Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
A single word as a book’s title is all the rage. But do they work?
Here are a few books populating current best-seller lists:
In nonfiction–Originals, Gratitude, Quiet, Outliers, Service, Imagine, Bombshell, Unbroken, Screwed!, Bossypants, Fervent, Audacious
Children’s Picture Books–Bumble-Ardy
Middle Grade–Pax, Wonder, Crenshaw, Chomp
Young Adult–Passenger, Ascend, Destined, Insurgent, Divergent, Bitterblue
Note: I didn’t include titles that used an article, just single words.
I recently read an article in which the writer complained that single-word titles are relatively meaningless and unimaginative.
Wouldn’t it be better to make your book stand out by giving it a more memorable title which didn’t seem like it was lifted from a dictionary of unusual words in a desperate attempt to sound unique? I love interesting words as much as the next person and I love to use them in stories but when I look at a shelf full of these single-word titles I find them rather formulaic.
As your eyes scanned the titles I listed above, did you slip into a mental haze? Or did you respond to titles differently–maybe Blue didn’t do much for you but Bitterblue intrigued you?
I do have to agree with the article writer when she said single-word titles within a series can sometimes become stretched to the imagination’s breaking point.
To make matters worse, all these books seem to have endless sequels, with increasingly nonsensical titles in an attempt to make them match.
One of my clients (Dani Pettrey) created a five-book “Alaskan Courage” romantic suspense series with one-word titles that each began with an “S.” I think these titles all worked (Submerged, Shattered, Stranded, Silenced, Sabotaged) because they each suited the story they were teamed up with and each cover was a strong reflection of the word. But Dani and her publisher agreed that her second series, “Chesapeake Valor,” would consist of two-word titles for each book. Being squeezed into having to come up with an “S” word that fit the tone of the series and each story-line was challenging work.
Nonfiction titles have the distinct advantage of the single word being followed by a subtitle, to give some definition and shape to what the book is about. For example: Service: A Navy SEAL at War or Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking make a great tag-team. The subtitle infuses the title with meaning.
But then, sometimes nonfiction titles don’t include a subtitle, as is the case with Gratitude. I didn’t immediately remember who the author was so the title holds neither attraction nor revulsion. Just indifference.
For fiction, the cover art has to do the filling in since there is no subtitle. Let’s take a look at a couple of one-word titles that seem obscure if they aren’t accompanied by their covers.
The concept of Passenger is beautifully conveyed in this YA book’s cover. We see a modern city in a bottle, like a tall ship created in a bottle and suggesting the worlds that ship has traveled to. The word “passenger” also is written in a formal script, which suggests another era. Through these graphic devices, we realize this is a time travel novel. Having to put those puzzle pieces together makes me want to pick up the book and find out more.
Brooklyn takes place in Ireland and Brooklyn during the 1950s and tells the story of a young immigrant to America. The cover readily conveys the era through the protagonist’s clothing, luggage, and the car. It fills in a number of blanks for the reader so you can decide if that era interests you.
Do you like one-word titles? What do you think they can convey more effectively than longer titles? What one-word titles have you especially enjoyed reading? Did the title entice you or put you off?
Can one-word book titles work? Click to tweet.
What makes a one-word title work–or not? Click to tweet.
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