Seeing as how I’ve talked about chapter titles I figured I should talk about book titles, too. But, buggered if I know what to tell you. I’m terrible at titles! I’ve already mentioned they’re useful and that you definitely need one, but as to what it should be? Dunno.
I’ve heard that these are the sure fire ways to make a title:
- a phrase from the bible or Shakespeare or Yeats or some other well-known poet (best for your literary has-a-shot-at-the-Booker type novels)
- a line from a pop song or nursery rhyme (best for genre novels, particulary crime)
- The+concrete noun+of+abstract or proper noun (best for high fantasy, think The Lord of the Rings)
Anyone think of any title formulas I’m missing?
I can also point you to Diana Peterfreund’s recent posts about same, which are packed with info. I know lots of folks who imagine that the titles of books are always decided by their authors. As Diana explains, not always true. More often than not it’s the marketing department who has final say on the title. Best not to get too attached to whatever you’ve chosen to call your darling.
Sean P. Fodera explained a while back that calling your book Untitled is not the best way to go. I’d never even thought of the contracts side of things. I will now never call a book Untitled again.
Not that I ever have. I need to call my books something even if it’s as lame as The Fairy Novel. That’s because the great Australian feminist monkey knife-fighting mangosteen Elvis cricket young adult fairy novel is a bit of a mouthful. Yes, I have a weakness for joke titles. It is no accident that Magic Lessons and Magic’s Child were both originally called Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi!.
That said, titles are enormously important. A really fabbie title—A Great and Terrible Beauty anyone?—can get people to pick up a book who otherwise mightn’t.
On the other hand, titles don’t matter at all. Lots of books with truly dreadful titles (no, I’m not going to name any) have done incredibly well. Many agents have taken on clients despite the woeful titles of their books. Many books have been written without titles, and many others haven’t gotten their proper final title until the very last minute. Magic’s Child was written with a different title that we all deemed too spoilerific. My Brazilian contract for the book is under that title.
And, of course, a title that you originally thought was completely naff starts to grow on you as you begin to love the book. Fortunately, this also applies to songs, bands and people.