While complaining on Twitter lately about my lack of ideas for blog posts, a friend suggested I write something about coming up with titles. “Good idea!” I said and then I sat back and though but I’m awful with titles. Damn. Therefore, I turned to my fellow authors and asked how they went about picking titles for their works and whether they thought the title was as important or more so than the cover that will accompany the story. Here’s what they had to say!
Jon Gibbs author of Fur-Face:
I’m absolutely dreadful at coming with a good title once I have the story idea in my head, so these days I now begin the whole novel-writing process with the title, rather than a character or story idea.
Both my current WiPs, Abraham Lincoln Stole my Homework, and Dead Doris, began life that way, as did Barnum’s Revenge (the sequel to Fur-Face).
Patricia Lynne author of Being Human and Snapshots:
All my titles are pure luck. Usually a word or phrase pops out while I’m writing and it fits the story.
When it comes to reading, titles aren’t as important. I can read a book with a weird or bad title if the story sounds interesting enough. Weird/bad titles just make me wonder what they were thinking when they came up with it.
Pavarti K Tyler author of The Sandstorm Chronicles, Two Moons of Sera and Consumed by Love:
I like titles that set the tone of the book. I absolutely buy books based on the title, just like I buy books based on the cover. It’s marketing 101, the first thing people hear is your title! For Shadow on the Wall, the title refers to something that’s in the epilogue so it takes a while for the reader to get it. It’s a superhero novel, so the idea of slinking around like a shadow works, until you get to the epilogue, then you’re like oh shit! That’s what this means! I get it now!
Two Moons of Sera was a spark of genious, no real though process. I loved her name and I started writing and when the idea of having 2 moons came to me the title just struck me, it set the tone of it being a fantasy romance.
White Chalk also sets the mood of the piece. It’s a Lolita-esque piece and the relationship is a 13 year old girl and a teacher. Chalk is such a sensory thing, the feel of it, the sound against the chalkboard, the taste of it’s dust. It’s bitter and dry and not pleasant but also strangely innocent. Indicating that the chalk is white also brings in a sense of innocence, but also has a kind of foreboding, most chalk is white, why specify?
Naming a book is tricky. I usually have a few working titles until I settle on the right one, its good to take some time and find what really evokes the emotion you want the reader to feel. That way they have a sense of what they’re getting into.
Karen Pokras Toz author of the Nate Rocks series and Millicent Marie is Not my Name:
My titles always come first for me. With Nate Rocks, I knew I wanted a name where the last name is also a verb so I could add to it depending on the book (ie… Nate Rocks the World, the Boat, the City, etc). With Millicent Marie Is Not My Name, the title came to me in the shower (as did the basic story line) & I just went with it from there. Come to think of it, I think the name Nate Rocks came to me in the shower, too. No wonder my water bill is so high – well at least I’m clean :)
James Crawford author of the Leech series:
I was trying to find my list for some examples but Im unorganized and can’t find the note book. My titles come after the storys first or second draft. As I’m writing I write a list of possible titles as they come to me. For Caleo I think it was a list of 12 possible choices. The Angel, Leech, Leeching are some of the ideas. In the end I went with the best idea I have ever had and let my mother pick. My second title ‘Jack’ was an easy choice for the second book in the series.
Marie Landry author of Blue Sky Days, Undressed and The Game Changer:
For me, the title is usually one of the hardest parts of writing. With my first and second novels, the titles came to me first and I went from there, but that’s rare. With my third novel, I’m still wavering on the title, which is the reason I haven’t announced it or finished the cover. With book #4, my NaNoWriMo project, I don’t even have a working title – it just won’t come to me. Sometimes a phrase from the story or a certain scene will inspire the title. Other times, I’ll work with the theme of the book and pull something from there.
Now from a reader’s perspective, I think the title is very important. You have two chances to initially grab a reader – the title and the cover. A title needs to get my attention or intrigue me in some way to make me pick up a book. A bad title won’t stop me from reading a book, but if I’m randomly scanning shelves at the library or bookstore, I’m always drawn to interesting or clever titles.
Emlyn Chand author of the Farsighted series, Torn Together and the Bird Brain Books:
Okay, so I need a title before I can even start writing a story. I like to be able to weave in the meaning as much as I can. The titles of Farsighted and Open Heart came to me straight away and each has many layers of meaning, which readers have noted. Farsighted is about a blind psychic who doesn’t always interpret his life correctly (it’s all blurrified, if you will). Open Heart relates to the chakras and being willing to love as well as sensitivity and clairsentience.
On the other hand, my novel Torn Together went through several title changes. When I wrote it, I called it Iron Pillar to play on the Indian connection and reflect the story’s symbolism as well as its turning point. My literary agent changed it to Trick of Fate to play up the love story and the whole destiny angle. When I decided to publish with Evolved Publishing and end my contract with my agent, the title was changed again. My editor and cover artist thought I needed to emphasize the mother-daughter story and the women’s fiction angle. Since the daughter is an artist and the mother an avid reader, they both had paper in common. Paper tears, just like relationships–and so there you go :)
As for myself, it’s a rare occasion that I have a title before I start writing. I may come up with it within the first chapter, but more often than not I decide on something at the end of the process. If I do pick a title early on, it isn’t uncommon for me to change it when I finish with the story either. I sometimes feel I need a title, just something, before I can go on writing but when the story is over I look back and think Ugh! Worst title ever! Sometimes I will ask my beta readers what they think about title ideas I have. It’s nice since they’ve read the story to give me input on what they think works and what doesn’t.
While I have heard that if you’re going the traditional route for publishing that there’s a very good chance the publisher will want to change your title, I think it’s important to have something interesting and eye catching to help you snag that agent in the first place.
Here are a couple of good articles on the importance of having a good title:
If you’re an author, how do you come up with your titles?
If you’re a reader, how important is the title when it comes to you picking up the book?