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Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Secret History

I had no idea the title of my novel on Theodora, The Secret History, would be the source of controversy. I actually borrowed the title from Procopius, the premier historian of the Byzantine Empire, who wrote several official accounts of the reign of Justinian and Theodora.

The Buildings.

The Wars.

Then he wrote The Secret History, a scathing account of Justinian and Theodora's years on the throne in which both Emperor and Empress are literally portrayed as demons. However, this is the historical source with the most details on Theodora's life, both before and after she wore the crown. Procopius does an admirable job portraying her as a conniving, scheming harlot.

Why must women with a brain almost always be portrayed as evil by their contemporaries? Can't conniving and scheming be a good thing? And was she really a harlot because she liked to be?

I decided my novel should also be titled The Secret History, mostly because I like to think my version of Theodora's motivations is closer to the truth than Procopius'.

(And yes, I realize that's more than a little presumptuous of me. Whatever.)

Those early readers who are familiar with Procopius love the title. Those who don't are quick to point out that Donna Tartt wrote a recent novel with the same title about six classics students at an elite Vermont college.

I'm not willing to part with the title though, at least not yet. It's my way of biting my thumb at Procopius. (I might have taken a stab or two at him in the book too. Ha!)

Any suggestions for my title quandary? Have you ever had title issues?

15 comments:

Stephanie McGee said...

Titles can be so hard sometimes. I'm just coming off an epic title struggle myself but when the right title hits it's hard to shake. Sounds like that's what's happened here.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Stephanie- I never really got attached to the title for my first book, but you're right--this one really is hard to shake!

Lynda R Young said...

I've heard many publishers will change titles anyway so my take is keep it until someone says you can't ;)

Gary Corby said...

You don't have a problem. To start with, some titles get repeated many times and it's not considered a problem as long as it's not a deliberate rip-off.

Secondly, if the book sells, the publisher gets to pick the title, not you, and they'll go with whatever they think is most likely to induce the major accounts to order lots of copies.

My guess is a publisher would be quite happy with The Secret History.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Books with the same title will be competition, but at the same time, people looking for those books will find yours, too.

Miranda Hardy said...

I have nothing to add that the others haven't said. You have the right idea on keeping it just as it is.

L.G.Smith said...

It may be as simple as adding a word or two, like The Secret History of a Woman or The Secret History of Theordora.

But lots of times novels and movies do share the same title. As long as you're writing in a different genre, it's probably fine.

Susan R. Mills said...

I have a title issue with every novel I write. My last project has changed names a dozen times.

Krista said...

I went through several different titles for my first book. I still don't love the title I settled on - but it fits.

So far I haven't had a problem letting go of a title - but I have had similar problem with a character name.

I have had a lot of people who have read my MS tell me I need to change the spelling of a certain characters name because everyone will pronounce the name wrong. I struggle with this for a while but what it really came down to was that is her name and I can't change it.

I think going with your gut and keeping the title is a good idea.

SHANNON O'DONNELL said...

What Gary said!! LOL. :-)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If you like the title, keep it! Maybe the similarity will work to your advantage.

Lavender said...

Keep your title! There's no reason to change it just because another novel about totally different characters exists. The only time you should consider changing a working title is when it's way too close to the subject of an already existing book. For example, the second book in my Hatshepsut trilogy was going to be called The Horus Throne, but then I found another obscure trilogy about Hatshepsut and the second book of that series is called The Horus Throne. THAT is too close -- same subject, trilogy, second book. Too close.

You're fine. :)

Vicki Tremper said...

I don't think the newer book with the same title is much of an issue. Book titles aren't copyrighted. And publishing is so slow that you have plenty of time for that other one to be forgotten by the masses. But while you were trying to thumb your nose at Procopius, I think therein lies the bigger issue.

Lydia Kang said...

Many titles have already been used on other books. If the genre is very different, it may not be as much of a problem.

Also, as Gary said, a publisher might make you change it anyway, so you never know. :)

Renee Yancyw\ said...

I haven't had any title problems yet but I had a hard time figuring out what to rename my first historical which is coming out on Amazon this week. (Sorry! Shameless plug) I finally settled on A Secret Hope.

I think you should keep your title unless and until a publisher comes up with a better one that they think might sell more books!