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Titles that Titillate (or something like that)

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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