Friday, January 14, 2011

What's in a title? (reprise)

Many of you have heard me lament on Twitter about the novel formerly known as Hellbent, and many of you have asked about the new title. Though Hellbent was a very fitting title for the third book in the Personal Demons trilogy, I came up with it before I knew for sure where the book was going, so changing it is not the end of the world. Now that I have a working draft, and know the end, I’ve come up with some others I like. They all have their issues, though, so I’m going to wait till I know what sticks to announce it. In the meantime, keep the suggestions coming. Some suggestions I’ve gotten, though not perfect for the title, are being used for chapter headings. If you’ve read Personal Demons, you know I title every chapter, and it’s always something Heaven/Hell/angel/demon related. Every chapter heading is fresh (never reused) so, for the three books, I need at least 70 unique chapter titles. I’m always happy for the suggestions.

So, as I’m still madly revising the novel formerly known as Hellbent, for my post today, I’m rerunning a post from last January about titles and coming up with the perfect one. Here goes:

Titles can be really easy or insanely hard, I’ve discovered. Sometimes there’s a word or phrase that perfectly captures the essence of your literary masterpiece. And, if you’re really lucky, it just pops into your head one day. That was the case for me with Personal Demons (which, at the moment, looks like it's going to stick) and book 2 in the series, Original Sin. (I think they came from Orlando--my Muse.) I had to work a little harder for book 3, which at the moment carries a working title of Hell-bent. (still not sure about that one)

But what do you do when the perfect title doesn’t come? What if your perfect title is already taken? And, does it even matter?

My personal take, having been through the whole agent/editor thing, it that a catchy title can go a long way to capturing the “right” peoples’ attention. You want something intriguing and in tune with the spirit of your book. If you’ve written a cute and innocent coming of age story, you don’t want some racy title. If your book is humorous, try to reflect that. For darker works of fantasy, find a darkish title.

I find phrases and concepts in music and on street signs…sometimes where I least expect them. If you’re really struggling, listen to your favorite songs, paying attention to the lyrics, or go on B& and browse titles that are already out there. You may find a keyword or idea that sparks your perfect title.

And along those lines, if your perfect title has already been used, I say use it anyway. (Unless it’s already been OVER used, or is Twilight) If the other book is older, or in a completely different genre, you can sometimes get away with duplicate titles. That’s really up to your publisher to decide. So don’t shortchange your book in the query and submission process by settling for a less than perfect title just because someone beat you to it.

That said, don’t get too attached to your title, because it frequently changes once you have an editor and is on its way to publication.

Some titles I think do a great job of catching interest and conveying the flavor of the book:
I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
If I Stay by Gayle Foreman
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

What titles are you thinking about for your WIP? What are some of your favorites?


  1. Love this post. The tone/flavor is so important to me. Some ones I've loved recently (titles, not necessarily books) are HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS, A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT, BACKSEAT SAINTS...

    My book is MERCY, which I called it just to have something, but it seems to really suit it. Everyone loves it, but we agree it's not catchy enough. I have some thoughts. (As you can see I prefer long titles, so....)

  2. Titles vex me. Honestly. And while they can magically appear at any random moment, I hate having an untitled project or a title that doesn't work. It really bugs me until I get something I like so until the magic moments comes I'm left feeling irksome. I had one novel that I called Hero for awhile because I just couldn't think of anything better. Thankfully I found a title during a random time when the internet wasn't working. Standing Ground is a much better title for the novel.

    Good luck with the novel and the title.

  3. Mine? Where Demons Dwell, though I think it's sucky. Before I submit it, I'll change it.

  4. I love Melissa Marr's titles. They are so perfect for the books and they are different to everything else. I like oxymorons apparently. I hat making up my own titles though. I am a perfectionist and I will wait forever until the perfect title comes to me.

  5. I too always think its relly hard titling something you wrote and alway feel like "oh could there be a better name"?

  6. I just changed my first WIP to TWO PINK LINES. I think you immediately know what it's about.