The Girls We Sent Away, The Last Carolina Girl

The Story Behind Book Titles

One of the most common questions during the Q&A session of author events is: how did you choose the title? Well, there’s a story behind every title. And, here’s how The Last Carolina Girl and The Girls We Sent Away came about.

Most readers are surprised to learn that authors do not choose their titles. Or very, very few traditionally published authors have that ability. The final say almost alway sits with the publisher.

When it comes to Sourcebooks (the publisher of my two books), we have a collaborative relationship, but in the end, the final decision rests with them. Why? Because while I am responsible for the story within the pages of the book, everything you find on the outside is part of the marketing package, including: title, cover, description, comparison books/authors, even blurbs from other authors. And creating the marketing package is the publisher’s wheelhouse.

With Sourcebooks, they take a data-driven approach and test their titles. Then they come to the author with their recommendation. And that’s when the collaboration gets interesting…

The Last Carolina Girl

My working title for this novel was The Lumberjack’s Daughter. I chose it for two reasons:

  1. Leah, the main character, is the daughter of a lumberjack. In the 1930s when her story takes place, a girl in her station would be known more for whose she was than who she was, so the title seemed appropriate.
  2. I am the daughter of a lumberjack, so the title had a very personal connection to me.

As Sourcebooks did their market research, they came to me with two options (I believe there was perhaps another one, but I can’t recall it now):

  • The Last Carolina Girl
  • Good Southern Girls

The last one did not seem to match the story, especially since the story is Leah and hers alone. When it came to The Last Carolina Girl, I didn’t like it. My interpretation was that we were implying Leah was the last to face sterilization, which of course is not true. But, Sourcebooks felt it had more emotional appeal and better spoke to the intended audience. Eventually, my agent helped me see it as those who wanted to sterilize Leah wanted to do so to make her the last of her kind.

I signed on to the title, but it did take some getting used to. I think what it does quite well is set an emotional tone and immediately situate the reader in the setting.

The Girls We Sent Away

The working title for this novel was The Girl Who Disappeared. To me, it had multiple implications to the story itself. But, the problem was that it felt more like a thriller title.

Seeing as how this story explores the perspective of a few different women, we thought we could use a title that didn’t work for the first book: Good Southern Girls. That’s what it was known as for a few months until MJ, my editor, asked if I thought we could find something with more emotional interest. I was excited to explore other options because I didn’t feel the title was completely right for the story.

Sourcebooks came to me with multiple options. I don’t remember now what they were, but I remembered that none of them seemed to land just right. Eventually, MJ tossed out the idea of The Girls We Sent Away.

I’m going to be honest: I so badly wanted to find a title that didn’t have “girl” in it. There are so many “girl” books on the market. Plus, with my first one having “girl” in the title, was I becoming the author who could only write “girl” books?

But, what this option had was flow and intrigue that felt right for the story.

Now it’s hard to imagine either of these books with a different title, but it was a process to work through. As the author, it can be difficult to open the work up to other voices, to give up control of any kind, and accept other’s perspectives and interpretations. But, when choosing the traditional publishing route, it’s all part of the process to get the story out of the author’s mind and into the readers’ hands.

The Girls We Sent Away is now available! Click below to order online. If you’d like a signed copy, order from Park Road Books, my local independent bookstore, and request personalization:

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