Help Me If You Can, I’m Feeling . . . Unsure

Photo Published May 22, 2013 at
The Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge unveiled the violin actually used by Wallace Hartley on board Titanic.

After several months of stewing over the comments I received from the agents, editors, and other readers who have read the most recent version of my first novel, I am back at work at it, giving it one more pass through before I start querying the next batch of prospective agents. I have a strong sense of where I am going with this draft, so I’m feeling confident that I can do this in a relatively short period of time (3-4 months).

Something that keeps coming up in both written and spoken comments is whether or not my novel’s title works. I’ve gotten extremely positive reactions and extremely negative reactions from those who’ve read the whole manuscript and from those who haven’t yet read it. I guess I should be happy that it has garnered any response.

Since the title is the first thing a prospective reader hears or reads or sees, along with the cover, I do think it is important to get a feel for how it is received. So . . . I’m going to ask a few simple questions and hope that many of you will take the minute or two to answer them. The more answers I have, the more helpful it will be to me as I decide whether or not to change my title.

To answer the questions, I don’t think it matters whether you know what the novel is about, only that it is realistic fiction with historical elements. But you do need to know the title, which is THE CRY OF BELLA’S VIOLIN.

Here are the questions:

  1. What’s your immediate reaction when you read the title? Would you pick up the book and read the blurb to find out more or not?
  2. Does the title make you think initially that the book’s content will be heavy or light or somewhere in between?
  3. Are you reminded of other books, movies, etc when you read the title and if so, which ones and do you assume that this book will in some way resemble the ones that came to mind for you?
  4. Anything else come to mind that you’d like to share with me about the title or your initial response to it?

I will not be hurt if you hate the title or give you extra points if you love it. I’m looking for quick, honest answers to a few questions with implications much larger than the subject seems to suggest.

Please help me out here if you have a minute. Thanks in advance!


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17 thoughts on “Help Me If You Can, I’m Feeling . . . Unsure

  1. The word “cry” suggests to me extreme sadness or rage, so I would anticipate a heavy content, although a violin’s sound of cry could be a sad, melancholy melody or a screech. Bella as a name makes me anticipate some European connection. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but it brings to mind the movie of several years ago, “The Pianist”, which starred Adrian Brody.

  2. 1. My first reaction would be sadness……I would read the blurb…..the title strikes me as very sad….I like sad books….Atonement, Never Let Me Go, Norwegian Wood being 3 of my favorites.

    2. Heavy content

    3. The name Bella reminds me of the Twilight movies but I don’t think it should be changed just because of that…..

    4. For me (and I generally read 2 books a month if not more..fiction only)……my tastes are Philip Roth, Ian McEwan, Paul Auster, Cormac McCarthy, TC Boyle; Margaret; Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguru; Lethem, Chabon…many others…….the only thought I have is persistence……keep at it….if you truly believe in it then don’t let anyone tell you its not good enough…..there will be some agent out there that will recognize it….Tom Clancy, Stephen King…even the Beatles got turned down so many times its a wonder they went on……so keep at it.

    5. Could you perhaps send me the first line of the book….to me…..that…more than the title or blub…is what really draws me in…….

    Good luck!


  3. I love the title, and I’d recommend keeping it the way it is. Focus your energies on next draft instead. Publishing companies are notorious for changing your title anyway.

    If you’re looking for readers for your next draft, I volunteer!

  4. I would be thrilled to pick up ANY book that has your name on it!

    That said, based on title alone, it sounds pretty heavy to me – maybe the word ‘Cry’… Depending upon my mood, I might pass it by – there are times I just don’t want anything too heavy or emotionally intense (i.e. Jodi Piccoult). Other times, when life feels somewhat less challenging, I might welcome something that would make me think and take me on a bit of an emotional journey.

    Something about the title also makes me think that it’s set in Europe, and at least a few decades ago.

    Regardless, I can’t wait to read it and see what you’ve been working on!

  5. hey sara, party me thinks it’s emotionally evocative and another part remembers a teacher at a writing workshop saying she didn’t like sentimental, which this title seems to bring out. maybe you can get the same idea with some other sense image rather than one that is so upfront (my pet peeve is background music in a movie trying to elicit the sentiment). i’m trying to get a nonfiction agent myself now and, despite selling some 3700 of my last book, i’m feeling lost on how to do this. so congrats on getting an agent, sara.

  6. First of all, I loved the movie Sliding Doors, so love the line Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition. I assume you saw it as well, or was that line taken from way more sophisticated artistic history? I hope not, or I’ve just blown my critical cover… I’m writing because you asked for responses to you book’s title, and, I had one! Did you ever see The Red Violin? Good movie. That’s immediately what I thought of with your title. So in that sense, my critique is that it’s not original enough (you can hate me now) but you asked. Probably most people did not see The Red Violin. My second response, again since you asked, was Sarah’s Key. That, probably because your name is Sara and I connect violins with Eastern Europe. Would I pick up the book by its name — absolutely! Especially because, but even if, your name were not on it! More power to you, my friend!

  7. I read several books a month and admit I usually am drawn in by the title and/or cover. Mostly fiction with some non thrown in here and there. The title sounds a little too heavy to me. Maybe just Bella’s violin? It’s almost too long, perhaps? Bella’s violin may be more intriguing and have me reading the blurb to find out more. For some reason I think it is something about the word “cry”. Not sure what though. What ever the title can’t wait to read it- please be sure to let us know when and where we can get our first edition signed copies!

  8. 1. I don’t feel much rhythm from it. “Bella’s Violin” has rhythm. “The Cry Of Bella’s Violin” feels like the first half of iambic pentameter, and I want something to go “da dun da dun da dun” after it.

    2. Based on the title I’d expect a serious book, with maybe a hint of melodrama.

    3. It reminds me of Ann Rice’s book Cry To Heaven (about castrati in Renaissance Italy) or maybe the movie Enchanted April (four women rent an Italian villa and have a group mid-life crisis of some kind).

    4. If you’re looking for a beta reader before you send out your new draft, please keep me in mind!!!

  9. Brevity is my language tonight.
    1. Sadness and holocaust-y
    2. Heavy
    3. Twilight – it’s the name association
    3. I have been waiting to read this for 15 years so get writing again please!
    Love you!

  10. Hi Sara,

    I’m writing before I read any of the other comments because I’m easily influenced so I apologize in advance if I’m repeating.

    1. My immediate reaction is that the book will be melodramatic. I probably would not pick it up.
    2. I would guess it would be heavy and probably sad.
    3. I’m not reminded of anything in particular, it’s more of an overall feeling.
    4. For some reason, classical instruments conjure up sadness or tragedy and the past (as in not contemporary). That combined with the word “cry” leads me further down that path.

    All that said, how impressed am I that you WROTE A BOOK and people are reading it and having opinions about it?!?!? What a great accomplishment. Best of luck with your next steps.

  11. Anguish is what immediately comes to mind for me. I get the sense I am in for a deep and potentially complex read that juxtaposes tradition with desire. Also sensed a holocaust-like theme. Depending on my mood, I’ll pick it up or remind myself to consider it another time. (Except since you wrote it, I’d definitely read it.)

  12. From an auditory perspective (akin to Liv’s take on it) – there’s something not quite right about the title as it stands in terms of rhythm. Somehow, to me, “Bella’s Violin” or “Cry of the Violin” both sound better – not in terms of pulling me in to the next step of reading the blurb, merely in terms of how the words work together.

    By the title, I probably wouldn’t go any further with it. It does seem a little dark (or at least unsettling – a violin IS capable of that kind of sound) but maybe it’s less that and more the Bella-of-Twilight similarity that makes me disinterested? It does seem a little sentimental to me, which isn’t my style.

    I have to say, though, you could ask 1000 people and get 600 different suggestions which may not be helpful. As Jolene points out, if you’re going the traditional publication route, publishers are known for changing titles. Maybe don’t sweat it at this point?

  13. I agree with Liv about the rhythm being slightly off. More to my liking is Cry of the Violin, or Black Violin or Bella’s Cry, or something like that. Just my gut. Knowing more about the book is crucial to writing the title.

    1. I’m going to weigh in with Jodi and Liv. With Twilight still in the literary consciousness (and sometimes not in a good way when it comes to agents and publishers), I’d leave Bella’s name out of the title. I like Jodi’s suggestions of Cry of the Violin or Black Violin.

  14. Interesting post!
    This title tells me “sad”. Somehow it suggests something historical, and probably heavy. I also like Bella’s Violin. or Bella’s Cry. Or even The Violin. But as somebody already said, they’ll probably change the title anyway!

  15. My immediate reaction to the title is a sense of despair, from the word ‘cry’. That, coupled with the violin, has me hearing a wailing sound. It’s very auditory. However, I would pick it up and read the blurb out of curiosity.

    From the title alone I would guess it was either something tragic and/or YA (and hence an element of teen melodrama). I don’t think of any other specific titles.

    Titles are hard! I would recommend not starting with ‘The’ unless it’s a very short title. This could be one of the reasons some have commented on rhythm. ‘The’ is a nothing word really, although it does work for two-word titles. 🙂

    Now – next post we want to hear your one-sentence description! What’s it about?

  16. To me, the title indicates a dramatic kind of story with a sense of sadness to it. And like a few others have said above, the rhythm of the title feels a little off. I think shortening it will help. Bella’s Violin is a good one. If I think of others I’ll pop back in and share them.

    Regardless, I am super curious to know more about your story. Like Ellen said, give us more! 🙂

So what do you think?