Titles that Titillate (or something like that)

18/03/11 12:32 PM

Some of you may know that I’m a freelance copywriter (Copy Bitch) by day. My so-called specialties include writing taglines, punchy headlines, and pithy ad copy. I’m fast. Churning out pith is easy for me. Unless, of course, it involves titling my novel.

For some reason, titling my short stories hasn’t been an issue. Maybe it’s easier for me to see the title in shorter pieces. But my novel? Heck, this thing has gone through no fewer than four titles in ten years.

Titles, like cover art, are a big deal because they’re often a reader’s first introduction to the book. In my mind, effective book titles must:

  • Capture a person’s attention
  • Capture a person’s imagination
  • Be memorable
  • Tell a story without giving away the whole story
  • Work with the cover art, not compete with it
  • Did I mention be memorable?

In this digital age, it also helps if the title you choose doesn’t compete with phrases that already have a ton of indexed pages on Google or that already exist in, say, the Amazon store. So originality should also be part of the list, even though you know what they say about originality — there’s no such thing.

Brevity is important as well. Looking at the top 20 on Kindle, I’m seeing three with one-word titles (Unbroken, Switched, Killer) and most of the rest are two- or three-word titles (Saving Rachel, Water for Elephants). The one exception on length is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (which I think is a great title and, of course, is consistent with the whole “The Girl Who…” brand).

So how did I finally come up with Forgotten April for my book (cover art to the right)? It kind of just hit me after much stressing and much brainstorming (some of which I did with my fab copy editor). When I wrote it for the first time, I had an a-ha moment: That’s it, I thought. I hadn’t felt that way with any of my other titles. Why was I so sure about this one? Well, the title has double meaning, one that will be obvious early on and another that will be revealed towards the end. Double meaning is something I appreciate in a title (obviously not all titles are going to have it, but for this book it makes sense).

Oh, and in case you’re curious as to the other titles I’d used, here they are (and most of ’em are stinkers):

  • The Lucky Ones Die
  • Permission to Be
  • Petrichor
  • Truth (Lost & Found)

How do you come up with titles? Share in the comments.

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Posted by Robyn | in Self publishing | 5 Comments »

5 Comments on “Titles that Titillate (or something like that)”

  1. Ghenet Says:

    The title of my WIP has a double meaning too! It took me a while to come up with it but it fits my story well. I know authors who go the traditional publishing route sometimes have to change their titles, based on feedback from their editor, marketing or sales. I agree that a good title is memorable so I hope mine is.

  2. Michael Offutt Says:

    I try to find one word that best summarizes what is going on in the book. However, I don’t pay attention to whether or not the title has been used in previous incarnations put out by Hollywood or other books. I figure I don’t really care and that it’s okay to name something even if that name is not original.

  3. Mary McDonald Says:

    I had such a hard time coming up with a title for my first book, No Good Deed and I’m still not happy with it. However, it’s selling pretty well, so I won’t change it. It’s too generic, there are too many books already with the title and while it totally fits the story, it just doesn’t have the punch I’d like. Alternate names wer The Right to Dream, Enemy Combatant, Shades of Gray. The Right to Dream fit perfectly, but sounded too much like a romance. Enemy Combatant would have turned off women readers, and Shades of Gray is even more generic than No Good Deed. *sigh*

    Second book’s title just came to me as I listened to The Impossible Dream. March Into Hell has punch, flair and I haven’t found another book with the same name. I even found a great pic for the cover.

    I’m writing a third book in the series, and I’m already dreading finding a title for it. It should be three words due to the cover art in the series.

  4. Robyn Says:

    @ghenet — that’s cool! I hope you get to keep the title you came up with.

    @michael — I’d never considered the issue about titles with competing names until I read an article (can’t remember where now) that mentioned it’s a good idea to consider how many titles you’ll be competing with when someone starts typing in yours in, say, the Amazon store. And ditto if someone puts it in Google. I was surprised it had never occurred to me, considering I write SEO (search engine optimized) copy as part of my day job…while I wouldn’t rule out using a title due to SEO issues, it doesn’t hurt to consider it.

    @mary — I was sitting here going, “Why does ‘No Good Deed’ sound familiar?” and then I realized a guy in my writers group has a WIP with that name! I like the name, but I definitely hear where you’re coming from re: the competition. I also like “March into Hell” — definitely grabs my attention (just checked out the cover art as well, and it looks great and goes with it — definitely has me curious…a good thing!). Good look with naming the third book.

    Thanks all for leaving comments! 🙂

  5. Dawn Says:

    Ah petrichor. Does sound slightly jurassic in hindsight. The lucky ones die….that sounds familiar. Why? Forgotten April makes me want to know what was forgotten and why.