medieval mystery herself, which I’m currently reading and enjoying, so she knows what she’s talking about.

There’s one glitch, though. For most of those count-on-fingers twelve years it’s been called Terms of Service. I was very proud of that title when it floated up from the word soup in my brain, because it described exactly what the book is about: someone who serves all the gods in turn, with all the accompanying conditions and benefits and disadvantages. But when I gave it to someone to read she said “you’ll be changing that title, of course!” I thought she meant that it was a lousy title, but she honestly thought a heading from some software I’d been formatting it with had stuck, because that happens to her all the time when she formats or converts books. And of course when it’s called that people won’t be able to search for it, or at least not find it in the forests of actual terms-of-service documents.

The only thing I could think of that fit the content as neatly was Terms and Conditions, if anything worse.

I could of course call it Senthi after the protagonist, but that doesn’t say anything, her name doesn’t desribe her. And Senthi’s Choices, which does resonate with the story, is too much like Sophie’s Choice not to distract. Serving the Gods or To Serve the Gods is perhaps a bit generic. (This makes me think of an early beta reader who called it “awfully generic”. Later it turned out he’d hardly read any of it. Man, if you don’t like my book, tell me “sorry, it’s not for me” instead of passing summary judgment!) Oh, I can call it A Mighty Servant, but that’s a technical term in the setting, the title of the high priest of Mizran. She actually is Mighty Servant for a while, but it covers only one god rather than the five she ends up serving in her life, sometimes two at a time.

My brain now insists on Servant of the Gods, but somehow that sounds like a different book. Servant of All sounds like a very different book. (As does Up and Down and Up Again. Shut up, brain.) It’s not so much about the gods, though they appear a lot, but about Senthi’s service to them in many different ways. A life of service. And that sounds like a social-commentary novel set in early-twentieth-century England.

  1. Felix

    I had the opposite happen to me recently. Being quite terrible at choosing titles and character names, I picked up Parole Planet as a working title for my latest story. (I never start writing until I have a working title, however temporary; it’s just too tedious to always talk about “that work in progress with the kid who…”)

    Now, to me Parole Planet sounds incredibly corny, like from a pulp magazine of old, and I fully expected my beta readers to suggest another, any other. Instead, they didn’t bat an eyelid, and the title stuck. And to be entirely honest, it did end up being entirely descriptive. Go figure.

    As for your problem, maybe if you go simple? Servant, or The Servant… no, that’s even more generic and sounds like pretentious literary fiction. Maybe Senthi of the Gods or Woman of the Gods? Now we’re getting somewhere.

    • Irina

      Senthi of the Gods is nice! Goes on the shortlist. Though people will probably complain that I spelt “sent him” wrong…

      I do use placeholders: what is now A Voice from the North, in alpha-and-a-bit stage, was “the Frozen North thing” for ages. Also there’s “the thing about Vegelin the Great” and “the thing with the bestiary”.

  2. Elizabeth

    Congratulations!

    I am terrible at titles. But I like the suggestion of Senthi of the Gods.

  3. Adrian Morgan

    Suggestions by people who haven’t read it will inevitably be generic (and in the short term I can’t possibly offer to read anything).

    But just trying out various paraphrases of Serving the Gods, I came up with All That The Gods Require, which sounds more like a line of poetry rather than a title (I was probably subconsciously thinking of the line from “The Straying Student” by Austin Clarke). Simplifying gets you As The Gods Require, which is the best I have right now.

    I’m not personally a fan of character names in titles.

    • Irina

      No, I’m not a fan of character names in titles either. Also, much as I like Senthi of the Gods, it does look like “Senthi” is a word for something (like “Messenger of the Gods”) instead of a name.

  4. Zeborah

    I actually really like Terms of Service still. I don’t think the reasons you mention against it are a problem:

    1) When you send it to a publisher, they’re not going to just have the ms, they’ll also have the cover letter which will include the title, making it clear that this isn’t just a mistake.

    2) When it gets published people aren’t going to just google “Terms of Service” any more than they just search any of the bazillion generic titles out there. They’ll search it with your name; or they’ll go to Amazon and search for it. Either way it comes up.

    I could be wrong about the latter, but in that case the publisher will tell you so. So really #1 is the only important one. And whatever title you choose, the publisher’s always going to reserve the right to give it a more marketable one, so there’s little point now trying to come up with a new title. Send it out with the title that best fits the story, and I think that’s what Terms of Service does.

    • Irina

      I don’t intend to submit it, though, but self-publish as soon as I get my hands on the original cover artwork. I’ve had quite enough slaps in my face and I think another rejection might stop me writing altogether (as opposed to last time, when a round of rejections stopped me writing for a couple of years). I think I’ve finally got over the nagging feeling that something can only be good if it happens to fit the current market.

      But you’re probably right that my name is much more memorable than most titles of already-existing books. I can’t get used to any other title anyway, so yes, I think I’ll just keep it.

      (woot! recaptcha made up of just numbers!)