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Friday, June 10, 2011

What's in a name?

Titling your book for maximum impact can be more challenge than a lot of writers like, but it doesn't have to be difficult. Seldom have I written a book without a title in mind even knowing that it might be changed prior to production for a variety of reasons, most of which turn out to be valid, but some of which do not. One I found amusing was a book whose title I don't recall, but what I do remember is a complaint in a note from the author that he'd wanted to title the book Tsunami. His editor objected on the grounds that "Not mant people would know what a tsunami was." Since the book was being published in the UK, that may have been true--at least prior to the day after Christmas, 2004. For that reason the book was released with a different title which, in my (seldom) humble opinion, didn't do it justice, failed to give the reader an immediate sense of what the story was about, and barely caught my attention until I read the back blurb. In titling your book, try to think of the theme it represents, the genre you're writing in, the mind-set of the readers you hope to attract. If your novel is a romance, it doesn't necessarily require the word "love" in the title, though many do. There are other ways of suggesting the emotion and titles often come from the story itself. Some of my earlier titles, for instance, Pockets Full of Joy, came from a chance comment by one of the main characters, yet it conveyed, along with the cover picture and back-blurb, it was a story with a happy ending--required in a contemporary romance. Another, A Family Affair, even without a cover showing man, woman and children, strongly suggested the content, as did Kiss & Make Up, a title evolving from the text. Another I originally entitled "Of Woman Born" but a wise editor suggested it didn't really identify the theme of the book which was humanity's recovery from a devastating, futuristic war. We retitled it The Dawning, which conveyed a sense of the recovery, the renewal, concomitant with the book's theme. Think of the theme of your book. Ask yourself what the basic message is. Have you written a mystery? A thriller? An action/adventure? A spy novel? What kind of reader do you want to pull in, and even more important, what kind of reader do you not want to disappoint? If your story's a science fiction action/adventure with a minor love story, it's best not to use a tile like "Love and Laser Weapons" or "Passion and Plasma Guns" because you'll confuse your potential audience. (They might be looking for humor, and if that's what you've delivered, go ahead and use a title like that.) I just edited a wonderful book, The Million Dollar Bra, by Jennifer Loy. It'll be out in a few months, I think, and the title certainly indicates it's bound to be humorous. I'm now about to edit another of Ms. Loy's books--Summer Sizzle, and am looking forward to a lot of laughter. If your story's a thriller, give it a title reflecting that, using words the reader will automatically associate with chills and fear, like Danger, or Death or Drowned. (Okay, so I like alliteration. Sue me.) Along with those catch' em words, your cover and back blurb will reach out to the readers you think will like your work. The book I'm reading right now, The Fifth Profession, by David Morrell, captured my interest because the only "profession" I know that's been given a number, is The First Profession, or The Oldest Profession. Hence, I had to know what the fifth might be. Still have no idea of the second, third, and fourth, of course, but I think money-lending is in there somewhere. Morrell's title intrigued me and wouldn't you know it? The book's about intrigue. Unless you write to a title, that is, know what your story is about and have a title for it before you start, you'll likely fine the perfect phrase for your title popping up within the text or from the theme, the characters themselves, and their responses to given stimuli. I suggest, though, you don't marry yourself to your title. Very often, whether we like it or not, our editors and/or publishing houses really do know best and have a good idea of what sells and what doesn't. If you're willing to compromise on that issue, you're more likely to see your book out there for sale, regardless of its title.


  1. Excellent advice, Judy. I've had 20 titles for my current WIP. You just gave me another choice to test out. So far, I like my book better than any of the titles.

  2. Loved the book, The Dawning, and yes, that was the right title. It suggested the futuristic sense of the book. And the best part of that book; it has stayed with me since I've read it, the best one can hope for. Thanks for the post, Judy.