Monday, October 8, 2012

On Titling Your Manuscript

I was going to hold a poll on what the title for my current WIP should be, but then I decided I already knew the answer.

Sludge has now been re-titled The Taste of Angels.

This has, however, gotten me to thinking about titles. How do people generally name their books? Sometimes I know the title immediately (like with FOLLOWED BY FROST), other times I'm not sure what to call the book until much later, and I finally get a title by keeping a list of ideas (as with CITY OF TEETH.) The latter is generally how I name all my books--it takes a lot of time and jotting down of key words.

So, what goes into a title?

Obviously, you want a title that reflects the story, but one that really slaps a person in the face. That makes them think, "Oh, I want to read that." Like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. I dare you to tell me that, the first time you heard that title, you didn't do a double-take.

Then there are the titles that sound nice. The alliteration in Glamor in Glass is quite pretty. Or the poetry of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

A new trend I've noticed in titles is creating a new word that has a pleasant ring to it, such as in Everneath or Warbreaker.

Another element I like in titles is when they include something that jars you a little. Titles that sound just a little creepy, like The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Anna Dressed in Blood, or Feed.

Another tactic is creating a title that makes others ask questions--questions that can only be answered by reading the book itself. The Girl who Circumvented Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. What is fairyland, and how did she make the ship? I am NOT a Serial Killer. Why does the protagonist feel he needs to defend himself? What makes him like a serial killer?

One of my favorites are titles that you don't fully understand until you've read part or all the book, such as Fools Crow.

On the other side of the coin, there are the overdone titles. In my opinion, this is anything that includes "The Chronicles of" and similar, or the protagonist's name. I feel like the protagonist's name better be freaking important to the story to be the title (like in The Wizard of Earthsea, not that Le Guin used the main character's name as a title).

And then there are bad titles. The first that comes to mind is A Night of Blacker Darkness (Dan Wells). Good book, but the title doesn't match the story or the tone whatsoever. Believe it or not, that book is actually quite comical.

And, just in case you are in the midst of naming a book, I'm including a couple of good links. One has the neat idea of researching on Amazon for titles, while the other suggests starting with your outline and perusing the box office.

How do you title a book? What titles do you love or hate?


  1. I'm not good at titles so generally I keep a list of suggestions or phrases that jump out of the MS at me that might work. Then I think about it a lot and let the titles sort themselves out until one stays in my mind when the rest are gone. It takes forever.

  2. A Night of Blacker Darkness is meant to be a comical title. Dan basically used the same word three times. It's funny. But I get what you're saying.

    I have always struggled with titles. I've only ever come up with one that was good, and it was the inventing a new word type like Warbreaker. Most editors will want to make suggestions anyway, so I don't think titles are particularly important. I find cover art much more of a draw to me than a title.

  3. When I started querying, my book had a completely different title. After revisions, I found this website: The Lulu Titlescorer. You enter the title and other information about the book, and it rates it on how well it might sell. I played around with ideas until it gave me "bestseller" status! :D

    The second novel in the series just about titled itself. So did the third, which I'm writing at the moment. I still don't like the second title as much, but I'm waiting to see what my CP's think. :D

  4. I'm really bad at titling my stories, so I tend to have to make several attempts along my drafting process before I hit upon one I like.

    "The Miller's Daughter" became "Songbird's Choice" because it better reflected the story itself, and it isn't as, well, boring, though it's still quite literal.

    "Of Gods & Witches" became "God's Arrows" because it fits the story better and isn't as boring. I guess my trend is to tinker with what fits the story better and isn't as literal or as boring. *amused* Though my titles still tend to be on the literal side, rather than the figurative.

    "Starspun" is still my favorite title, of the ones I've come up with.

    And yeah, I try to do an Amazon search to see if my idea is already taken by a dozen other authors.

    The title I'm currently chewing on is "Prettier than Fey," which is a translated title/name for "Plus Belle que Fée," a French fairytale. Trying to figure out how the title tastes in English, that sort of thing.

  5. With short stories, often the title is the focus for the story and is deterined while the outlining of ideas takes place.

    With novels, it is sometimes like that, but usually I know for sure once the first draft is nearly complete--if the working title will stick or if it will be altered. Some of this is influenced by my publisher, of course, as we hammer out the final title for a work.

  6. First off, I love your new title :) I almost always use the keyword method, and come up with something catchy that represents the tone of my book.

  7. Wow! Great post! And you've come up with some amazingly fabulous titles! Seriously fabulous. You should offer your services to people. Like me. :)

  8. I went the way of making up a new word for Neverlove. For a few of my other WiPs, I tried to work around one-word or short phrase wording to come up with the tile, but always something that can work around defining something important about the novel.

  9. I've mentioned around blogland that titles are my first step to writing something new - they set the tone and style of the novel/short story. I find it hard to start writing without a title - for me it's like naming a child, once the title is set I couldn't contemplate changing it... well, not until a publisher wants to change it for me!