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Author Resource Round Table > How hard is it to find a title?

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message 1: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Hill | 59 comments Finding the right title for your book can be among the most important but elusive aspects of a writer's life. At least it is in my experience, and I often wonder if other authors feel the same?

Sometimes it's easy. A phrase ... an unusual word you come across, may not only trigger the idea for a story, but stay from the outset as the title of the work. Occasionally it will emerge from story itself as it evolves on the page. But at other times it can be the very devil to come up with a title that has some resonance, market appeal and gives a fair indication of the book’s theme.

Some people say that a good title doesn’t matter: that a successful book will make a successful title. Who would have thought, for example, that a play called As You Like It would prove a winner? It might have worked for Shakespeare; but for most of us a good title – like a good cover – is a matter of some significance in a crowded market.

A few years ago, with a novel about Captain James Cook's famous 'Endeavour' voyage of 1768-71, we got almost to the end of production before we found the right title. And it's been much the same with the present work in progress, though I'm happy to say I didn't have to wait almost until the death knock.

The story is a long saga involving an Australian soldier-settler family spanning two generations: First War – Between the Wars – Second War. For a long time I called it "Aftermath". The word is reasonably good on the ear and tongue; it has a military connotation; and goes to the theme of the book, which concerns the long-term effects of the Great War on the returned soldiers and their families.

It doesn't exactly grab the imagination however. So for the next draft I called it "Sacrifice". Pretty dramatic and relevant. Which I thought to improve by calling it "Blood Sacrifice" at one point. Until a friend pointed out it sounded like a vampire novel.

Even so, "Sacrifice" said nothing about the family's love of farming and the countryside, which is a significant part of the story. Indeed, as their farm was very close to our house, one of the aims has been to express my own love of the land where I live.

Well, I'd just finished the book when the title came to me. It was there in the last line. The story ends by talking about how much has changed in the landscape. Streets and houses and suburbs now spread across what was once farmland. But beyond them are the enduring mountains. So that not just for the family 'but for all who with love of country lift their gaze it may be said...' and I conclude with a valedictory verse for prisoners of war thinking of their country and of "gum trees nodding under azure skies."

I looked at the words, and the thought suddenly came. "For Love of Country". Of course that's the title! The reason soldiers volunteer for war. It can be found on their gravestones around the world. And in the hearts of those who remember them. It’s also there throughout the story … but I’d been too blind to see. What do they say about woods and trees…?


message 2: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 361 comments I wrote an entire article on this subject. It is on the SFWA page, here:
http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/the-theor...


message 3: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 276 comments sometimes good titles are hard to come by. i thought i had a good one with "chain reaction" until i found how common it was -_-. it was the best i could come up with for the nature of the story... it was a hard one to title anyway...


message 4: by Victoria (new)

Victoria Zigler (toriz) | 2856 comments Sometimes a title jumps out at me early enough that it even makes it among the notes I make when I'm jotting down the idea. Sometimes it's when I open a new document to start working on a certain idea that the title comes to me. Other times the title changes several times while I'm writing, or I'll have a couple of titles in my mind that would work well so have to decide between them, and the story's almost ready to publish before I finally settle on a title. A few times I've actually had no idea what to call a book until the last possible moment, and the document I was writing it in ended up being called "new story" or something lame like that until shortly before publication.

When it comes to my stories, some of my titles just describe the main character (e.g. "Frank The Friendly Ogre" and "Witchlet") and others describe the main theme of the events in the story (e.g. "Kero Goes Walkies" and "The Great Tadpole Rescue").

When it comes to my poetry books, they're mostly the title poem followed by "and other poems" apart from the ones with poetry for my pets, which I intentionally did the titles different for so as to distinguish them from my other poetry books.

If I'm trying to decide between a couple of titles, and both would work equally well, I'll do a book search for each of them and go with the one that brings up the least results in the search.


message 5: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 361 comments Yes, it is always worth shoving your grand inspiration into the search window at Amazon or google, and seeing what pops up. If there are already 15 books with a very similar title, it's a sign to move on, these are not the droids you are looking for.


message 6: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 2165 comments I used to write poems all the time without giving them titles. Most recently I will come up with titles before I even get started writing on something. For instance, I came up with the title of my upcoming fourth book Opium Warfare before I started writing or had any idea of what I wanted to write about. This has been the case as well with poems and short stories although sometimes I change the title as either a better one comes to mind or I feel it needed a change.

Titles can be decided before or after you've written something although if you have an idea for a great story sometimes a title just isn't there right away and that's totally fine. I always say it's best to try and stay away from titles that have not only already been done but have been done excessively. Sometimes adding another word either in front or after a word for a title can make it unique and reasonable to use. For example, there's a lot of books called Blood Vengeance oddly enough, so perhaps making Blood into Bloody and adding Savage would make a more unique title in Bloody Savage Vengeance. Again only an example. Another way to come up with a title is to think of what the books about then instead of using a common phrase or word maybe look up in in a thesaurus about different words that mean the same thing. This way you not only stay away from cliche titles but you've got your own original one as well.


message 7: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 276 comments lolz when i wrote chain reaction the local library didnt have access to internet (then provided by compuserve prodigy and the like). also quite expensive on a 28 baud modem. so i didnt have the luxury of looking it up on altavista or ask jeeves lolz. now i can see if other books share the same title and i go back to the idea board...


message 8: by Tommy (last edited Jan 30, 2015 10:13PM) (new)

Tommy Walker (tommywalker) | 12 comments I had two working titles go out the window...

1) The Virgin Gary, and
2) Monstrous: The Spiritual Autobiography of a Would-Be Serial Killer

...before I found artistic perfection with

3) Monstrous: The Autobiography of a Serial Killer but for the Grace of God

Unfortunately, it sucks commercially, because it gets salivated over from readers whose attention spans tap out on 'Killer', and who experience the words 'Serial Killer' as jumping out at them. They buy the book and trash me because they never get on board with my vision, never see how quiet my subtitle simultaneously is. It's the autobiography of a nondescript yahoo just like yourself, and nothing I said contradicts that.

I had a writer's group moderator who suggested I go with "The Hourglass", as there is a foundational hourglass analogy made early in the book. Whatever my choice, her larger concern was that I not give (what she took to be) my subject matter away. But whereas she saw the book as a story, which it is, I see it almost as a forensic psychology textbook. There are people getting murdered every day, so why hide from law enforcement the best book they could ever pick up to get a sense of how a guy like me thinks?


message 9: by Ken (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) I have to admit that the title of my current book was inspired by a classic book of another genre. I did a search and found that no one had used any obvious permutations of the title, so I used it. For that reason, and because of the praise and high ratings I've seen from readers, I finally put To Kill a Mockingbird on my to-read list.


message 10: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Hill | 59 comments Thanks for such interesting and informed contributions to this discussion.

It does sometimes happen with me that the title will some before the story. The novella "Spindrift" is a case in point. A book I was reading talked about "the spindrift of the past." What a great word! I thought. What a nice title. What does it mean? And from that enquiry and a combination of memory, dream and anecdote I developed a story about the sea and the death of a loved grandmother.

But I have to say that doesn't happen often to me, and titling continues a tricky problem.

In Australia (and I assume elsewhere) there is no copyright in titles. In 1988 two books were published here called "My Place," one by Nadia Wheatley, the other by Sally Morgan. Each author was unknown to the other. But both books went on to become classics of their kind. It shows how important it is to find the right, resonant title – and that confusion with another, or similar, title is not necessarily a barrier to commercial and artistic success.

http://www.anthonyhillbooks.com


message 11: by L.A. (new)

L.A. Ramirez | 8 comments I struggled with that for a long time. I had a working title, and one I wanted to use but worried about 'copyright' issues. I discovered the name I had wasn't out there.

I looked into it, and slept on it, and worried. In the end the one I wanted is the one I kept. But, through the book I had my first editor (I was self-publishing so she was hired by me) who took so much out of the book, leaving nothing in there related to the title.

I wouldn't budge.

I found a new editor.

She brought that up immediately. She said the book (Big Sky Siren, Book 1 of the Big Sky Series) didn't relate to the title enough.

I originally had the 'hero' thinking of the heroine often in goddess form. Just general when he thought of her (i.e. her looks), but the first editor took that out. She had also taken out anything related to the beautiful sky. The book takes place in Montana, and Montana is the Big Sky State. To us, the sky is always important. Both in views and in weather.

So with the second editor, I put back mentions of the sky. I was two and a half years into this book and the rewriting of the hero were way too much and I was more concerned about adding back other things about him that had been edited out.

I did get the Domain names for Big Sky Series during all this so I can eventually set the books up with their own web sight.

All the books in this series will start with Big Sky... To me it is like naming your animals. When the story starts to form, and you begin developing the characters, as you write the outline, it's a feel for what it is about.

I say go with your gut. I cannot say my book is jumping off the shelves, but I am okay with that. I'll keep working on the other three books slated for the series and do what marketing I can.

Never again will I allow an editor to take the 'flavor' of something out. For me, the title came from both the words "Big Sky" and "Siren". The essence of those words were where my title came from and that was important.


message 12: by Dwayne (new)

Dwayne Fry | 349 comments I honestly do not think too much about the title. My one and only rule is that I do not like titles that give away too much about the story. The less the better. The reason why is because I like doing stories with a lot of twists, turns and surprises. I don't want to give anything away and spoil the fun for the reader. So, "Mr. Meeker" (for example) is "Mr. Meeker". It's the name of the main character but gives nothing about the story away. The blurry flying saucer on the cover gives a bit away.

I'm sure it hurts my sales some as the titles are not sparkling and exciting, but eventually I will find my audience and eventually they'll get what I'm doing and won't be put off by a title that says almost nothing about the story.


message 13: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Hill | 59 comments I've just picked up some very interesting information via a similar discussion on Linked In. Apparently there is limited copyright in title given to books published in Germany, Switzerland, France and Austria, something I didn't know before. Here's the link: http://ruger-ip.com/downloads/titles_...

In England, America and other common law countries there is no copyright in titles, but I wonder if anyone knows whether there is copyright granted to book titles in other countries to those mentioned above.


message 14: by Gisela (new)

Gisela Hausmann | 182 comments Firstly I want to say, that I don't know how to pick a good title. I was told the best way to go is to test a title by running fb ads with various covers and titles just to see how people clicked on each one.

Forget that method! I tried it but not enough people clicked on the ads.

However, I managed to do one thing. I branded my books by giving them similar titles and creating a brand. That works very well for me.


message 15: by Jim (last edited Feb 23, 2015 05:10PM) (new)

Jim Vuksic | 1049 comments Although copyright law does not protect book titles in the United States, an author can protect the title of his book by filing an "intent to use" application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. However, an attorney will usually advise this only if the author plans to eventually expand the original work into a series. This standard application also contains a "grant of merchandise licensing rights" clause.


message 16: by Andrea (new)

Andrea Jackson (paperbackdiva) | 108 comments Tommy wrote: "I had two working titles go out the window..
1) The Virgin Gary, and
2) Monstrous: The Spiritual Autobiography of a Would-Be Serial Killer
..before I found artistic perfection with
3) Monstrou..."


This seems like a classic scenario of what you DON'T want the title to do.

I'm not good at choosing titles so I rely on critique partners and editors. That's not always ideal either...


message 17: by Dennis (new)

Dennis Kitainik I had a hard time coming up with a title for my first book: at first, I wanted to call it "Wings of Mercy" because it was about an air rescue mission, but then I decided it was too generic and better suited for the name of the series anyway (by the time I finished writing the book, I already decided to make it the first of a series). After that, I couldn't think of any other title for a long time, until I finally came up with "Higher than an Eagle" (after Bette Midler's hit song) -- which wasn't perfect, because the song was about love rather than about risking one's life, but at least it did have some connection with the book's subject matter because (1) much of the flight in my book takes place at high altitude to save fuel, and (2) an important subplot in my book has to do with the love between the surgeon and the pilot (who are husband and wife), and in particular with the pilot saving the surgeon's life when the parachute jump goes wrong. Anyway, beginning with this book, my MO has always been to borrow book titles from songs I know: the second book of my "Wings of Mercy" series (about an avalanche in the Rockies) will be titled "Roses in the Snow", the third one (about a flight around the equator, loosely based on Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days" and Amelia Earhart's posthumously-published "Last Flight") will be called "Travelling Light", and the fourth one (about a plane crash in the Arctic near the end of the winter) will be called "Here Comes the Sun".


message 18: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 361 comments I wrote an article for the SFWA Bulletin about the theory and practice of titles. Here is the link:
http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/the-theor...

I will add that you should always shove a title (and any neologisms, names you make up, etc.) through a search engine. If someone else has written a red-hot porn series with that title, you sorta kinda want to know.


message 19: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 276 comments so cool dennis


message 20: by Groovy (last edited Feb 24, 2015 11:49AM) (new)

Groovy Lee | 1 comments I agree with what everyone here says. Also, what Brenda said is so true. When you finally come up with a title, make sure someone else hasn't written a red-hot porn series with the same title.

My titles come in three ways: Before the story is written, something a character says in the book, or words from a song or movie that fits the book.

with my latest romance novel, I was going to name it--Wife for Hire. Then I Amazoned it and found at least five other books of the same name (one was quite erotic) So, the title became--As My Wife, referring to something one of the main characters said.

Also, Robin Thicke's song, Blurred Lines, inspired my latest suspense novel's title--Cause She's a Good Girl. I found that to be the perfect title because it fits not only the personality of the heroine, but why her life is spared by the killer while the other women she meets are not. This is usually how I get my titles.

I have a title that's been in my head for years that's inspiring another suspense novel I want to write. I can't wait to use it.


message 21: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Hill | 59 comments Thanks Brenda for the link ... and also for the advice. I'd not thought of any of my titles making a red hot porn series. But I'll bear it in mind!


message 22: by Michael (last edited Feb 27, 2015 03:14PM) (new)

Michael Puttonen (mput) | 37 comments I had no trouble naming my first novel. The title is eponymous, named for the book’s main character, Sanyel. I thought of calling it Fred but there are no characters named Fred in the book. Fred is a good name for a book, though. I’d be curious about a book named Fred. The name Fred elicits wonder. I wonder why the author called this book Fred. I wonder why I care so much that I will drop everything to read this book called Fred. Ahh, Fred…How empty the world would be if you had never been written! All authors should think about naming their next book Fred. I’d never read those books, of course, because despite its virtues, I weary of the name. That’s the main reason I named my book Sanyel. The other is that the book is about Sanyel and not Fred, who is not even a character in it, so Fred, why don’t you go jump in a…
(Disclaimer: Use of the name Fred is for entertainment purposes only. Any resemblance to any person, living, dead, or of the living dead, identified by the letters F, R, E, D, in that exact order is purely coincidental)


message 23: by Victoria (new)

Victoria Zigler (toriz) | 2856 comments Michael wrote: "I had no trouble naming my first novel. The title is eponymous, named for the book’s main character, Sanyel. I thought of calling it Fred but there are no characters named Fred in the book. Fred..."

LOL!


message 24: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 2165 comments What gets me is how I used to not give anything titles and now I title things before working on them.

I suppose the brain works in mysterious ways sometimes..least mine does.


message 25: by Theresa (new)

Theresa (theresa99) | 466 comments I always have trouble figuring out a title. A few came a little easier than others, but I still have working titles on a few even though they are pretty much finished, just because I cannot think of a better title!


message 26: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 361 comments I have great difficulty with title, which is why I wrote the article linked above. And I keep on writing books that I would like to recycle titles for. I've written at least three books for which REVISE THE WORLD would be a great title, but only one of them could have it.


message 27: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 361 comments Oh, and one other Google tip. Put the names of all your major characters through. You want to know if somebody with the same name as your hero has just been convicted for heinous crimes in Britain or Beijing. It is not necessarily bad, to have your hero named John Wilkes Booth. But you would like to know the historical implications of what you're doing.


message 28: by Jim (last edited Mar 05, 2015 12:30PM) (new)

Jim Vuksic | 1049 comments Michael exhibits a fantastic sense of humor in message 22 of this thread and communicates it extremely well in print. The humorous intent aside, he unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) supports a recommendation often found in books and seminars on writing, pertaining to creating a book's title - "Don't complicate the obvious; keep it simple." They strongly recommend creating a one-word title, if possible.

A few best-seller examples: Babbitt, Divergent, Transcendance, Mockingjay, Aztec, and Dust.


message 29: by Jaimee (new)

Jaimee I would agree with what everyone's said. I've had trouble coming up with titles for my stories.

Right now, I'm working on several books with very different plots, during different time periods, and in different countries, so for now I've just been calling them by the City's name that they're in. I will be getting more creative with titles later on though.


message 30: by Theresa (new)

Theresa (theresa99) | 466 comments Jaime wrote: "I would agree with what everyone's said. I've had trouble coming up with titles for my stories.

Right now, I'm working on several books with very different plots, during different time periods, a..."


You sound like me Jaime. The two novels that still have working names is titled "WWII" and "Elissa's Story" respectively. They need better titles, I know. LOl.


message 31: by Jaimee (new)

Jaimee Lol. Yes, I'm sure we'll both give our books better titles in the end, but right now we have to work with something. And I guess if we're not getting distracted by thinking up clever titles then we're actually writing, right? :)


message 32: by Dennis (new)

Dennis Kitainik "It is not necessarily bad, to have your hero named John Wilkes Booth." -- What if you named him Lee Harvey Oswald?


message 33: by Rory (new)

Rory | 104 comments This can be very hard. I struggle most of the time finding a title that is applicable to the story, will attract attention, and has not been over-used. But on my current book the working title came real easy. Book6 LOL Rory


message 34: by Amber (new)

Amber Foxx (amberfoxx) | 246 comments I almost always find a new title after I'm finished, even if I thought I had great working title. So now I'm working on something called Book Five. It will hatch a name once it's finished--I hope. We can't have such similar titles when we're done, Rory.


message 35: by Theresa (new)

Theresa (theresa99) | 466 comments Jaime wrote: "Lol. Yes, I'm sure we'll both give our books better titles in the end, but right now we have to work with something. And I guess if we're not getting distracted by thinking up clever titles then we..."

You would think that would be the case. Unfortunately, I spent a bunch of time fixing my car and stuff recently. I hope to get more revision/writing done soon.


message 36: by Theresa (new)

Theresa (theresa99) | 466 comments Amber wrote: "It will hatch a name once it's finished--I hope. We can't have such similar titles when we're done, Rory. ..."

Lol. I used to name my books that way, but then I would start confusing myself when I wasn't paying close enough attention and open the wrong book. Numbers and I don't get along very well.


message 37: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Hill | 59 comments I agree with the responses to Michael's comment. A fine piece of drollery. But it contains the seed of a further thought worth exploring: what if we titled our works for what they're NOT about? The UnTitanic? Not the Wars of the Roses? Fred, Prince of Denmark?


message 38: by Amber (new)

Amber Foxx (amberfoxx) | 246 comments Anthony--I sort of do that--calling my books what they're not. Not in the title, but in the tag line. "No murder, just mystery." I could do "paranormal, no vampires" too, but that doesn't have a good ring to it. :)


message 39: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Hill | 59 comments Actually 'No Vampires' might be a novel marketing strategy. The market is full of blood-sucking books at present. Replete, one might say.


message 40: by Ken (last edited Mar 07, 2015 06:22AM) (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) Anthony wrote: "Actually 'No Vampires' might be a novel marketing strategy. The market is full of blood-sucking books at present. Replete, one might say."

I'm sure hoping that's the case. Right in my "About The Author" bios I say up front, "I read and write classic SF, no zombies, no werewolves, no unexplainable things that go bump in the night." Just hope that works.


message 41: by Dennis (new)

Dennis Kitainik Ken wrote: "Anthony wrote: "Actually 'No Vampires' might be a novel marketing strategy. The market is full of blood-sucking books at present. Replete, one might say."

I'm sure hoping that's the case. Right i..."


Exactly! And not only is there a glut of vampires and paranormal stuff in general, but the readers are sick and tired of these kinds of books -- I've seen the book sales stats by genre for 2014, and the genres into which these books fit have seen THE BIGGEST drop in sales over the past year!


message 42: by D.S. (new)

D.S. Wrights (dswrights) this is an interesting question, because the title usually is the first thing I come up with...


message 43: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 2165 comments Sometimes if I come up with a good title I'll run it through Google and Goodreads to see what comes up. Especially if it's a common title that has likely been used over and over. In the event you use a title that's quite popular try to use another word similar or means the same thing or add another word in front of or after your original title.


message 44: by Anthony (last edited Mar 08, 2015 01:12PM) (new)

Anthony Hill | 59 comments Interesting comment from Dennis about the drop in vampire-paranormal genre books. My area is literary non-fiction, with an emphasis on Australian military history subjects. In recent years - and especially with the centenary of World War 1 upon us - the field has become so saturated that I've just finished what I expect will be my last military book.

It's partly a commercial decision, and partly an artistic one. I have nothing more to say about wars; and I suspect that after the interest peaks over the next few years, attention will turn elsewhere. The point being, I think, that writers must follow their own literary judgements and not just become slaves to market trends. www.anthonyhillbooks.com


message 45: by Jim (last edited Mar 08, 2015 01:37PM) (new)

Jim Vuksic | 1049 comments A literary trend, like any other, eventually runs its course. Even the most devout fan of a popular type of character or scenario will have their fill and tire of it at some point. The most successful writers foresee the demise of a popular trend, before it becomes apparent to others, and proceed to create the next one.


message 46: by Theresa (last edited Mar 08, 2015 05:24PM) (new)

Theresa (theresa99) | 466 comments Jim wrote: "A literary trend, like any other, eventually runs its course. Even the most devout fan of a popular type of character or scenario will have their fill and tire of it at some point. The most success..."

That is true. Some trends like vampires and zombies ebb and flow with time. It is just hitting the trend at the right time that is the problem. I was never really good at anticipating the next trend.


message 47: by Mary (new)

Mary Bey | 23 comments Anthony wrote: "Finding the right title for your book can be among the most important but elusive aspects of a writer's life. At least it is in my experience, and I often wonder if other authors feel the same?

So..."


Indeed, sometimes you know the title before you even start writing, sometimes it takes forever. Same with naming a character.


message 48: by Jim (last edited Mar 14, 2015 09:26AM) (new)

Jim Vuksic | 1049 comments Don't obsess over the title. Focus upon writing the book. By the time you're finished writing, you won't have to find the title; the title will have found you.


message 49: by Mary (new)

Mary Bey | 23 comments Jim wrote: "Don't obsess over the title. Focus upon writing the book. By the time you're finished writing, you won't have to find the title; the title will have found you."

Indeed, it comes naturally.


message 50: by Ken (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) While writing my last book a long list of titles came to me, and I wrote them all down. By the time I finished the book, I had discarded most of them, and settled for the one that was most relevant to the story. It seemed to work itself out as I wrote.


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