The Naming, How Do you Title a Novel?

Monday July 29, 2019 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging

IMG_1937I’ve completed three manuscripts, and titling a book is always a pain in the ass. You want to have something catchy, but also you want to give the prospective reader a clue as to what type of book you wrote, the genre and the style. The book cover will help with some of that, but that’s an entirely different post.

I did some research on different techniques and one espoused the idea of a one word title being the most effective. But try to find one word that evokes the theme of your story and hasn’t been used already. (And is still enticing.) It’s very similar to titling a movie. Should it be an action verb? A noun? That’s so passive, which might work if you are writing something boring. I’m kidding, I actually had one of my books titled with a noun for a short while before changing it. Not sure if that was the 3rd or 4th title. Think Caddyshack or Inception or Run.

It’s probably on par with writing the first sentence. I don’t think there has ever been a poll done to figure out how many writers kept the first sentence of their original draft, but I am going to guess it is infinitesimally small. You will rewrite that booger a thousand times to get it perfect, and even then it’s probably not really sublime, which is what you want.

I recently pitched to an editor with my working title and, in not so many words, she said it was too boring and asked me if I was attached to it. Is that a thing? Do writers actually get attached to the title? The working title for my last manuscript is Perfect Working Order. I don’t know. Maybe it is too nebulous. I think that is the 6th or 7th title. I googled to make sure there was no other book with that title. The key word here is working title. I will gladly change it to sell the book. If you want to name it Explosions and Murder! And you think that will sell, then by all means change the title.

I wonder if there are people that help with book titles. Wouldn’t that be cool if you had a gift for naming books? “Let me see that. It’s so obvious. You should name it, ‘I’ll never turn to the Dark Side.’” Do these people exist? I write fiction, so maybe it’s possible, but I certainly don’t know of any.

I hit on the idea a while back of using a line from the manuscript. That is where the title of my last M/S came from, then I saw this week someone else saying that was a good technique. But if it’s a 240,000 word novel it might be hard to find one line that encapsulates the entire book. Hell, even a 40,000 story is a lot of words to pick from.

Another theory is to make it as obvious as possible what the story is about, without being too cliché. And it obviously works well in a straight forward story. Something like The Breakfast Club or Toy Story or Fatal Attraction. Somebody is coming up with these.

No matter how you slice it, it’s not easy. Don’t expect to get it right the first time. And don’t waste a lot of time worrying about it when you are writing the novel. Although, it is a good way to avoid writing.

2 Responses

  1. I rarely keep the first title I come up with. Memories became My Sunny Vampire. The Uncommon One became Bite Me, I’m Yours. And my latest, Biting the Curse, used to be In Love With a Vampire. Sometimes you have to get to the end of the book before the title hits you with a two by four!

    1. Yes and your titles are winners! I think I have gone through at least 4 and sometimes 8 titles for a book. Of course I haven’t published any yet, so they could all change again. =)

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