Blogger: Etta Wilson
Location: Books & Such Office, Nashville
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How many words should a title have? Well, that depends on a lot of things, but subtitles often carry the freight of conveying the content while the title conveys the tone and style. The length of a title also depends on the age group of the audience. The board book is one format we can count on to have a short title with subtitles seldom used. Probably the tastes of the publisher’s staff will affect the length of a book’s title.
Publishers try to avoid a title being used on another book currently being sold, which means it helps for an author to have done some title research before submitting. There are slips, of course. I notice two new works with the title Home, one by Marilynne Robinson (a novel) and one by Julie Andrews (a memoir). Both of these books would gain a ready audience, and neither publisher would care to have a potential reader confused.
Every once in a while, a book with a really long title gains a big following, such as All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum, and the juvenile title The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Note that these long titles start with the letter “A,” which would place them near the top of alphabetical lists and ordering forms. Anybody think of other well-known longish titles?
A short book title might be valuable if a movie adaptation is contemplated. I notice that movies rarely have long titles, probably because of the marquee space limitations and small type used in print ads for multi-plex theaters. Sometimes the recognition factor is too important to overlook. Can you imagine a movie of The Shack being called anything else?
Here’s a tip from our client and novelist Gayle Roper: Whether long or short, use the title of your book(s) at every opportunity. Amen to that!
Teri D. Smith
“A Woman After God’s Own Heart” is a fairly long title. Then “Fireproof” is short.
I was at the Christian Book Expo in Dallas where author Deeanne Gist gave a presentation on what happens after you sign a contract. She mentioned that she never liked the title of her first book “A Bride Most Begrudging”. When people would ask her the title of her book, they’d looked puzzled when she told them. She even tried to emphasize different words in the title to see if it helped. It didn’t.
I guess the sound of the title when spoken aloud should come into play here.
Great post. Titles always get me. I hear most publishers change them when the book makes it to them, have you heard that as well?
Great point, Teri, and one I didn’t mention. We should read our titles out loud just as we should our mss.
Lynn, I hadn’t heard that, but sometimes publishers have to change titles for a variety of reasons–another book with a title too similar, another book on the market with the same title, etc., etc., and sometimes a publishing team is aware of titles that are attracting buyers at that point in time and they want to piggyback.