It is a well known fact in these times of the indie author that a kick-ass book cover goes a long way. It is also common knowledge that a kick-ass title is just as important. The cover will be the first image many potential readers see if they’re browsing Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter et al, but how about if they’re looking at something without pictures, like a blog for example? That’s when a really punt-bottom title comes into its own.
A few months ago I wrote a post about naming characters, which in itself can be the real ball ache. But how about coming up with a title for this masterpiece you’ve spent months and months (and years?) slaving over? It can be quite a challenge, not as difficult as the actual writing, but a tough job nonetheless.
For a short story writer it may be easier to come up with a title, as they write more shorties than longies so have had a lot of practice of title brainstorming. Although I’d say the title for a longer piece is more important, as it stands alone and needs to incorporate the elements of the story into a few choice words. What I mean is, a short story called Dead is a lot easier to get away with than a novel with the same title.
I suppose it’s like coming up with song titles as opposed to an album title. The songs speak for themselves while the album needs the songs to speak for it.
So how do you come up with a book title? Well unfortunately this post won’t explain it all in minute detail (but you weren’t thinking it would, were you?) but I’ll share some of my thoughts on the whole process and you can decide yourself how helpful I actually am.
Use a Place Name. Naming the book after the setting is one way to go, supposing that your novel takes place in one main location that is. Of course you need the place to have a cool or mysterious name, calling your book Bognor Regis or Smethwick just isn’t going to cut it. How about Everville or Weaveworld (to use a couple of Clive Barker examples), or Neverwhere, or Skullcrack City? All of these sound intriguing, and that’s what you want to people to think when they hear your title. Just make sure that this fictional place you create is as interesting as the title suggests it is.
Name it After a Character. This would probably be the protagonist, but if your hero is called John Smith then you may have to look elsewhere. You could change your character’s name, although this would be annoying to alter in a manuscript. I believe Charles Dickens came up with a few memorable character-name titles.
Describe the Mood of the Book in a Few Words. Chances are, when writing a novel, you have an idea about the ‘feel’ of the piece. Whether this is something you planned on at the beginning or whether it evolved into this living, breathing literary entity that evokes a certain kind of emotional response. Can you sum this feeling up? You can? Maybe you’ve got a title then.
Name it After a Villain. This is kind of similar to a previous point I know. But if your novel is centred around a villain or a hideous monster then it may be wise to name the whole thing after them/it (not It, though, that’s been taken, and you probably would find it hard to write a story that’s better than Steve’s). Dracula and Frankenstein are two obvious ones here, no potential reader would pick either of these up if they were called… erm, what were the protagonists’ names in them again?
Use an Awesome Quote or Piece of Dialogue. I think there was a Family Guy episode where Peter mentioned how there’s a big ‘ahhhh’ moment when a movie mentions its title (know the one?). How many books have you read where you really can’t see why they’ve been titled as they have, only for a character to utter the name of the book towards the end? You want examples I suppose? OK, I can’t think of many, but a recent great read of mine, The Rib From Which I Remake The World, fits into this category. And if you have an awesome title before you even start writing, that doesn’t fit in with the aesthetic of the book, just have someone say it for the hell of it.
Avoid Cliches. You know what I’m getting at. The Revenge of the something, The something Returns, and so on (although there’s a definite Star Wars link there isn’t there?). The only way these might work is by using that awesome character/villain/place name you came up within a seemingly cliché title. The Fall of John Smith from Bognor Regis may need a rethink.
Use a Clever Title That Has Different Meanings. Can you think of a super-brutal title that describes the story, but when a reader finishes and looks back at the cover with a sense of accomplishment, they then view the title differently? Does the title now bring fresh meaning and hint at something much deeper that’s suggested in the narrative? That’s a tough one to pull off. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Aletheia, House of Leaves; there’s three for you.
Keep it Short. Nothing is more off-putting than a title that allows nothing else on the cover than the words themselves. It can look cool, but when the cover looks like a random page from inside the book, you probably want to scale down on the length. It’s also confusing to remember, and this leads on to the next point.
Make it Easily Pronounceable. You don’t want people to rave about your book then, when someone asks them what it’s called, have them scratching their head and mispronouncing it. This will result in people either muttering ‘that sounds shit,’ or have them struggling to find it online. Plus, it will inevitably annoy you when people start calling it by something it’s not. Like when someone doesn’t pronounce a band name correctly.
Get on That Google. It takes no time at all to quickly check whether that amazingly original title you’ve come up with has been done before. Having a title that is unlike any other book available is an advantage, however slight. But Google will also warn you whether that mysterious band of aliens in your book actually share the name with a small dildo manufacturer, for example.
I hope these points will help you when deciding what to name your word-baby when it is unleashed upon humanity. I’m sure most of these you will have considered anyway, but now you’ll be thinking over them again. See? It’s very clever when you think about it.
Thanks for reading.
Photo on Visual Hunt
Photo on Visualhunt.com