Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Behind the Books: Just the Right Title

When I created a revision timeline to accompany No Monkeys, No Chocolate, I focused on the process of crafting the manuscript, but the title went through many changes as well.

When I mention this during school visits, teachers and students consistently ask follow-up questions, so I thought it might be worth writing about it here.

For me, the title is either just right from the very beginning or it needs a lot of work. With books like A Place for Butterflies, Under the Snow, Hurricane Watch, and Summertime Sleep, a new picture books schedule for 2017, the titles emerged early in the writing process, and they were so perfect that they never changed. Editors didn’t even question them. They just felt right to everyone.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate was a very different story. If you’ve perused the revision timeline, you know that the book was originally about the wild rose plant, and the original title was Wild Rose Café.

When I shifted my focus to the cocoa tree, the title became Cocoa Café. It seemed like a no-brainer, but then the structure that was so perfect for the wild rose just didn’t work for the cocoa tree. So I needed a new structure—and a new title.

After much trial and error, the title became Who Makes Chocolate? Monkeys, Midges, Maggots, and More. But that wasn’t quite right, so I tried We Couldn’t Make Chocolate Without Monkeys. That was the title of the book when it was acquired by my editor.
In her very first revision letter, my editor raised questions about the title. We both agreed that it was the right idea, but boy, was it clunky. We batted around ideas several times, but came up empty.

Finally, my editor held a staff meeting and asked everyone to brainstorm ideas. They generated about fifty possibilities, which my editor sent to me. There were a half dozen real possibilities on the list. (One of them—The Cocoa Bean Team—even made it into the text as Bookworm dialog.)

But still nothing seemed exactly right. I wanted it to be fun and succinct and true to the concept driving the book. Then one day, I woke up with the words No Monkeys, No Chocolate in my head. My subconscious must have been working on the problem in the background for a long time and finally solved it while the rest of my brain was shut down. Amazing!

I jumped out of bed and emailed my editor, and within a few hours everyone agreed that we finally had a title that was just right.



  1. I love hearing about your process, seeing how books transform from one thing to another before settling in to the space that feels just right.

  2. Just finished going through your timeline. Fifty-six revisions and three complete re-starts! Wow! Just WOW! You are a vision of skill, stamina, and determination, very similar to someone who completes and Ironman triathlon—although your journey was far longer.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Jilanne. NMNC was definitely a labor of love. Creating a picture book often takes years and years--something it's hard for most people to imagine.

  4. Love your posts, Melissa, and this is another goodie. Really shows how much enormous effort goes in to making a great book.

  5. Thanks, Kaye. Writing pictures is so much fun, but also so much hard work. And patience.