Titles — What’s in a Name?


For some reason known only to the muse of impulses, I stuck up my hand to chair the Orange Rose contest for the Orange County Chapter of RWA when they were looking for such unwise fools as me. Well, it’s turned out to be quite interesting, and a ton of work. As a friend of mine used to say, an experience not to be missed or repeated.

Anyway, I’ve had a lot of titles to view and it’s occurred to me more than once that folks need some help here. A title sets the reader’s expectation. It’s like the first light of dawn–it sets the tone for the rest of the day. It needs to be easy to remember–marketing counts. And it needs to be something to spur the reader to either click on a link/cover or pick up the book off a shelf. (Yes, the cover will help, but the title is part of that cover.)

So it makes sense that you want a catchy title that also intrigues. It’s really nice, too, if the title fits into the theme of a book.

Now, you may say, oh, pish-tosh, the publisher will change the title anyway. Possibly. But a good title is still going to be a good hook into a book (I’ve gotten so I can just about tell from the title alone if a manuscript is going to be good and almost ready for publication, or is going to be one of those manuscript that needs a ton of work ). And if you’ve got a great title, you won’t need to change it.

So, what should be in a title? Here’s my receipe:

It has to evoke the genre. This is critical. For my Regency romances I kept almost all my original titles, such as: A Compromising Situation, and A Proper Mistress. I wanted titles that let the reader know at a glance what kind of book this was.

It has to carry some hint of the theme. Think of titles like Silence of the Lambs. Not only a good hook, but also works into the book when it’s talked about the silence of the lambs before they’re slaughtered.

It has to easy to remember. Mission critical, this one. I recently read a contest entry and I can’t even remember the entry name, except to say it was one I looked at and thought, “How do you even write this one down to remember it?” This is where you can get just too clever.

It needs to fit on a book cover. Yes, the hard fact is that there’s only so much space — in print, or even if you’re going to make a legible image for online. The shorter the title, the bigger a font you can use–hence, the numerous one-word titles around. (Such as Twilight.)

I also like it if I’m not overusing a title that’s been used. Let’s face it, if your book is one of a hundred titled, Passion, how will anyone know to buy your book? (Meaning, when looking for titles, go check Amazon and Google the titles you have in mind.)

Finally, I like a title that doesn’t get too clever with the spelling or the words–this, to me, is just shooting yourself in the foot. A lot of folks do find books on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, or Google, or other websites. And if the reader can remember the title but the spelling or the words are too weird, a search may turn up nothing.

Which brings us to, does the title look good? Yes, there are attractive words, and words that just make you stumble. You want to look at your title in print and see if it’s balanced or not. If I were to change any titles I’ve done it would be A Much Compromised Lady. It’s a clunky title and never did look that good in print, but I was stuck on the idea of a series with compromise in the title, and I should have listened to wiser council there.

Finally, I just like a title that makes me want to settle down with just that type of book.  If I have a book titled, Space Monkeys from Planet Ten, I expect that book to be fun and silly, and not to be a tragic romance. Likewise, with a book titled, The Moorish Prince, I’m looking for some adventure in there. Because the title gives me that first taste of the story.

So give thought to your titles. Spent time with them. Ask your friends what they think–what kind of book would this set their teeth for? And keep in mind that even if you’re not yet published, you’re marketing your book. Editors and agents get their expectations set by titles, too.

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2 thoughts on “Titles — What’s in a Name?

  1. I am working on editing my first novel. My novel doesn’t have a name yet. It had one for a short period of time, and then I saw a book review of a book with that same name! I searched it on Amazon and found that there were four books with the same title. So I am still thinking about it.

    I found this post really helpful, it’s given me things to think about.

    Thank you.

    • Sometimes a title needs time – working titles are a fine thing to use. I also love to look for titles to come right out a phrase in the book. And, then, sometimes you get a title from the publisher and that’s that.

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