Thursday, January 14, 2010

What's in a title?

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 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.) 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

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


  1. Great post! Some of my favorite titles: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (oh-so creative ;), Wintergirls, I Capture the Castle, The Devil Wears Prada. And, of course, Ally Carter has some serious title mojo going. All her books have fabulous titles.

  2. Thanks for this post. I hate, hate, hate having to come up with titles. I can never seem to think of anything other than one or two word titles and those are soooo ..... well overdone from what I've heard. :0)

  3. I've heard that to some people, titles come naturally, but somehow I don't have that gift :)

    I love Carrie Ryan's titles though - THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH and DEAD TOSSED WAVES - definitely eye/ear catching :)

    I also love Courtney Summers' titles - CRACKED UP TO BE and SOME GIRLS ARE - they just make me want to pause and see what they're all about :)

  4. Sarah--
    Devil Wears Prada! Great title!

    All my titles are two words...

    Courtney's titles are great and her books are better! =)

  5. I love this title: BREATHE MY NAME. The cover that goes with it is phenomenal.

    Thank you for this great post. I recently went through an intense 2am title-finding session. It started with a comment someone left on my blog, ended with an article on Pranayama. The result was the perfect title for my YA paranormal.

  6. Suzette--
    Yay! You never know where you'll find just the right thing.

  7. Bones of the Moon
    Dreams Underfoot
    Time Must Have A Stop
    Invitation to a Beheading
    The Vampire Tapestry

    Yup, all these books caught me just based on the title.

    BTW, you've got a great blog. Congrats on your success! (Suzette recommended I stop by and I'm glad I did!) :)