During some conference appointments, I’ve heard authors say they didn’t work very hard on their title because they’ve heard that the publishing house will change it anyway. While the title is frequently changed by the publisher, there’s good reason to put some effort into the title even when you’re trying to find representation or a publishing home for your book.
When I read query letters, one of the first items that jumps off the page for me is the title of the book. I don’t stop reading the query at the title, but a poor title might sway me to feel negatively about a project even when the book is great. The most common issue I see is titles that don’t match the genre of the writing. Other times authors will just use the main character’s name as a title. Rarely are books published with a name as the title, so it’s best to try to think of something more creative that has to do with the plot.
Even though a title might not be used on the final product, it still gives the publishing house an idea of what kind of title you’d like to see on your cover, and it can start the brainstorming off in the right direction. For example, the original title on Sarah Sundin’s book A Distant Melody was Better than Sacrifice. Both of these titles are three word titles with a similar rhythm. Her title idea of Better than Sacrifice set the title “tone” for all of her following books as well. If she had come to the publishing house with a book called Allie Miller (main character’s name), it would have been harder for everyone to get to the right title.
I’ll put a little disclaimer in here. Some books do very well with just a first name as the title. For example, Christy by Catherine Marshall. No hard and fast rule enables you to find the right title but put some thought into the title instead of throwing one on the book with hopes that the publishing house will find the title for you. Your work on the title will be a great starting place for the titling committee when they meet to discuss your book.
What tools do you use to come up with your title?
How do you start your title brainstorm?
Names can be quite frightful,
and may a question beg:
“Jaws” once had the title,
“What’s Noshin’ On My Laig?”
And there’s others, so let’s see…
I guess we had a bit of luck
that F. Scott chose “Great Gatsby”
over “Trimalchio In West Egg” (yuck!).
And if that don’t chill ya,
and make you shake your head,
Bram Stoker’s opus “Dracula”
might have been “The Dead Un-Dead”,
so know good title is a prize
that will avert some rolling eyes.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Ha ha! Love it, Andrew! Although, if it is a humorous book, I love a good eyeroll. I called our bookstore to order a copy of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson and they kept trying to fix it, ha!
Kristen Joy Wilks
Thank you for the tips, Rachel!
Sometimes a title comes before the book for me. After hearing so many preachers talk about how we have to “lose our religion” and work on a genuine relationship with Christ coupled with the REM song, the title Losing My Religion was the first thing that came to me when I wrote about a pastor’s daughter who was just pretending to be a Christian. She had a beautiful religious mask but no actual faith. Her spiritual journey required her to lose her religion.
Sometimes others help out. When I tried to title a middle grade story Phooey Kerflooey vs. The Squirrel of the Apocalypse, my three sons informed me that a first book in a series about a dog, absolutely had to have the dog name as the title, just like Hank the Cowdog, ha! Thus, my manuscript is now called Phooey Kerflooey. Maybe it’s not the right title, but it sure made my sons happy and so that is what I picked.
Sometimes, I just like finding a match with a fun word. Like Copenhagen Cozenage or Athens Ambuscade. Who wouldn’t want to learn a fun new word as they look for a great read?
Titles are important to me. I’ve been blessed to have titled nearly all of my books, and my publisher chose to use them. A title is the second thing I come up with, right after the “what if.”
Morgan Tarpley Smith
Great insight! I love brainstorming and choosing titles. It’s a lot of fun to me. I always end up changing my working title before I’m settled on a final title either while I’m writing a story or after its complete. It always feels good to have a title that I feel fits my story and its genre.
The title of my m/s is based on themes in the story, and it led to the naming of the protagonist. It came with the story idea.
Peggy Lovelace Ellis
Titles are important because, except on rare occasions, the title is the first thing evident on bookshelves. Is the title catchy? Intriguing? Humorous? Is the title too long to fit on the spine? Does the title overwhelm the front cover background almost into non-existence? Often, the background picture reveals as much, or more, about the content. I’m somewhere in the middle of being a panster and a planner. Titles usually hit me about a quarter of the way through, so my working titles are the first name of the protagonist.